Buying Art for Your Home: The Expert Guide

Written by Georgia Jordan, originally published by Urban Walkabout. 

Image courtesy of LUMAS Gallery, Richmond. 

Image courtesy of LUMAS Gallery, Richmond. 

Whether in a waiting room, at a restaurant, a corporate office or a friend of a friends house, we’ve all at some point found ourselves face-to-face with an art-bomination that puts a crinkle in our nose and a curl in our toes: like someone somehow hung a car crash on the wall we are unable to look away, and left wondering how no one has ever said anything. But art is like fashion: you wouldn’t have the heart to tell someone their pink top/jacket/pants combo makes them look like a stick of fairy floss. 

To be fair, buying art that’s suitable to a particular space can be a tricky endeavour… an art, if you will, and the prospect of hunting down artwork suitable to one’s humble abode and humbler hip pocket often seems too complicated an endeavour to seriously pursue. 

As a result, artwork is one of Melbourne’s greatest untapped resources. Local talent abounds, but apart from street art and the odd festival such as ART-Town, our artists spend most of their time out of sight and unfortunately often out of mind. Local galleries do their best to showcase local art and make international artwork accessible, but in competition with Australia's more popular entertainment spots (the cinema, library, museum and pop concerts), continue to struggle for foot traffic.  

The truth is artwork can be the thing that transforms a room from a space lived in to a living space—your living space. The difference? Chosen wisely, artwork can be a powerful tool to imbue your personality into a room, and evoke a desired atmosphere. A piece can be a striking focal point or talking point providing colour, movement or food for thought. It can be subtle and understated; a pleasant place to rest the eyes or to make one feel more comfortable. Awe, humour, reflection, admiration, peace—the possibilities are endless. 

Buying art to truly transform a room in the way you desire, at an affordable price, is possible. With the help of two experts—namely LUMAS Gallery Manager Sonja Mueller and Marketing Coordinator and Publicist Dimitra Sarakinis—we’ve curated five steps to becoming a true art connoisseur with an aesthetically and atmospherically enviable home. 

Step one: Decide where it's going

Prior to embarking on your art-buying journey, it's wise to consider the space you would like it to go. 

Most people think art belongs on the wall," says Sonja, "but you can lean art, you can have it on the shelf, you can attach it to the ceiling—I’ve seen it all."

Measure the space available, take some photos and note the colours in the room and the natural sunlight. Now consider the purpose of the artwork. 

"Do you want a statement piece or do you want something that’s just going to liven up a room and not stand out so much," Dimitra suggests you consider. 

Dimitra also suggests visiting furniture stores you like to see the way they integrate art into their displays.

If you're thinking about multiple works, LUMAS offers a great visual guide to wall collage composition. 

You likely won't be completely certain of location, composition or purpose yet, but keeping such considerations in mind will help you research (fun research, we promise!) more effectively. 

Step two: Develop your taste

For Sonja and Dimitra, the twofold secret to the art of buying art involves, "figuring out exactly what you want from that piece and choosing something that you love. Something that you are still going to be happy with in two years.”

Like a pair of Apple earbuds pulled fresh from a pocket, detangling what's trendy, timeless and tacky in art often seems too tricky a task to be worth it. In this case it's true. Because according to Sonja, "Finding the right artwork is very much intuitive."

You want your art to look stylish, but rather than poring over esoteric magazines and websites, you're actually more likely to achieve this using your instinctual artistic preferences as a guide. 

"Your personal tastes will be the one thing that makes your collection unique and interesting," advise our LUMAS experts, who believe staying true to your tastes will serve you far better than worrying whether or not you're following current trends. 

If you're concerned you don't know what "your taste" is, stop fretting and buckle up because a whole new world of art awaits you. Seeking inspiration online can be helpful, but when buying art venturing outside is well worth the extra effort. Melbourne's art scene, while still relatively niche, bubbles with excited activity thanks to a generous smattering of art galleries all over the city with an active community presence. We've included a short list of our favourite art galleries and print shops below, but a quick Google search to locate your nearest galleries is a good idea. Good galleries facilitate both burgeoning art movements and communication between passionate, incredibly talented local artists and flocks of thirsty art-lovers, whose ranks you'll be pleased you joined.

"Selecting the right work is a matter of researching and spending a day in a certain area and going around to all the galleries to get ideas, taking a photo of the work when you see it," advises Dimitra. Make a point of that last tidbit, as memory can be more deceptive than you expect. Follow nearby galleries on social media for inspiration and to be notified of upcoming events such as exhibition openings. 

"Events are a fun thing..." says Sonja. "First of all you get to see new artwork that people haven't seen before, and you get to meet other people in a very different setting. It's a really good occasion for exchanging your thoughts on art.

"You can educate yourself about the art, and we're also there to explain our new artists' images."

Step three: Learn the lingo

ORIGINALS: Originals are the actual artwork created by the hand of the artist, and can be quite expensive depending on how esteemed the artist is. 

LIMITED-EDITION PRINTS: To make their art more accessible, an artist may decide to print reproductions of an original. The artist will often decide to cap the number of reproductions and stick to it. In this case the prints become "limited edition”—still of objective value but generally far cheaper than the original. 

Look for a print’s place in the order of all prints in the edition on its lower edge—where the artist should have marked it—along with the number of total prints in the edition.

OPEN-EDITION PRINTS: Open-edition prints may be produced indefinitely. Compared to limited edition prints, open edition prints are of less value objectively but are a wonderfully inexpensive way to get your hands on a piece you adore.

Step four: Get some advice

Once you have an idea in mind of what kind of artwork you want for your space, it's time for some expert advice. Here's where all those photos you took during your gallery jaunts will come in handy, as well as those of your own space. 

“We can then superimpose the artwork for the customer on their photo," says Sonja. "And that helps them to get an idea of how the colours work in context."

Most gallery staff throughout Melbourne will be happy to help you find artwork at least similar to what you have in mind, and advise which form will best suit your budget. From the photos of your space they'll be able to advise whether or not the image will suit, and what finish, size and frame are most appropriate. 

Step five: Go with your gut

We made this point in step two, but it deserves reiteration. If you're feeling overwhelmed by others' opinions or frazzled with indecision, let your own innate taste be your guiding light. 

“I feel like you have to love [the artwork] straight away," says Dimitra. 

“Often people will say 'Oh, I have to ask my interior designer first' or 'My friends wouldn’t like it…'" says Sonja. "Well, your interior designer doesn’t live in your house and your friends don’t live in your house either."

She makes a good point. 

"I have a quite old-fashioned taste: I like still lifes, such as those by Kevin Best… very old-fashioned artistry pieces and I guess that’s not trendy, not really, but if you love it, you love it."


Recommended galleries

Tusk Gallery
South Yarra and Camberwell
A huge catalogue of Australian and South East Asian art. Originals and prints. Framing service available. Price point $90+

The Galerie
Original vintage and contemporary posters. Price point $100+

Signed & Numbered
Limited-edition prints by emerging and established Australian and international artists.

Art Boy
Local urban, pop, stencil and lowbrow art. Originals and prints. Price point $50+

SMLXL Fine Art Print Studio
Stunning photography and fine art prints.

LUMAS Gallery
High-quality, affordable photo art by established and emerging local and international artists, including archival works.