Let­ting the art do the talk­ing

The Denver Post - - LIFE & CULTURE - By Au­drey Hoffer Kather­ine Frey, The Wash­ing­ton Post

The en­try hall into Dale Mott and his part­ner’s sev­enth-floor apart­ment bursts with light even though there’s nary a win­dow in sight.

In­stead, three large art pieces on the walls sur­round­ing the el­e­va­tor that opens into the home con­fer the ra­di­ance — a bright yel­low aerosol and acrylic can­vas; a black-and-white silk-screen print with sparkling My­lar; and an aerial pho­to­graph of a beach scene. “The crowd wel­comes and draws you into our home,” said Mott, point­ing to the photo of the beach op­po­site the en­try.

Art makes a home in­ti­mate and calm. And de­sign­ing a home to show­case art en­hances its beauty.

Some peo­ple hang pic­tures them­selves and place el­e­gant ob­jects where it suits their vis­ual aes­thetic. Oth­ers hire a pro­fes­sional to take the cu­ra­to­rial reins.

Tony Podesta turned to Olvia Demetriou, ar­chi­tect and co-founder of

Hap­stakDemetriou+ to de­sign the space for his art col­lec­tion.

When she walked into his house, it was clear it didn’t need re­pair, she said, so much as rein­ven­tion.

Once the walls were re­moved it be­came ap­par­ent that the floors sloped three inches from one end of the house to the other, which is un­ac­cept­able for hang­ing art.

He showed her the col­lec­tion and she cre­ated “art block­ing plans” to de­lin­eate each piece and where it would hang. This en­abled her to de­fine where ply­wood block­ing be­hind walls would be needed to give Podesta, founder and chair­man of the lob­by­ing and pub­lic af­fairs Podesta Group, the max­i­mum flex­i­bil­ity in hang­ing heavy pieces.

She in­stalled a min­i­mal­ist re­veal along the ceil­ing — a dis­creet hang­ing rail — where art could be hung by wire in­stead of the tra­di­tional pic­ture rail. She built cus­tom niches within the walls al­low­ing for the flush in­stal­la­tion of video art.

And she de­signed a curved stair in the center of the house, which is the most dra­matic de­sign el­e­ment and of­fers a fo­cal point around which all the spa­ces un­fold. “It is, in it­self, a sculp­tural piece — stain­less steel and frame­less glass spi­ral­ing up­ward the two sto­ries,” al­low­ing for the dis­play of large paint­ings, she said.

“My de­sign vi­sion for the house was to cre­ate ar­chi­tec­tural spa­ces that in­spire but that also pro­vide a neu­tral back­ground that didn’t com­pete for at­ten­tion,” Demetriou said. “I had to let the art shine.”

Mott also went the pro­fes­sional route, hir­ing dec­o­ra­tor Ni­cole Lan­teri when he and his part­ner, who asked not to be iden­ti­fied be­cause he has a job in law en­force­ment with the fed­eral govern­ment, moved from a small con­do­minium to their apart­ment. The pre­vi­ous place was so small they didn’t have room to dis­play their art.

“My in­struc­tions were, ‘We have all this art. Please make it work,’ ” Lan­teri said.

“We sent Ni­cole thumb­nails , told her what fur­ni­ture we wanted to keep, what we needed to buy, and she went from there,” said Mott, di­rec­tor of strate­gic ad­vance­ment for Arena Stage in Wash­ing­ton.

“The trick with a loft-like space is to make it feel like a home rather than a gallery and en­sure the art isn’t over­shad­owed by de­sign el­e­ments,” said Lan­teri, echo­ing the same sen­ti­ment as Demetriou.

Lan­teri em­braced the white walls and didn’t feel com­pelled to cover them all. “Neg­a­tive wall space is good be­cause it gives other pieces in the room space to breathe.” She also knew their col­lec­tion would keep grow­ing.

One con­straint was the dozen or so au­dio speak­ers pre-wired and in­stalled on walls when the home was pur­chased. But in­stead of ig­nor­ing or pulling them out she treated them as sculp­tures and ar­ranged art­work to hang along­side.

