TO SOME PEOPLE art may mean an oversized Buddha-head print from a market in Thailand filling wall space over the shoe cabinet. For serious collectors, however - from those who have inherited heirlooms to those who have spent time and money amassing a collection of paintings, photographs and art objects - figuring out how to integrate art into an overall home design poses challenges.
'An art collection can be the main actor or the supporting actor in an interior space,' says Johnny Wong, architect, designer and founder of FAK3. 'It all depends on the overall design concept.'
Wong has worked on projects that have focused on furnishings rather than collections and others in which works of art have been put centre stage by lighting, framing and thoughtful use of space and colour.
He says it's vital to incorporate art into architecture at the start of a project. 'It's important to infuse spatial planning in the early stages with the types of art pieces that will be displayed,' Wong says. 'These ideas can be further enhanced as the design progresses.'
It may involve designing features such as focal lighting and structural details such as framing columns that compose and enhance how a piece is viewed. For a project that involved displaying more than 50 pieces, ranging from furniture to paintings and tiny ornaments, in a 3,000sqft apartment, FAK3 built a 1:50 scale model of the space complete with miniature artworks.
'There was so much complexity because all the pieces had different display requirements,' says Wong. 'With our model we were able to see how all of the elements, including art pieces and furniture, would be composed together.'
For those with more modest collections, there are still some guiding principles. 'An object becomes a design statement when placed on a plain wall,' says Sin Sin Man, of the eponymous clothing store, atelier and art gallery. 'Artwork can take attention away from unwanted but necessary objects and space.'
Items such as computer screens and televisions, for instance, have less visual impact when surrounded by objects such as antique brush pens and lacquer boxes.
Man's approach is to incorporate art into the patterns of daily living.
But some people prefer more of a museum-type setting, says Oi Ling Chiang, owner of Gallery Oi Ling and Contes d'Orient. 'I've worked with clients who have wanted a China-themed room to display their Chinese antiques. These kinds of 'museum rooms' can be quite effective for displaying precious artifacts.'
Wong is converting an old Chinese building into boutique serviced apartments that incorporate collectible Chinese art with daily living.
'The art pieces range from paintings, calligraphy and etchings to sculptures and installations,' Wong says. 'The public and private residential areas will have art complementing the furnishings and the result will be a kind of gallery hotel.'
There's an obvious harmony in a room composed entirely of Chinese elements, but many styles of Chinese antiques, particularly those with simple lines and materials, can also work well in other settings. 'An antique piece of furniture or art can add warmth and a feeling of culture to most settings,' Chiang says.
Mixing styles and periods is another way of housing an art collection and can make a home feel more relaxed than a museum-style approach.
'Nowadays, there are no guidelines any more - anything goes,' says Man.
When Wong combines Chinese furniture with contemporary pieces he concentrates on the colour, material and form of the Chinese object and then looks for a balance with a contemporary piece. 'Finding a relationship in the pattern or in the lines or geometry of the pieces can bring the look together,' he says.
Colour, lighting and framing also contribute to harmonising furnishings and art. 'Black, white and charcoal grey work well with most art pieces,' says Wong. 'I don't want to define any rules, but if you want a piece to stand out, creating a contrast in colours will do this best.'
Chiang says red makes a statement and, when used on a wall, can look especially compelling as a backdrop for black and white photographs.
Lighting can be used to highlight certain areas of a room or special pieces from a collection. 'If there's a niche or a corner to fill, directed lighting can be used to enhance the setting,' Chiang says. A spotlight on an important piece gives it pride of place, but diffuse light in a room with several pieces allows the eye to wander at will.
Co-ordinated or elegantly contrasting framing can harmonise the look of hanging works of different styles or periods.
'Framing is an art form,' says Wong. 'A painting or photo can be transformed and revitalised with a new frame.'