Bragi’s Art and Décor Blog

David Arv Bragi headshot

By David Arv Bragi

A curated news blog that brings you curious topics and interesting links related to the visual arts, décor, and interior design.

Also, visit our our art gallery to view Dolores’ original Dreamdeer’s Mandalas™ collection of fine art prints and decorative tiles.


Don’t Be a Peacock

May 10, 2021

Don't be a peacock about your interior design
The worst faux pas in interior design. Image © klimkin.

It is perfectly natural to want to show off your home after a stylish makeover. However, there are times when discretion is the better part of glamour. Like inheriting money, winning the lottery or closing a shady business deal, the last thing you want to do is brag about it to the neighbors.

Put another way, while there is nothing particularly wrong with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his fiancée Carrie Symonds hiring high-priced interior designer Lulu Lytle to refurbish his four-bedroom Downing Street flat, he probably shouldn’t have taken out a secret loan from a political party to finance it. Now there is less talk about what they got for their money and more talk about who else might have gotten something for it.

Lytele, co-founder of the artisan furniture design firm Soane Britain, has charmed high society with a luxurious mix-and-match of varying colors, fabrics and patterns crowded together in the same room. Think of how your great-aunt Hilda’s house in the old part of town looked when you visited it as a child, only the lamp on auntie’s reading table cost just a bit more than the car your parents used to drive you there.

For those of us who can’t afford luxury products, it is a simple enough matter to thrift shop our way into all of the mix-and-match décor that our hearts could desire. We are already pretty good at it, as were our ancestors before us from the dawn of time. Or at least fashion time.

But what about those of us who can afford the best, most expensive custom-designed furnishings? Your unique social circumstances may include peers who aren’t as well off financially, or you entertain a social set that isn’t impressed with flashy doodads, or perhaps you are just a personally modest person who doesn’t care for ostentatious. In other words, what do we do when we can look like a million dollars, but would rather not?

In some traditional cultures, nobody flaunts their wealth because modesty is one of the foundations of social respectability. Even though modern society has a very different view of material wealth, you have probably already learned how to present yourself politely and with humility when speaking with your less prosperous peers.

So, let’s use those skills to create an interior design scheme that reflects both your ability to live amidst quality and your preference for simplicity. Here are some tips:

Emphasize craftsmanship over appearance. Far too many upscale “McMansion” homes consist of fancy-looking facades covering up a structure that barely meets local building codes. You deserve better than this.

For instance, instead of commissioning a set of trendy, custom-designed patio furniture that will win awards this year but look dated long before the upholstery wears out, buy a classic style that everyone will love year in and year out. Then invest your real money in a well-designed patio deck with the sturdiest materials, most durable engineering and greatest functionality. People are far more likely to appreciate your wealth when it’s keeping them safe and bouncy as they dance the night away.

Don’t mistake price for quality. There’s a curious difference between economic “upper” and “lower” class families. The former tend to brag about how how much they paid for their new premium artisan umbrella stand that’s all the rage, while the latter tend to brag about how little they paid for that same umbrella stand a year after it went out of fashion and hit the thrift stores.

So, don’t be the party host who practically leaves the price tags on their showpieces, just so that everyone will know that you have way too much money lying around. Look for that sweet spot in between the two extremes, where you buy quality at fair market value and express to your peers, not the money that you spent, but your luck in finding a unique item of great beauty and functionality.

Buy from who you know. When you shop for art, objects d’art or furniture, network among your friends, family and colleagues. You may be surprised at how many artists, artists and designers exist in or just beyond your social circle.

True, collecting a premium cityscape photo that was professionally shot and framed by a friend of a friend is, in a way, showing off your wealth. But it is also sharing your wealth, letting those around you know that you value them as both artists and friends.

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Goth Design and Decor

April 28, 2021

Want to keep the kids off your lawn? Or on it? Trying to keep relatives from visiting your home? Looking for ways to keep the cool crowd coming back?

Or perhaps you just prefer to explore the rich, introspective imagery and colors of goth-themed interior design.

Goth Chandelier
Image © Amber Avalona.

There is a persistent myth that goth culture is somehow negative and depressing. On the contrary, goths can be very playful and creative with arts and crafts, rebalancing brightness and darkness on a visual level, finding beauty in the intersection of shadow and light.

Casting a wide brush, it explores the lush aesthetics of eighteenth and nineteenth century furniture and objects d’art, as well as the sharp minimalism of industrial and cyberpunk fashion.

