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Dear Decorno:

Deeeeeeear Decorno -

I'm a twenty-something college student moving into a new apartment in May, and thought I might ask for your (and your readers') advice. I seem to have trouble balancing my wall decor - that is to say, being an apartment dweller, I have an urge to brighten up my white walls, but I also worry about cluttering them and things looking tacky. How in the hell do I strike a balance between real art and posters and thrift store finds and chachkis without it looking like a horrible pretentious hipster explosion?! Help!


Jess, I just got up, the dog is tearing at the sofa, my hair is sidewides and my armpits smell. In other words, I need to get ready for work and hustle out the door, but in the meantime let me give you some quicky advice and let the commenters have at it:

1. No posters. I can explain more about this later, but for now, avoid. Too Etsy.

2. Do you like your white walls? If so, great. (I love me some white.) But don't be afraid to paint, either. Doesn't matter if your landlord doesn't approve. Just be lawless and paint anyway, just paint well and promise to return it to the original color.

3. Don't put things on your walls because you feel like you must. What do you like? Velvet Elvis paintings? Contemporary photography? Name the thing you actually want to look at and then start shopping for something special. But a thing or two at a time.

4. Don't spread everything out. Put things up in interesting groups and leave some blank space, even an entirely blank wall.

5. Mirrors are magic. Don't forget to buy a mirror or two that you love. It's actually a good investment now, because they are easy to move and you can make them work from apartment to apartment and house to house as you get older.

Readers - thoughts?


rebekah at ead living said...

Art from Etsy. It's the easiest and lowest cost option.

David said...

I second the mirror suggestion. I have one framed in a thick pine moulding that I've had for 20 years.

The thought that I've had anything for two decades dismays me, but the mirror has worked every place I've ever lived.

Anonymous said...

Mirrors are like adding extra windows....They Knock holes in bare walls

Anonymous said...

buy only art that you love!!! Find a few nice looking old frames with character and leave them empty and arrange them around with your art, maybe even hanging one or two inside the frames( but only off center in them so it doesn't look to planned). Group your art, and yes leave some wall space empty...I think artwork that is personalized towards your beliefs or thoughts are way better than some mass produced shit that everyone has seen and pitched in the trash...hell if your even semi creative try making your own statement in picture form...I love to decoupage me some pieces when I am feeling creative...Have fun with it and keep it personal and it will enliven your space.

custardbydesign said...

urban outfitters supply record sleeve frames...i gave 2 to my brother on his last birthdya and he put his favourite record covers in the frame and found a spot for them in his house... nice way of personalising a space for a low cost...if you know anyone good at grafitti, buy an old pieve of art from a 2nd hand shop and have them modernise it with a motif...almost bansky-esque

my favorite and my best said...

start slow. art from etsy isn't bad, as elaine decorno miller puts it. there are plenty of things there that are fabulous without being too of the moment. try to stay away from art that is too of the moment...UNLESS YOU LOVE IT!! but often if you buy something on trend B/C its a trend you will most likely tire of it very quickly. that being said there are some pretty cool posters out there that are colorful, cheap and make a statement. easy to change with no real blow to your wallet. also try this post from sfgirlbybay-
its an excellent post about wall art with LOADS of pictures!!

Rachel said...

Buy bigger art. It takes time and money to fill up a room with 11x7 prints. A few larger scale framed posters and vintage paintings and your space looks finished.

Grab solid frames when you can, even if you hate what's inside them. Painting old frames or on top of old screen printed canvases is a solid option if you're on a tight budget.

Saga said...

Don't be afraid of negative space. Use it to create drama.

Anonymous said...

i'm not averse to a poster if you love it. but if you love it enough to put on your wall, HAVE IT FRAMED....or frame it yourself which is very easy given the number of discount frame outlets.

i agree with going BIG if you can. if you can't find something you love, tape off a large square of rectangle or two and paint them a pleasing color, even a contrasting white.

consider found art/decor. a old blackboard, a quilt, an advertizing item, rusty fencing.

Kristine said...

Graphic fabric wrapped around a large canvas or something else that will hold it's form does wonders. When I was renting I found a great sheet set for $29.00 with a Graphic pattern, and used the flat sheet wrapped around a large MDF board as a great art piece. Use the fitted sheet as a source for small projects if you like (pillows etc).

Lauren said...

