17 Designers Share the Sweet Stories Behind Their Most Treasured Art Pieces

published Oct 10, 2022
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Artwork is so personal, and many people feel quite passionate about the pieces they’ve chosen to display on their walls — and for good reason. Certain items bring back strong memories of specific time periods in one’s life, while others might be a rumination on a favorite place, color, time, or subject matter. Some designs you might not even be able to put into words why you like them, and that’s okay, too. Art collecting can be a very personal, visceral process. Don’t know where to start? I spoke to 17 designers, each of whom highlighted their most treasured art piece. Feast your eyes on their picks and projects — and get some art collection inspo — below.

Credit: Zeke Ruelas

1. A Commissioned Dolly Parton Piece

“My most favorite piece of art on the planet is my commissioned Dolly Parton artwork from artist Shawni Young. I have only had this piece for a year, but I know it will always go with me no matter where I live. The artist took memorabilia that I had collected over the years, including albums, magazines, and ticket stubs, and painstakingly and artistically sliced them to create this collage of images surrounding the main focal point — a glamorous 1970’s Dolly portrait.

If you look closely at it, you will also see a 12-year-old John McClain (me) dressed as Dolly for a lip sync contest mixed in with the collage. First place went to me then, but now, the blue ribbon goes to this fabulous work of art.” —Designer John McClain of John McClain Design, Orlando, Florida, and Los Angeles, California

2. A Pink Alicia McCarthy Creation

“This Alicia McCarthy piece just makes me smile. Alicia McCarthy is a Bay Area artist that I have always admired.  She is known for her interweaving lines and stripes of bright colors, and she often uses unusual or household materials. This is a print of hers from Paulson Fontaine Press that I was gifted for my 30th birthday.” —Designer Emma Jesberg of Eugenia Jesberg Interior Design, Tiburon, California

3. A Family Portrait Featuring Furry Friends

“My favorite art piece is this piece in my home by Kendra Dandy. It is a portrait of my dogs and me. Before I commissioned the piece, one of my dogs Andrew had sadly passed, and I wanted to have something done to remember us as a family — because he is — and they are — my family. This piece, every time I see it, makes me so happy because it’s my babies.” —Designer Travis London of Studio London, Miami, Florida and Los Angeles, California

4. Pieces by a Beloved Uncle

“My absolutely favorite pieces are a couple of bright and cheerful abstract paintings by my late uncle, London-based painter Sandy Sempliner. I love staggering these pieces on my mantle; I like the depth the shadow box frames give the artwork, and they become more of an object than a flat, two dimensional painting.” —Designer Courtney Sempliner of Courtney Sempliner Design, New York, New York

5. A Piece by a Close Friend

“This piece is by Kyle Yohe out of Dallas. She is a dear friend I grew up with, and she did this amazing piece for our home. It’s a water lily inspired piece and is just so peaceful to look at. She had other similar pieces, and I asked for one for our home about five years ago. It fit perfectly in my daughter’s nursery for the first several years, and now it resides in my bathroom so I see it every morning.” —Designer Katie Davis of Katie Davis Design, Houston, Texas

6. An Original Piece from a Live Exhibition

“My most treasured pieces of art are two paintings by Japanese artist Sadaharu Horio that were made during a live exhibition at The Armory Show in 2017. Axel Vervoordt Gallery hosted the solo exhibition, titled ‘Art Vending Machine by Sadaharu Horio,’ in which the artist created original paintings on the spot within a plywood “vending machine” after the viewer (me) inserted one dollar into a slot. It was the most wonderfully thrilling surprise! I was fortunate to be there at the opening of the show — before the press shared the exhibit and created a frenzy — to have two paintings made.” —Designer Michelle Tremont Boyd of Michelle Tremont Boyd Interiors, Alexandria, Virginia

Credit: Jean Liu

7. An Oversized Photograph

“One of my favorite pieces of art is this overscaled photograph by Thomas Struth. I got it at auction around 2012, and it was a rather stressful process. The bidding was live, and I had a top number in mind that did not align with my art advisor’s. I ended up following his guidance and was willing to let this work go if it got beyond his comfort zone. It was an experience learning how not to get caught up in the moment when the bidding got frothy. The work is now in a prominent place in our home and stands out just due to its scale. I love it because I feel immediately transported into the museum alongside visitors each time I see it. If we ever move, I will need to make sure our next home has a wall wide enough and ceilings tall enough where this can go!” —Designer Jean Liu of Jean Liu Design, Dallas, Texas

8. A Painting First Seen Through a Window

“Every day I’d walk to work on 10th Street in the West Village, and I’d ogle all of those beautiful brownstones along the way — as you do! I could see inside one of them, and there was this incredible painting I always loved, but of course, I didn’t know what it was or anything about it; I just saw it twice a day, every day, and always admired it. Fast forward several years and I was reading a magazine (back when magazines were the only source of this kind of info!) and came across an article about Natasha Law, the artist. Her pieces are so distinctive in style that I recognized the work right away.  So years later when we were getting married, I thought this would be a really special gift to each other — and it is.  I love everything about it, and it will always remind me of that time of my life in NYC.” —Designer Colleen Simonds of Colleen Simonds Design, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