Looking for ideas? Several YouTube video personalities can help you to explore the possibilities. Here are a few recent examples:

Christine McConnell, best known for a short-lived but wicked cooking series on Netflix, shows you how to decorate a formal dining table that will impress your most mysterious dinner guests.

SimplySpooky shares unboxings, hauls and product reviews from boutique companies with names like Ginger Red Coffin and Killstar.

Spooky Sam give video a tour of her inexpensively-decorated apartment, including skull-shaped planters, macrame, and salt-and-pepper shakers.

With a little research, you might even score your own turn-key haunted house. In Baltimore, a one-bedroom, goth-themed house just came on the market. Priced at $225,00, it includes black carpeting, black, furniture and, in the living room, a black coffin. Plus a cemetery gate and headstones outside.

Finally, my partner Dolores offers the following decorating advice, especially when the landlord or homeowner’s association doesn’t want to play along with with your proposed color scheme.

“One of the biggest disappointments for those wanting to decorate their home or room goth is a common ban on black or dark walls. An alternative would be to paint the walls to resemble white marble or light gray granite. Tape off sections into blocks before marbleizing the walls. Practice first on areas that furniture would mostly cover so that your most skillful work would be the most visible.

“If you do get to paint your walls dark, don’t do matte. Black matte paint brings up associations with backstage areas and creates a connotation of fakeness. Go for gloss!

“Make it work with pallid furniture, lots of gilded or silvered surfaces, and as many mirrors as you can put in between the silver-edged bookshelves. Mirrors in dark rooms are inherently spooky! Large windows also can help you navigate, curtained with cobweb-wispy pale curtains of gauze or lace, especially with a valence or cornice.”

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Women’s Voices in the Art Catalogue

April 20, 2021

Nobody says Picasso, the male artist.” — Patti Smith.

From time to time, men need to be reminded that we are not the default gender. Women have never been a “niche” demographic in the history of arts, crafts and design. They have just been a niche in the minds of the historians. To ensure that women receive proper representation in the historical catalogue of great art, women’s voices must be heard during the process of its curation.

For instance, when the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston began developing their Women Take the Floor exhibit of extraordinary twentieth century women artists and artisans — many of whom received far less recognition than their male counterparts — they asked local women community leaders to inform interpretation and give feedback on the project. The exhibit runs through November 28, 2021.

"Self Portrait" by Sofonisba Anguissola, ca.1556
“Self Portrait” by Sofonisba Anguissola, ca.1556

Fortunately, educating oneself about the contributions of women creatives isn’t that difficult anymore. One of the advantages of the Internet is that nobody with a voice can truly be silenced. Hotel Designs published several short commentaries from women who (well, yes) design hotels. Bob Vila lists short bios of many women who pioneered the interior design industry.

The importance women’s voices extends even to the urban areas in which so much of the art world congregates. For women to create, display, curate and collect creative works, they need to travel safely and economically between their homes, workplaces, commercial districts and cultural centers. Yet, as ArchDaily discusses, modern cities are designed by men to serve the needs of men, which often results in dangerous and expensive environments for women, the elderly, minorities and other underrepresented groups.

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Art Shows Struggle to Reopen During Pandemic

April 13, 2021

With a light now visible — if barely — at the end of the pandemic tunnel, society finds itself torn between a healthy desire for social distancing and a not-so-healthy case of cabin fever. In response, the art world is taking a few hesitant steps toward resuming the physical art shows and fairs that play a critical role in creating relationships between artists, collectors, galleries and communities.

April has seen the reopening of Spain’s Estampa Contemporary Art Fair, originally scheduled for last November, and Art Dubai, postponed from March 2020. Art Basel Hong Kong, arguably the first major show to cancel during the early stages of the pandemic, will reappear in May. So will Frieze New York, plus its London version opens in October.

However, Frieze cancelled its summer event in Los Angeles, focusing instead on a 2022 revival. In the Unites States, the Indianapolis Art Center canceled its huge Broad Ripple Art Fair for the second year in a row, temporarily replacing it with a smaller Locally Made festival in May.

Art Basel Hong Kong in 2019.
Art Basel Hong Kong in 2019. Image © Art Basel. Image courtesy Art Basel.

A pent-up demand also exists for urban street fairs and similar events, which attract customers to retail districts and give local residents a chance to browse the latest offerings from local creatives. Medford, Oregon’s Pear Blossom Festival decided to reopen, while New Jersey’s Bordentown Street Fair is postponed until 2022.

