Interior Designer Michelle Blemel on Finding Art for Your Home

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Have you wanted to add art to your home, but weren’t sure how to start? Award-winning abstract artist Clara Berta sat down with Michelle Blemel, owner and senior interior designer at Amberleaf Inc., an innovative design studio in Pasadena, California that specializes in creating casual yet elegant interiors, to find out how Michelle helps her clients find art that’s a perfect fit for their home or office.

Interior Designer Michelle Blemel

In what situations do you recommend adding art to the design of a space?

Art should always be part of a space.  Art is what gives a space its personality.

The challenge is to define art. The truest definition is – the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.

Whether that be canvas, photos, sculpture, baskets, wood, metal, glass there are so many options to choose from.

Everyone’s view of art is different. What moves you, makes you happy, inspires you, brings you peace, that should be what draws you to art. This can make it incredibly challenging to select art for a client.

What factors do you consider when selecting art for a project?

In general, the most important factor is whether or not it suits the client. It does not matter if a designer enjoys a piece or subject if the client does not. Art is highly subjective and what I like may not be pleasing to a client. I try to work with the client to select subjects, images, and colors that work with the overall design aesthetic.

Art in dining room by Amberleaf Designs
Art in dining room by Amberleaf Designs

What are the biggest challenges you face when finding art for a project?

The biggest challenge is that there is so much out there and sifting through all of the galleries whether in person or online can be very time-consuming.

When someone wants to add art to their home for the first time how do you guide them through that process? And do you have a go-to pool of artists you recommend?

Each project I work on has a budget line item for art. I discuss with the client in the beginning whether they prefer to select the art, in which case I will give them the approximate size of what we need for each space, or if I should select the pieces.

With the second option, I tend to work towards the overall goal of my design. Is it contemporary, traditional, or transitional? Do we want the art to be a focal point, or is it something to complete the look and feel of the room?

Dining room by Amberleaf Designs
Dining room by Amberleaf Designs

What are some easy or unique ways someone can incorporate art into their home?

People tend to think art has to be big and take up a large space. This is not always the case. A beautiful sculpture properly placed can add dimension to a room. Smaller paintings can be grouped to create a wall of art. Even hand made tiles, mosaics, stained glass incorporated into entry doors or interior office doors can be a form of art.

What are some reasons why you wouldn’t add art to a design?

So many clients are not sure of what they like. I can guide them to the pieces I feel work well with the design, but if they don’t feel comfortable with that I may suggest the sizes they need and allow them to find the pieces over time that speak to them. Many clients like this as it is fun for them to look, and adds a more personal element to their design. Most clients text me a photo of what they have found, and I am happy to guide them as to whether it is the right fit.

Do you often have artists create a custom piece for a client and why would you recommend that over buying an existing piece?

I can’t say this is often, but there are occasions when we just cannot find the right look or colors to work with our room or size constraints.

In this case, I will contact artists I know that will create custom pieces and discuss with them the budget, size, colors, and intent of the art. If we feel we can create a custom piece for the client I then show them other art the artist has done to give them an idea of their capabilities.

Clara Berta Abstract Art Winter Wonderland Dining Room Staging
Clara Berta’s Winter Wonderland painting fits into narrow space in dining room

What would make you want to work with an artist again? What would make you not want to work with an artist ever again? 

Working with artists is much like working with a contractor. There will be some you click with and others that you find yourself butting heads with. For me to work with an artist the main thing they should understand is this is about the designer’s vision for the space and the client’s tastes. An artist who can work with us is going to fare better than one who only wants to do it their way. If you don’t listen and understand the needs and desires of the client, you most likely will not be called again.

What are some popular design and art trends right now?

Contemporary or abstract art is still something many clients enjoy. It allows us to have pops of color and texture without the use of figurative reality. There are some clients who still love oil paintings with a more traditional feel.

Clara Berta's Pastel Dream painting in dining room
Clara Berta’s Pastel Dream, acrylic on canvas, 48″ x 48″

In the past few years with many clients requesting whites and grays, more neutral tones in furniture Color Field art has been popular. Large bold colors on a flat plain become the subject of the art.

That said the world of design seems to be making a shift to much more color and pattern in everything from fabric, to tile, to window treatments. Something I, for one, am very excited about. I’m hoping design’s “gray period” is behind us.

If you have a limited budget, what are some low-cost ways to enhance the design of your space?

The first thing that comes to mind is DIY, creating your own art can be a wonderful thing, family photo collages, painted canvas, even a stencil can add life to your walls. For others searching flea markets for the perfect item, framed maps, mirrors, plates or metal items work.

What is usually the most costly part of an interior design project? If a client wants art in their space, on average, how much should they budget?

Each project is so different, in some homes the lighting can take center stage with handblown fixtures by Chihuly, others the handmade Italian Deruta tiles have taken a large part of our budget.

If a client is a collector, say of antiques, they may want to focus on that. Art, of course, can also be a significant amount, especially if you like a prominent well-known artist. Of course, art can be a great investment opportunity.

Clara Berta's Autumn Rain abstract painting
Clara Berta’s Autumn Rain, 48″ x 96″ mixed media on canvas

The budget for art will very much depend on the client’s tastes and if they feel art is an important part. As a general rule, 5-10% of a rooms budgeted cost should go toward art. It can be much higher in a living room or larger space, or smaller in a secondary guest room or bath.

About Michelle Blemel and Amberleaf Inc.

Amberleaf Interior Design

Owner and Senior Designer of Amberleaf Inc., Michelle Blemel, specializes in creating casual yet elegant Interiors. Working with clients to take a project from concept through to completion, while providing a board range of selections for furniture, window treatments, lighting. She is known for creative, one of a kind, custom furniture designs made specifically for her clients. Her work has been published in Colorado Homes and Lifestyles and Mountain Home Magazine. Michelle also has a live radio show “Interior Solutions” offering suggestions and solutions to tough design questions through her expertise in interior design.

More about Amberleaf Inc

About Clara Berta

Award-winning abstract artist Clara Berta Los Angeles
Award-winning abstract artist Clara Berta

Clara Berta is a passionate, award-winning abstract artist of Hungarian heritage. Her dynamic, highly textural abstract paintings have been exhibited in the United States and collected worldwide. In addition to exhibits across the US, Clara’s work has been featured in film and television including CBS’s Two Broke Girls, Bravos’ Million Dollar Listing Los Angeles, Disney’s You Again, Deepak Chopra’s The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, ABC’s The Catch, and the indie TV film Broken Links. Her art has also been seen in LA Weekly, Singular Magazine, Culture Trip, Downtown News and other publications.

More about Clara