I think posters are okay, but definitely frame them. Decide if you're going uniform with your framing, or kitschy. I am a huge fan of gallery style black frames. I think Ikea or Hobby Lobby/Michaels will work in a pinch. Also, a painted silver or gold is nice. Different tones kind of spice things up and look like you've created your look over time, which is always good.

If you're spatially challenged, lay your art out on the floor before you start pounding holes in the walls. Even better: get butcher paper and make cut outs in the sizes of your art and tape it to your walls (with not-too-sticky painter's tape) till you find a configuration you're happy with.

DO be careful with posters though. A long time ago I bought my then boyfriend, now husband, a poster of an incredibly famous painting he loved. Now I'm stuck living with it and feel like it's fairly tacky.

Anonymous said...

I agree, posters are fine as long as they're framed. In college I framed some calendar photos of vintage travel posters and they were cute. Also, its so easy and cheap to do some abstract paintings. When you're in college nobody expects your apartment to look like a show room.

Anonymous said...

i think posters depend on the poster. there were some great poster art movements in during the soviet constructivist era. you can also check for some amazing cuban posters, or for polish posters. i'm now just warming up to north korean and chinese propaganda art. north korean posters are all hand made, and they're a little more inspired by the soviet era of communism constructivism/ modernism than chinese realism, though i like that stuff too. anyway, i think it just depends on the poster. i personally would say stay away from etsy posters, band posters, and any poster that's just a print of some famous painting like starry night. i also echo people's comments above that posters have to be matted and framed. if you can go with a custom frame, that would be best. ive invested in a few high end custom frames and it makes all the difference.

im also a fan of really good photography, but you have to try to attend art shows for those. and of course there is "found art." i have a vintage paddle from the philipines on my wall, and i think it accents the dark wood well in my apt.

lastly, my biggest thing is that when you buy art, you should ask yourself "would i respect myself for buying this 20 years from now?" a lot of pictures i see on design sites [though not decorno cause she's the only person on the internet who knows something about decor] have really vintage kitchy or overly cold/ modern looks. the first looks ridiculous, like some version of a tgif restaurant, and the second doesn't feel like a happy home. i would be sensitive to the emotional reaction you're creating in your home, and keep a very strong eye to longevity of the work. don't invest in something that you're going to throw away in 10 years.

That said, I have a big wall space in my kitchen that I'm trying to fill. I feel like art that goes in kitchens is different from art that goes in living spaces, which in turn is different from art that goes in bathrooms [which i also need]. does anyone have thoughts on kitchen and bathroom art?


Anonymous said...

Just as an addendum, I know Chinese communism art is the zenith of kitsch, but my excuse is that I study Chinese politics. That said, I think there are great Soviet era theatre posters that aren't kitsch, and the OSPAAAL and Polish poster movements are great while escaping kitsch. However, I welcome any protest on this.


Anonymous said...

I agree on the neccessity of framing any posters (or pencil drawings, or anything that would otherwise require thumbtacks!). My boy always picks up concert posters when he goes to festivals (where they have great selections from different artists) and since he has a very particular style, they all got matching frames and really blend well together in his living room. Group small art (or hang one small painting on the "awkward wall" - every apartment has one - to make it more purposeful. Just say no to posters of Da Vinci paintings!

Emily said...

An avalanche of advice, there...

I'm going to jump on the "posters are ok" bandwagon. But make sure they're posters with significance and - even if they're not framed- hang them with intent.

On my walls (or going on my walls, we've been in this house for almost 4 months and I just started hanging things Wednesday) we have framed photos, framed art (we're lucky to know artists...if you don't, then you can find a student and buy some CHEAP. Then you've got an original piece that speaks to you) and framed sketches.

And I do mean sketches: I have a charicature of "me" rock climbing that I put in a black frame from target. I've got a (professionally and not inexpensively) framed sketch of Rogue that was signed by the illustrator (what's his face, he's passed away. It's my husband's sketch) and we've got a signed concert postcard - also framed. Not all of my frames are black, they are not the same size.

Everything that goes on your walls should be something you love to look at. Don't be afraid to adjust how things are hung after they've been up for a while.

And my only hanging tip (the only rule I follow) is that when you're hanging a grouping, find the center lines of each pieces and those should line up - excepting large pieces with smaller pieces around it - then hang on the 3rds. This will bring symmetry and cohesiveness, even if you've hung your great-grandmother's Daughters of the Confederacy certificate in amongst snapshots and tear sheets from and Hermes ad campaign (unframed.)

sorry that was so long. good luck!

Anonymous said...

Yes to posters, if they're vintage.

