10 Inexpensive Tricks for Expensive-Looking Wall Art

published Apr 26, 2019
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(Image credit: Lauren Kolyn )

One of the easiest ways to effectively upgrade any living space is by adding some artwork—and contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to spend a fortune to tastefully transform your white walls into a self-curated gallery.

“Art is all about perspective,” explains Philadelphia-based and New York City-trained interior designer Sabrina Piazza, whose range of clients include names on Forbes’ Richest People in America list to apartment dwellers on a budget.

According to Piazza, there are three factors that make your experience in an art gallery impressionable—scale, framing, and media. If you use these factors wisely you can achieve the same look at home without breaking the bank.

“In my own high-end residential experience, I’ve framed everything from original Damien Hirst, Mark Rothko, and Picassos to coffee table book illustrations and even IKEA prints,” she adds. “Many times they have the same effect.”

So if you have champagne and caviar interior design dreams with a domestic beer budget, don’t compromise. Here are 10 tips courtesy of Piazza to achieve expensive-looking wall art:

1. Focus on framing

How you frame your artwork can be just as important—if not more—as what you’re framing. An inexpensive-looking frame cheapens the look of expensive art, so put a lot of emphasis on proper framing.

Some of Piazza’s favorite stores to shop for frames include IKEA, Target, HomeGoods, and even Amazon, where you can pick up standard-size frames for a steal. She suggests using one element to unify pieces on a gallery wall—finish, theme, or color—or break the rules and select an eclectic mix. Consider looking for frames in the framed artwork section. It can be cheaper to buy a framed, matted print and replace the generic print with your own photo or artwork.

If you don’t feel confident with your self-framing skills, Framebridge is a great resource for custom frames, especially if you want a budget gallery wall. “All you have to do is send your artwork to them, they frame it and send it back,” she explains. And, for a little extra hand-holding, they have in-house consultants that can walk you through the process.

Piazza recommends using floating frames for canvas-style hangings—which you can DIY with YouTube—or have it done professionally. Make a serious statement by juxtaposing brightly-colored frames or gold-leaf-ornate frames with modern or abstract images or even casual portraits. “BLICK or other art stores are great places to shop for attention-grabbing frames,” she offers.

2. Blow up large-format photos and fine art prints

(Image Credit: Living Quarters Interior Design)

Purchasing prints can be quite costly, but if you aren’t concerned with exclusivity (that little serial number in the corner!) you can still dress your walls with stunning, large-format photo and fine art prints without breaking the bank.

Sites like Etsy and Society6 offer downloadable JPEGs of gorgeous, professionally-shot photos and kitschy artwork. (Or, if you have the skills, take the photos yourself.) Have the images printed professionally: Piazza recommends AdoramaPix, where a high-quality 18 by 24 print will cost you around $30.

“In my son’s modern safari nursery, instead of using a large-scale wallpaper, I used the baby safari animal theme images,” she explains. “To give it more of a refined look, I picked up some ornate gold frames at the local art store.”

3. DIY rotating gallery

(Photo Credit: The Caterpillar Years)

Freshen up a child’s room or an informal space is by creating a rotating gallery wall. “This isn’t something I have personally executed, but I have seen it done and it’s genius,” Piazza exclaims.

All you need is a glass-less frame (pick up an inexpensive frames at IKEA or Target and simply ditch the glass), fishing or picture-hanging wire, and mini clothespins. “Run the wire across the frames, hang the frames like you would any other artwork, and use the pins to hang your rotating art,” she instructs. “It’s that simple.”

4. Hang found textiles

Adding texture to a wall is a great way to enrich a space. “If you have a cool rug, scarf, pieces of quilts, fabric samples, an Hermés scarf, or any interesting textiles or vintage flea market finds, framing them on a white or neutral background can really make a statement,” Piazza explains.

Having them professionally framed can cost a fortune, but you can do it yourself by using a spray adhesive on the backside, mounting to a board, and framing it. Alternatively, The Citizenry has a great rug-mounting bracket for $65.

5. Frame wallpaper samples

Piazza is a huge fan of using wallpaper samples—which can be scooped up for free or next-to-nothing—to create striking gallery walls. “Order a handle of samples from a vendor offering similar patterns or motifs, scaled images, or colors,” she suggests. Once framed, hang them as a portrait wall or grid. The result? The appearance of an expensive, purchased collection.

6. Create your own chinoiserie

Piazza loves the elegant look of chinoiserie, but it can be incredibly expensive to achieve. “Some of my clients have spent an upwards on $10,000 for a hand-painted wall covering such as de Gournay, but you can DIY for a fraction of the price.”

A variety of online vendors offer peel-and-stick chinoiserie. Piazza’s favorite is Tempaper Designs, which costs around $10 to $15 per square foot.

7.    Curate a plate wall

If you have collected eclectic plates throughout your travels around the world (or even at local thrift shops), display them by curating a plate wall. “I did a wonderful collection for a client using Fornasetti plates and it turned out amazing,” Piazza explains. While the Italian decor company’s iconic ceramics may be out of your budget, you can use whatever you have, or even pick up some designer knockoffs on Amazon.

Your plate collection could have a central theme or be totally random, depending on what you have. “I hung three of mine vertically because they were similar in size and color scheme,” she explains.  “However you do it, a plate wall makes for a great conversation piece.”

Mounting the plates is super easy, according to Piazza. All you need is an expandable plate hanger, available on Amazon for less than $4.

8. Make your own masterpiece

You don’t have to be an artist to create your own masterpiece. “Even if you don’t feel like Picasso, go Damien Hirst and paint a series of dots on canvas, abstract color blocks, or simple ombré watercolor,” she suggests. Once framed, it will give off the appearance of an expensive, original work of art.

Another idea? “Sometimes if you buy an already-framed canvas with a floating frame you can easily do a DIY painting on top of it, creating something unique with your own personal touch,” she suggests.

9. Bluff expensive prints with coffee table books

Instead of buying high-quality prints, invest in a large-format art book, coffee table tome, oversized vintage children’s books, or botanical books and have the pages framed.

“When I was designing a yacht space, we purchased a Matisse book and used a variety of images throughout the cabin. We had them professionally framed to affordably dress the walls,” Piazza reveals. “Nobody questioned whether they were originals, as everything else in the yacht was customized.”

You can buy books new or scour for them at your local thrift shop, flea markets, or estate sales. Use an X-ACTO knife to cleanly cut out the pages before matting and framing. It’s that easy.

10. Assemble a collage of artifacts

(Image Credit: Living Quarters Interior Design)

Curating a thoughtful collection of personal artifacts can be a great way to personalize a wall space. “In my living room I have a variety of hangings on my wall, each representative of my family,” Piazza explains. “These include gold-leaf, foil-stamped maps, wood artifact cutouts with states we have lived in, eclectic frames, framed postcards, and photos in different shapes and sizes.”

One tip for selecting the right artifacts? “Keeping some element unifying all of the images and items helps keep the gallery cohesive and looking like it was hung by a professional.”