Settling into our cottage has been a long and languid journey. It started with the great purge, when Dan and I let go of many of the furnishings that filled our larger home in Atchison, Kansas. Because our cottage is so small, we could only keep the things we loved most. For Dan, it was all those books. For me, it was artwork (and dishes, but that’s a story for another day).
Even though I had miles less wall space in the cottage, I was determined to squeeze in every piece of art I held dear. To Dan’s astonishment, I did it. In my mind, there was never any doubt. Because I know that art is what makes a house feel like a home, gives it its voice.
I’ve had fun working with Dillon, the gifted artwork display designer at Nell Hill’s, to see my old favorites in brand-new ways. Where could I hang my huge canvasses, the ones that had filled my two-story entry and lofty rooms, so they didn’t overwhelm the cottage’s snug spaces? How could I mix up my groupings, putting pieces together with new partners, instead of just replicating the montages I loved in my old house? How could I squeeze in all these pieces without making the spaces visually chaotic? Dillon was a master at taking my vision and making it a reality.
Most recently, we finished decorating our den downstairs, our little hobbit hole where Dan and I cocoon in the winter months, watching way too much Netflix or getting lost in a great read. Until recently, this room doubled as Dan’s home office, a hidey-hole where Dan, Lyric (our golden retriever) and the cats reigned. While my husband has many amazing talents, keeping a space tidy is not one of them. Clutter, pet hair, ugh. So, I evicted him from the room and reclaimed the space.
We moved some of the older furniture over to Mom’s cottage next door, brought in a few new pieces and covered the walls with art. I am no longer embarrassed to bring friends down into this private space, and if he’s honest, Dan enjoys spending time there all the more now that the space is beautiful and clean.
We had just moved my mom into the cottage next door before she died. I’m sad we didn’t have the home finished before she passed so she could enjoy it to its fullest. But now I’m making it a warm and welcoming retreat, in her honor. As we decorate, room by room, it’s the artwork that has made all the difference. Once the walls were covered in art, it became a home.
My affair with artwork began when I was just beginning my career. When I had a little money saved up, I bought art. Through the years, I upgraded my pieces and added to my collection. It’s made all the difference in my homes. And, that’s one of the biggest pieces of decorating advice I give when people ask me to help style their homes: Don’t scrimp on the artwork. You may have the most beautiful furnishings in the world, but your home isn’t finished — doesn’t have its soul — until the walls are filled with artwork that brings you joy.
This column was adapted from Mary Carol Garrity’s blog at nellhills.com.