From The Art Consultant:
Art World and Interior Designers - a New Romance


In the 10 years plus I have worked with interior designers providing artwork for their clients, I have come to appreciate that unless a venue is specifically built to house an art collection (I have yet to find myself in this situation), a painting to go over the couch (in its full snicker definition) turns out to have relevance. During the year that I worked at a respected gallery on 57th, we collectively found validation for slinking into the back office to whisper “she’s holding paint samples up to the Byron Brownes,” eliciting the anticipated shaking of heads – sharing the collective incredulity of such a stunt perpetrated by an interior designer.

An Upper West Side Apartment. Photographer: Jeff Cate. Interior: Magdalena Keck
Staircase in a Lloyd Harbor, NY home. Photographer: Keith Williams. Interior: Ward 5 Design.

Back in 2008 I was hired to expand the client base of that gallery, specifically focusing upon interior designers. You’d think that this would not have been a newly initiated campaign; however I soon discovered that the names of designers I found in the gallery’s database were there because they had come into the gallery, maybe even generated a sale, but were not there by virtue of advanced marketing appeals. While the gallery was grateful for those sales, it appeared not to have occurred to the director that there was gold in them thar hills. And witnessing the disdain for fabric and paint samples as guiding strategies for purchasing art, I now understood where that came from. Such practices simply were not done prior to 2008.

What in fact was happening was that the bar for singularly memorable interior design had been raised higher in the years leading up to that fateful 2008/09 art world (actually all the world) correction. To succeed in accomplishing a publication-worthy/blog-worthy interior design, artwork was becoming de rigueur as the prominent aspect of a room that would define the designer and client’s aesthetic. Woe is the designer who cannot persuade a client to acquire the artwork, any artwork, which would effectively serve as the “Jewel in the Crown.”

While a select number of designers were already conversant in melding artwork with their interiors -- either working with clients who had their own prime examples or having cultivated a close relationship with a dealer(s) from whom the designer would draw suggestions for his/her clients -- many were trying to take up the challenge to be competitive in this new art-slanted world. While they may not have thought of themselves in such a lofty, philosophical perspective, interior designers and architects were becoming invaluable conduits for advocating artwork, changing the culture of art sales in incremental ways. The post-2008 topsy-turvy art market for the most part began catering to this industry like never before, because it needed something to turn to to survive.

An NYC apartment. Photographer: Jonathan Beckerman. Interior: Santopietro Interiors

Woe is the designer who cannot persuade a client to acquire the artwork, any artwork, which would effectively serve as the “Jewel in the Crown.”

An apartment in Woolworth Towers, NYC. Interior: Alan Tanksley Inc. Courtesy Photograph.

I lasted until 2009; the last man standing among the expendables to be laid off as the gallery downsized. It was during this time of turmoil and transition that I was able to slip through a wormhole to infiltrate what had exclusively been the provenance of the rarified, Christies’ trained builders of private and corporate Blue Chip art collections, because interior designers’ clients offered me an opening. Their clients were people of means (after all, they had hired an interior designer!), yet they had no sense of their own personal aesthetic preferences, did not feel comfortable or have time to visit galleries, didn’t know about open studios, and needed someone to introduce artwork. The artwork had to engender a favorable emotion within a client yet also had to live within a schema already composed in advance. Scale, palate, medium, genre, these qualities had to conform to the design as well. That’s a mighty slim needle to thread, yet my weekly studio visits building an ever-increasing team of artists from whom I could draw upon, insured that I could fulfil just about any project’s needs.

As selling artwork is implicitly based upon building a relationship, working for interior designers required that I become more like an entrenched collaborator than a straightforward vendor, and in this collaborative engagement, I discovered the validity of making certain that an artwork which had been viewed on my computer, in the artist’s studio or in the gallery ultimately had to be evaluated in situ.

Maybe a painting would not quite look comfortable in a particular location because it was wholly out of place in it’s hoped for space; the wallpaper was overpowering or maybe it was simply a question of being hung a tad too high or too low above a sofa and felt wrong, failing to create a visually rhythmic dialogue with its surroundings.

A bedroom in Sea Bright, NJ. Photographer: Jonathan Beckerman. Interior: Santopietro Interiors

There are wonderful and rare occasions when I am collaborating with a designer who, in creating his/her design, brings me in at the inception of the planning. Yet even when there is greater freedom to source a wide swath of artwork, I will still ask for wall color samples, fabric swatches, pictures of potential furniture and rug proposals. Of course, anything that gives me a cue into a client’s preferences is an imperative. A battery of images placed in front of a client is the first step and this is anything but a slam dunk - more like a do-see-do. It’s most often a surprise for both of us regarding what a client finally falls in love with.

This collaboration with designers and their clients has introduced me to a different level of art acquisition, one where the potential client makes a selection almost exclusively based upon an emotional bond, most often an unexpected emotional bond which words fail to describe. The client just feels it, and rarely asks for the provenance, questions a work’s collectability, secretly wonders if his/her friends will be impressed. I have discovered that it is well worth the extra challenge of meeting the multiple requisites of a designer’s project needs and the slow genesis of the client’s making a confident, definitive decision. I get to traffic in the non-elite side of art sales, one which needs to be re-invigorated in the midst of our current art market’s elitist and intimidating posturing.

My career Sweet Spot essentially found me, and I love it.

Elizabeth Sadoff owns her own art consultancy and is a Brick & Wonder member.

Top image, a home in Lloyd Harbor, NY: Photographer: Keith Williams. Designer: Ward 5 Design