Take a page from the book of Nancy Braithwaite, one of the art collecting world’s favorite decorators, and turn your space into a restrained antidote to sensory overload
IF A PEACEFUL HOME is the antidote to sensory overload, then Nancy Braithwaite mixes an effective potion. Since 1969, the Atlanta-based interior designer has created domestic sanctuaries, such as this 4,000-square-foot abode for an arts patron in the city’s Buckhead district, that are particularly esteemed among the art-collecting cognoscenti. “You want to wrap a certain amount of space around an object so you can study and appreciate it,” she said of the two-story living room. The vignette shown is built around an acrylic-and-pencil piece by Robert Mangold, a Minimalist artist whose work is often more complex than it appears—much like this seating arrangement. But though the Mangold enjoys pride-of-place above the sofa, Ms. Braithwaite’s belief in “balancing strength against strength”—detailed in her new monograph “Simplicity” (Rizzoli)—led her to include a stealthy counterpoint: a Joel Shapiro sculpture, casually lurking on the coffee table. Here’s how to create an art-focused refuge using her décor principles.
- Find a work worth building around
Robert Mangold produced the acrylic-and-pencil work mounted above the sofa as part of his “Frame” paintings. (A separate piece in the series sold at Christie’s in May for $545,000.) But more affordable Mangolds in poster form are available online.
- Create a fitting backdrop
Finishing the walls in a deep-colored but neutral paint lets art stand out. A favorite of Ms. Braithwaite’s: Fairview Taupe, from $39 per gallon, benjaminmoore.com
- Go a little bit wild
Ms. Braithwaite’s book, “Simplicity,” discourages mixing raucous patterns, but her use of a zebra rug as a lone loudmouth offers a lesson in discretion. Get in touch with your animal side with a Zebra Peruvian Llama Flat-Weave Rug.
- Downsize your displays
Ms. Braithwaite composed a spare coffee-table display around a small but dynamic Joel Shapiro sculpture. “If you put 10 great objects on a table, you’re not giving each its due,” she said. She chose a smaller, taller table to highlight her tableau. Elevate your own sculpture with a leggy staple.
- Find impact in small packages
Ms. Braithwaite needed a small sofa that could nevertheless anchor this library, part of a double-height living room. A soaring back gives a compact piece presence without overshadowing the art. Use a settee to approximate Ms. Braithwaite’s custom design.
- Mix the rugged and refined
Ms. Braithwaite and architect Norman Davenport Askins floored the space in reclaimed oak, using the broad width and rough-hewed surface to offset the delicate wood furniture.
- Play with contrasts
The homeowner’s elaborate French furniture, which includes a pair of barrel chairs, serves as a foil to the pared-down shape and neutral silk upholstery of the sofa.
- Use furniture as a frame
Narrow side tables topped with tall, fluted table lamps reinforce the sofa’s height and enclose the art. Draw the eye up.
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