9. A Trio Depicting Venice

“My favorite works of art are actually a set of three by Chaya Chetty. I’ve had them in my collection for 20 years, and I treasure them just as much now as I did two decades ago. They hang in the stairwell of my home and bring me joy each day as I pass them. During the artist’s travels, she takes photos and then creates artwork from them when she returns home. The pastels have so much depth. The pieces I own depict Venice, a place that is very dear to me.”  —Designer Cynthia Masters of Panageries, Grenville, South Carolina

10. XO Prints for Littles

“I invested in my first piece of real art for my second daughter’s nursery, X and O prints from textile artist Jane Denton out of New Zealand. I found the artist through a fellow designer, Emily Henderson, and just fell in love. These pieces have moved around our house as our children have grown — from the nursery to the playroom to now our girls’ shared bedroom.” —Designer Meghan Basinger of Stevie Interiors, Milton, Georgia

11. A Mural by a Loved One

“I live in a rooftop apartment in one of the old tobacco warehouses in Richmond, Virginia. It’s the only apartment up there and can only be accessed by an industrial stairwell. My daughter created all of the artwork hanging in it. The eight foot painting hanging in the lower right of the stairwell, was created during her junior year in high school and was inspired by a street artist who did a mural for a brew pub project I completed. I was so touched that my daughter actually paid that much attention to my projects! This art piece sat in storage at the school for two years — at eight-feet tall, I had nowhere to put it until we moved to this cool building. I am so grateful that the school saved it, and it is hands down my most treasured art that I own!” —Designer Kathy Corbet of Kathy Corbet Interiors, Richmond, Virginia

Credit: White Arrow

12. A Self-Made Creation

“I worked as a fine and commercial artist (and later as a prop stylist) before starting White Arrow with my husband, Thomas. This gouache on paper portrait, seen in our Williamsburg office, is one of the last pieces I painted before switching gears; no surprise, it features an interior-focused space. It’s a portrait of my friend, Doug, and part of a series of stylized people in highly-patterned interiors. It was exhibited at This Must Be The Place, which was run by the creators of Diner Journal.” —Designer Keren Richter of White Arrow, Brooklyn, New York

13. A Stunning Shot of a Shoe

“Upon looking at various photographs by Marilyn Minter in 2006, we had distilled our selection down to only a few images. Once I came across this piece of the incredible Manolo Blahnik shoe stepping into a dirty puddle, it immediately resonated with me. The aesthetic of fashion imagery, mixed in with grit and imperfection, has made it one of my favorite pieces in our collection and one that I never tire of looking at, day in and day out. After having the pleasure of meeting Marilyn Minter a few times, it has made this piece all the more special.” —Designer Elizabeth Young of Elizabeth Young Design, Houston, Texas

14. A Poster of the Pink Palace

“One of my absolute favorite pieces I have is a framed poster of the Hawa Mahal Palace (also known as the pink palace) in Jaipur. I’ve never been — I have no connection or story to go with it; I’ve just always found architectural photography of Jaipur to be some of the most captivating art I’ve seen. I really wanted a large photograph of this building in particular as a focal point in my home, and it has lived with me in three different spaces at this point. I spent way more on framing than I did the actual print, but I think it’s as lovely as can be and can’t imagine a time I won’t have it up (front and center for that matter).” —Designer Megan Hopp of Megan Hopp Design, New York, New York and Washington, DC

15. An Old Love Letter

“One of my most treasured art pieces is an old love letter that our contractor found in the walls of our apartment while we were renovating. I love the history that comes with living in an older building and the idea that there have been many lives lived here filled with joy, celebrations, heartaches, laughter, and love before us and will be many more after us. This piece reminds me of that! I posted it on Instagram when we found it, and my followers were very invested in whether Bob and Penny ever reunited!” —Designer Maggie Burns Hornby of Maggie Richmond Design, New York, New York

Credit: MJ Kroeger

16. Special Silk Screen Prints

“About three years ago, I found a triptych of original Jean Lurçat silk screen prints on eBay. The seller told me they’d gotten them from a gallery in New York in the ’70s and had been keeping them in storage ever since. Lurçat is one of my favorite artists, and I believe these prints are from a series of paintings he made with poster paint in the 1940s, which were then made into an edition of Aubusson tapestries. I appreciate how the unusual color combinations used in these flat prints vibrate with the same energy as his textiles. I generally don’t like to purchase ‘over the sofa’ art, where the goal is just to match the colors in the room, but these pieces in particular had just the right amount of acid green to complement the scheme in my bedroom without looking too matchy. I thought that hanging a bunch of kooky little roosters over a fancy leather upholstered headboard would be an offbeat, humorous touch.” —Designer Tara McCauley of Tara McCauley LLC, New York, New York

Credit: Shaolin Low

17. A Dining Table Top

“When I first moved to NYC, I had a little studio apartment. I had no money to furnish it, so I found all these awesome vintage places and pieced together my space. Since I was a single girl who lived on a fifth floor walkup, I needed to hire a mover. I did, and he was great. He somehow had a connection to free furniture and was kind enough to show it to me. This piece was the top of a dining table, and the base was made from a staircase baluster of a Victorian home. The table was too big for my place, but I fell in love with the colors, texture, and depth of the top and just had to have it. I decided to keep it and hang it up as art instead. That was in 2012, and I’ve had it in every house I’ve lived in since! Everyone always asks about it, and it still captivates me even today.” —Designer Shaolin Low of Studio Shaolin, Honolulu, Hawaii

This piece is part of Art Month, where we’re sharing how to find, buy, and display art in your home, and so much more. Head on over here to see it all!