Understandably, this year’s events report fewer exhibitors and attendees than in past years, not least because of stringent quarantine requirements for attendees traveling from other countries. Some shows are accommodating health-conscious art collectors with virtual exhibits and online screening rooms running alongside the in-person event.

While the concept of virtual galleries and exhibits look good on paper (pun intended), many art collectors and casual buyers still need the intimate, look-and-feel experience of a physical encounter with art and artist, the ability to examine the quality of the paper, touch the sheen on a ceramic bowl, or chat with the gallery director over a glass of wine, instead of a plastic computer screen.

For the sake of our collective creative spirit, not to mention our physical health, this pandemic needs to end soon. Until then, stay safe, wear a mask, and give each other some space when viewing that great work of art at the next show.

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Designing Educational Spaces

April 6, 2021

What’s the difference between learning algebra and selling accessories? Apparently it’s less than we think. The physical spaces required for both share striking similarities.

When Burlington High School in Vermont had to relocate from its old campus into a former Macy’s Department Store, educators discovered that the retail outlet’s space, fixtures and signage — originally created to bring ambiance and style to a consumer destination — matched surprisingly well with the need for a visually stimulating classroom environment.

Burlington High School meeting at an abandoned Macy's Department Store
Burlington High School meeting inside of a Macy’s Department Store (Image: Burlington School District)

The architecture, furnishings and décor of an educational environment can have a subtle yet profound effect on a student’s ability to learn and thrive. In a pair of articles, ArchDaily offers a concise rundown of school design elements and their effect on a child’s well-being, as wells interior design’s overall behavioral and psychological impact on people in general.

My takeaways from a quick dive into these concepts? First, the psychology of developing nurturing learning spaces is still as much art as science; and second, it works best as a holistic concept that ties together all of the visual elements of art, architecture and engineering.

Looking for ideas? LPA Design Studios produced a nifty little promotional video describing its award-winning Menchaca Elementary School project. Personally, I liked their “learning stairs” concept the best.

Finally and for what it’s worth, the Burlington HS project has a rather strange mirror version in The School House, a 14,000 foot mansion built out of an abandoned elementary school in Pennsylvania. And as of this writing, it’s for sale.

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Appropriation and Exclusion in the Décor world

March 31, 2021

Even an activity as seemingly innocuous as interior home design can raise some thorny issues about the effects of commercialization on indigenous or diaspora art forms.

For one thing, the line between cultural exploration and cultural appropriation can be tricky to navigate, even for those with the best of intentions. Ocula magazine discusses Australian artist Tony Albert‘s visual exploration into the unintentionally harmful consequences of early twentieth-century artist Margaret Preston’s fascination with Aboriginal motifs, along with the resulting “Aboriginalia” style, which uses indigenous motifs to create pretty but culturally out-of-context images to design home décor products.

"Ancestor Wall" African-themed interior design by Kemi Lawson.
Kemi’s “ancestor wall” melds art, decor, family and genealogy into a very personal form of interior design. Image © Kemide Lawson.

At the same time, it can be argued that the opposite side of the cultural appropriation coin is cultural invisibility. When Kemi Lawson began browsing interior design magazines for ideas to decorate her new home, she found nary a mention of Black people like herself and their unique approach to décor in Africa and the Caribbean. Eventually finding success, Kemi authored an article in Harper’s Bazaar that offers several examples of these warm, inviting home environments.

Provocative exhibitions like Albert’s bring up a thorny question for socially-conscious art collectors and interior designers; how to decorate their spaces with authentic representations of indigenous culture in ethically and responsible ways? The answer is simple, really. It is the difference between sharing and stealing.

Meet and make friends with indigenous people, especially in the art world. Offer to contribute to their community by supporting their artists and artisan via direct purchases or approved galleries. Seek out their advice on how to best honor their cultural heritage, which types of art and décor would be appropriate or inappropriate to acquire, and how to display it with sensitivity.

Likewise if, like Lawson, you find mainstream design venues so focused on the dominant culture that you start to feel invisible, ditch the commercial sources for authentic voices. Turn to your friends, family, elders and community organizations. Ask them for ideas. Form a décor discussion group. Discover your culture’s aesthetics where it has always thrived, in your culture.

You will soon find that walking the path of sharing will grow your art collection into a unique learning experience that promotes understanding, wisdom and joy.

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