Modern Art Partners Well with Tradition

Photography courtesy of SCAD

By: Glenn E. Wallace, COO – Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD)

Historic homes and modern art go together. Staying true to the history of your home while decorating with more modern pieces is not a nonstarter; done right, it’s fantastic. The key is to find pieces that are complementary and to follow your intuition rather than rules.

Here are five tips from Glenn E. Wallace, COO of the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), to guide you in designing a historic home:

Photography courtesy of SCAD

Create a wall of portrait paintings:

Portraits of people you know, people you don’t, old ones, new ones, even portraits of pets all are okay! Mix sizes and colors; even mix up the frames. This is an approach SCAD designers took in Ruskin Hall, a historic building that serves as the university’s Admission Welcome Center. Lay the paintings out on the floor before hanging, because the most essential aspect is balance and proportion. Larger pieces anchor the space, especially on large walls, but try different layouts to see what works.

Photography courtesy of SCAD

Use modern wallpaper with historic elements:

Sometimes, SCAD’s design team creates its own wallpaper. The importance of this craft resonated with the recent Charlie Billingham exhibition A Rake’s Progress at the SCAD Museum of Art. The artist incorporated small, close-up elements of William Hogarth’s 1735 engraving series of the same name, enlarging and repeating those elements to create patterned wallpaper on the museum walls. The old and new together amplify each other. This also works in the home.

Place multiples of old items in a new setting:

Use multiples of old items to call attention to your space. Antique ceramics, miniature bird cages, boxes—anything that you can find in multiples will work. Grouping amplifies the story, and every room should tell a story. Keep multiples in mind next time you’re searching for treasure, whether it’s ambling through your neighbor’s yard sale or cleaning out a relative’s attic.

Photography courtesy of SCAD

View holidays as opportunities:

SCAD decorates its buildings for the holidays, particularly the historic buildings that were once homes. That includes Ivy Hall at SCAD Atlanta, originally a Queen Anne Victorian home built in 1883 featuring picturesque arches and gorgeous woodwork. Since the holidays are a time for temporary decoration, they’re a great time for trying new décor. ’Tis the season for inspiration!

Photography courtesy of SCAD

Be a preservationist, not an embalmer:

SCAD’s design team frequently mixes all types of art in all types of spaces. Art doesn’t have to be of the period of its space: The art is part of the new life the home embodies, right up until it finds its next life. What’s modern today is historic tomorrow, which is why contemporary art works so well in a historic setting.

Additional tips:

  • Focus on artwork that both complements and inspires the interior design of the home.
  • Art shrinks when you install it. Don’t hesitate to go big!
  • Everyday items, such as a stack of books, can have a big impact.
  • Look for work that tells a story.
  • Vary frames for a variety of textures and tones. Color in framing can be fun, too!
  • Small multiples with slight differences can be striking.
  • Art is where you find it: antiques shops, estate sales, and flea markets will often spark a great find for your home.


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