For ex­am­ple, on the wall op­po­site the kitchen, she in­cor­po­rated white square speak­ers in a com­po­si­tion of photos, sculp­tures, prints and paint­ings, many in white frames. She cre­ated a fig­u­ra­tive art wall, a sea of faces on a white wall.

To en­sure that the art wouldn’t ap­pear to be float­ing, she added a pale nar­row curved wal­nut wood ledge be­neath them. That ledge con­nected vis­ually to the kitchen cabi­nets on the op­po­site side of the room and bal­anced the space.

Three white acous­tic speak­ers and black-framed TV screen were hang­ing above the fire­place on a liv­ing-room wall. “Our thought was to flush-mount the speak­ers so they’d dis­ap­pear,” Mott said, “but Ni­cole did the op­po­site.” She re­moved the speaker cov­ers and cre­ated a sculp­tural wall with the speak­ers and TV.

“With­out cov­ers they looked a lit­tle more in­dus­trial, like sculp­tures them­selves,” Lan­teri said. And they con­formed to the style of the ex­posed ducts on the ceil­ing.

To fin­ish the fire­place wall and make the TV less pro­nounced, she cov­ered the wall in a dark graphite-hued grass cloth. “When you look at the wall in the light” — a street-fac­ing glass wall is ad­ja­cent — “it turns from gray to green to blue to black. So the black TV frame blends in,” Mott said.

Lan­teri chose the Kartell Mas­ters chair for the din­ing room ta­ble. Over­lap­ping branch­like arms and seat back make the chairs look like sculp­tures. “The din­ing ta­ble sits in a glass cor­ner of the apart­ment, which is al­ways bright,” Mott said. “The flu­id­ity of the chairs and the light fix­ture above are a per­fect match.”

Nev­er­the­less, elec­tric lights in ad­di­tion to nat­u­ral light are crit­i­cal in any de­sign pro­ject.

For Podesta’s col­lec­tion, Demetriou con­sulted with the Hir­sh­horn Mu­seum’s light­ing de­signer to de­velop dif­fer­ent light­ing strate­gies.

Lan­teri in­stalled translu­cent light fix­tures through­out the Mott home so that the fix­tures them­selves wouldn’t ob­struct views of the sur­round­ing space. She chose the Hope sus­pen­sion light to hang over the din­ing ta­ble “be­cause it catches the whimsy of the chairs and riffs off the el­e­gant Liz pen­dants over the kitchen is­land,” she said.

“All the light­ing was pur­pose­fully se­lected so as not to take away from the art. I chose acrylic or glass fix­tures so they’d be more or less translu­cent when the light is off, and when the light is on you can ap­pre­ci­ate its sub­tle ef­fect in a way that doesn’t up­stage the art,” she said.

A world of art

Re­nato Miracco, cul­tural at­tache at the Ital­ian Em­bassy, or­ga­nizes his di­verse world­wide art col­lec­tion by theme.

One wall in his North­west Wash­ing­ton home is ded­i­cated to Al­ba­nian artists; an­other to 18thand 19th-cen­tury land­scapes of Naples. On one wall hangs con­tem­po­rary Ital­ian pho­tog­ra­phy and on an­other ex-voto pieces.

A sin­gle shelf is dec­o­rated with fe­male di­vine fig­ures Mother Earth and Guanyin (a Bud­dhist sym­bol of com­pas­sion and mercy). Ital­ian sculp­tures from the 19th, 20th and 21st cen­turies dec­o­rate other shelves.

And the bed­room is filled with pho­to­graphs and oil paint­ings de­pict­ing dreams “be­cause they re­ally re­lax me,” he said.

The only prob­lem with an art col­lec­tion is mov­ing. “Mov­ing is a big ex­pe­ri­ence for me,” said Miracco, who has lived in many coun­tries. “It takes me four months. I need to look not only for a new house but new space to show all my themes.”

The en­try hall in Dale Mott’s home is bright, even though there are no win­dows. Rather, three large pieces of art on the walls bring ra­di­ance to the apart­ment’s en­trance.

“The trick with a loft-like space is to make it feel like a home rather than a gallery and en­sure the art isn't over­shad­owed by de­sign el­e­ments,” Lan­teri said. Wash­ing­ton Post photos by Kather­ine Frey

The mas­ter bed­room fea­tures orig­i­nal art in var­i­ous me­dia.

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