Hudson Goods said...

color on the walls always makes a huge difference. And you don't feel the need to fill the blank space. Art should be something you love, don't hang for the sake of hanging and it can be anything. Vintage signs from a flea market, barn stars, anything, but you should feel good every time you look at it. Make it personal, make it your own.

Holly Goes Lightly said...

Check out ebay for antique photos, invitations (I found a terrific 1880's Hamptons Hunt Club invite), post cards, maps, social registers, whatever you love. Bring them to your local digital graphics shop and make them BIG. Frame in basic black.

Love love.

Donna said...

My neighbor loves country music. She hung a beaten up old violin on the wall and then hung this super cool oversized frame around it, no glass, no mounting, etc. It looks great and is my favorite thing on her walls.

In an old post around Xmas time, one of Decorno's readers mounted an old typewriter on the wall - again completely out of the ordinary and super cool.

RobtW said...

Agree that posters should be avoided or at least scrutinized by a jaundiced eye. Very few are worth framing, and bad cheap frames look even good things look bad, and make cheap things look all the worse.

If you're hanging lots of things, hang things that look good together, things of a type or things that form some sort of relationship with one another.

Too many pictures or too much stuff, if there's a perceptible logic to it, doesn't seem like too many or too much. But tip the balance the other direction and lose course and it just looks like so much junk.

At link are some examples of dense, gallery style hanging of pictures:

(The image with the starfish stood out as a little goofy, but otherwise good stuff. And rent "Indiscreet" if you have a great stack of Picassos and Dufys and Roualts and John Pipers that you don't know what to do with, and a great huge oval drawing room to do it in.)

Too many mirrors is never enough, especially antique mirrors with their mirrored backs a little (or a lot) faded and ghostly.

Miriam said...

I love the New York Public Library Digital Gallery. They have a lot of fin-de-siecle poster art, historical photographs, illuminated pages of medieval manuscripts, nearly everything you could imagine... and you can have them all printed and framed.

Lauren said... for originals and prints.

Anonymous said...

She's young and in college (i.e., poor). There'll be plenty of time later to get all "No posters!/No cheap frames!/No wire hangers!" etc.

For now, there are tons of prints from old Vogues, Vanity Fairs, etc. at the Conde Nast store:

and large prints of old New Yorker covers at:

Lolo said...

I was going to say that old art books are great for pilfering and framing. It worked for me, way back when, and I even have three of my faves still.

LeslieLu said...

I'm a poor college student as well, but I need a different kind of help. I desperately need homeowners to take this survey for one of my classes:

It'll take no more than 10 minutes. Please! Thanks!

Anonymous said...

No Posters
I don't like posters because of the add-on costs. Once you find the poster, you have to add on the cost of matting, glass/acrylic, and frame. It quickly becomes the equivalent of an original pastel, pencil, or oil painting.

Your art is more personal than decorative; it should feed your soul. Posters - like junk food - are mass produced, conforming blobs of goo created to appeal to and not offend the greatest number of people. They are marketing objects.

Original Art Or Prints of Same
Original art expresses an idea or a dream. Defining the reasons you react to this dream is fine, but not necessary. The artist has spoken to you viscerally (yeah, fuckers; I looked that one up).

Everyone buys BIG art right now and it's overpriced (seems like art by the inch). Nobody buys miniatures. You can buy excellent small pencil, prints, water colors, and oils very cheap. Group together.

I don't shit money for breakfast so I don't design a room around one piece of art. When I can afford to pop $20,000 for a piece, I'll give it its own wall. Until then, it shares space with all my other stuff.

Anonymous said...

"Once you find the poster, you have to add on the cost of matting, glass/acrylic, and frame. It quickly becomes the equivalent of an original pastel, pencil, or oil painting."

Not true.

You don't use matting on a poster.

Glass and a metal frame for a standard size poster cost under $100. Not "the equivalent of an original oil painting."

Go vintage, and you'll get something uncommon.

Anonymous said...

Re. posters:

Check out page 116 of the April issue of Elle Decor: A library decorated with two posters for Helmut Newton books, plus that classic 1970s Farrah Fawcett.

Margaret said...

Please don't ever by art/posters/prints just to have something on your wall. Buy only art that you LOVE. It's better to start out with fewer pieces which challenge you to be creative, rather than have wall art that won't stand the test of time. Trust me on this one! If you buy art that you love, you will have it forever and will naturally move it to different areas as your residences change.

