How To Design With Portraits

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Portraits hanging on a wall isn’t groundbreaking design. Most homes have a few (if not a few dozen) paintings or photographs hanging in hallways. People with pedigrees seem to like put them up in the formal dining room, and that’s a fine tradition. But in my own home, I don’t stop there.

For me, faces have become an accidental obsession. It’s a design element that I keep returning to, and over the years I’ve collected faces in all sorts of forms. Michael and I once attempted an informal count, and we got into the low three digits as we totaled up sculptures, carvings, tiles, pottery, and paintings.

A stone carved bust from my garden
A stone carved bust from my garden
Wooden Poseidon statuette
Wooden Poseidon statuette
A carved face from my fountain
A carved face from my fountain

If I do a little bit of self-psychiatry, I think that what attracts me to faces in art is the mystery behind their expressions. What inspired the creator to add that arched eyebrow, or guilty smile? Was this actually the face that the subject was making, or was the artist seeing something deeper? And I always have to wonder if the models were happy with the way they were portrayed in the end.

And, of course, my love of faces isn’t limited to objects — or to human faces. Check out this amazing portrait from artist Joseph Sulkowski of Sammy and Lily. They say the sign of a great painting is that the eyes follow you through a room, and Joseph did a great job of capturing the faces that literally follow me around the house.

My favorite faces of all. My dogs Sammy and Lily in their portrait by Joseph Sulkowski.
My favorite faces of all. My dogs Sammy and Lily in their portrait by Joseph Sulkowski.

The next time you go out shopping for something for your home, think about what you are drawn to. Are you drawn to objects or images that have faces, or animals, or water, or trees? Hippopotamuses or hydrangeas? What is the element you always find yourself coming back to?


Mary Spalding is a Nashville based interior designer with over 30 years of experience. She has overseen countless home revitalizations, renovations, and restorations. She can be reached with your projects and ideas at mary@spaldingway.com.

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