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.


  1. 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.


  1. 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


  1. 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.


  1. 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.


  1. 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.


  1. 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.


  1. 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.


  1. 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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