You are young, and your taste will change. Buy classic pieces. Spend money on good traditional furniture. Add funk and punch with things from TJMaxx/HomeGoods.

Rip out pictures of rooms you love in magazines. Keep them in folders. Always be on the lookout for ways to refine the look you love.

Don't try to do it all in one weekend. Your rooms will reflect that!

No colored drapes showing on the outside of your windows!


Anonymous said...

"Spend money on good traditional furniture. Add funk and punch with things from TJMaxx/HomeGoods."

The trouble with this (commonly given) advice is that if everyone followed it, everyone's houses would look the same--"Good traditional" furniture in neutral colors, with "funk and punch" and "pops of color" from prole-decor stores like TJMaxx.

It's a formula like anything else.

Anonymous said...

1. Choose the mood you want to go for. If you like airy spaces, go with larger pieces and lots of blank/negative space. If you like cozy spaces, go with various sizes in groupings.

2. Don't buy anything you don't absolutely adore or you will feel absolutely guilty about it later.

3. If you absolutely adore it, frame it.

4. Empty frames in groupings or vintage dresses and clothes hung on a wall can fill space if you absolutely must fill it and you're out of time/ideas/money, etc.

5. Don't waste your time trying to figure out whether you'll still like something in 20 years. The fact that you're even concerned about how your walls look while you're in college is a pretty good indication that your taste is going to evolve, because you have some to begin with.

6. DO check with your landlord before you paint - unless you're prepared to lose your security deposit. Just sayin.

when pigs fly said...

I,too, love mirrors. My mother-in-law loved them, and now I love hers! I lined my narrow hallway with them! As for art, before mirrors I collected frames and hung them bare. I also like framing beautiful papers. I bought a book of botanicals ($3 dollars!!!) and frames half-price at hobby lobby. Looks great! (Adding a little antiquing glaze helps to bring down the shine.) In my bathroom (all white) I bought mirrors that had a sculptural looked and painted them all with white gesso. Likes like plaster! Fabric can be hung like a tapestry. Make a grid of black and white photographs. Relax and enjoy!

Kari said...

On the pro-poster front,I love love love the posters at They're reprints of vintage government posters from the Library of Congress. Don't jay walk! Keep your teeth clean! They enemy is syphilis! Yes, they're a little hipster but who cares, they are so great.

Kari said...

Christina said...

Perhaps you have a life and therefore won't fill your walls with cross-stitch like I have. Something else I've done is to string wire around some nails in rows about a foot apart, creating a ladder of wire down a small wall. Some small clothes pins and voila an easy way to display a bunch of small stuff- postcards, brooches, insects, whatever floats your fancy. Changeable with your mood.

Anonymous said...


LOVE that to do it!

Also- You don't have to go on a mad search to find art/wall stuff. I don't like living with bare walls but also didn't want to rush to fill them. So what I've done in the mean time, in my sitting room, is framed large sheets of wrapping paper. Actually, it turned out so well that it might just stay that way. I get more compliments on it than anything else in my house.

Jesselyn said...

Wow! Thanks guys! I really appriciate the veritable FLOOD of advice. The thing about posters is, a lot of times, I will buy them a totally love them for 6 months, so when I tire of them I don't feel bad 'cause they were cheap and made me happy for a while. As for the painting thing, I have starched fabric to some of my walls, and it makes a GREAT accent wall look without too much trouble - I would highly reccomend it! I do have another bit of a question - what about chachkis? i.e. figurines, knick knacks, etc. I have A LOT of them, and not just to have them - I LOVE THEM ALL. They are not going anywhere, at least not any time soon, and I have yet to figure out the best way to display them all.

mosey said...

wow. I am in love with your blog! I love the advice you gave the self conscious wall art hanger, I also love the bathroom post and the BINDER idea!
You are officially added to MY blogroll!

Anonymous said...

There are posters, and then there are posters. Orignal hand print press posters are things of beauty. Check out Yes, mostly music, and alot of retro-blacklight, but there are some great artists in there.

Get a few from one arist and you will have a
'collection' wall.

JoAnn said...

Art from ETSY can be wonderful. I cannot understand the "too Etsy" remark.

My husband and I have been collecting good art for 35 years and I wish ETSY had been around when we first had bare walls to fill.

And now, when I can pretty much afford to buy whatever I want for my walls, my newest favorite thing is a little watercolor that came got it.....ETSY!!!!

Decs said...

Sometimes Etsy just seems like to much of an amateur craft fair. That's all.

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