Can’t find a perfect spot for that prized art piece? Try the bathroom.
While art collections have long graced great rooms and hallways, some luxury homeowners display cherished pieces in bathrooms. Art lovers say they like the jewel-box effect when vibrant art is featured in small spaces.
These spaces “are less cluttered than other parts of the house, so the art can really just sing,” says Young Huh, a New York-based interior designer. Conversely, as master baths have grown in size and importance, dramatic artwork can anchor the space, she adds.
“Victory Over Death,” a photogravure etching by Damien Hirst that depicts a diamond-encrusted skull, sets the tone for a powder room in the Hollywood, Fla., condo of Simon Mass.
To match the $110,000 art piece, Mr. Mass opted for subdued bathroom walls with natural-stone tile, stainless-steel finishes and black-and-white accents. “We wanted to have the room low-lit so the art would be a lot more dramatic because it’s a skull,” says Mr. Mass, the 45-year-old founder of a real-estate investment firm, who is based in Toronto.
Mr. Mass says he was inspired to hang the print in the bathroom after seeing a similar concept at a restaurant. “We wanted to make the powder room feel like a jewel,” said Mr. Mass, who is listing the beachfront condo for nearly $5 million because he has a property under construction nearby.
The downstairs powder room in Robert Alter and Sherry Siegel’s Chicago Gold Coast row house has become a repository for smaller, offbeat paintings. The bathroom’s red walls feature about five dozen paintings and a Victorian dresser refitted as a vanity. The space allows visitors to view smaller pieces that would be overlooked in the living room.
The gallery-like walls could be overwhelming in a larger space, but the art helps the small powder room stand out, says Dr. Alter, a 64-year-old physician. His collection includes 19th-century landscape paintings—works that he feels are best seen at eye level. The bathroom is meant to contrast to the couple’s more serene living space. “It’s a space for people to go in and out—not to live there,” he says.
Lissa Kutik worked with Ms. Huh, the interior designer, to display an antique in the newly renovated bathroom of her Scarsdale, N.Y., home. Ms. Kutik, 52, purchased a coffee table inset with an antique Chinese wood carving while living in Tokyo, but it overwhelmed her current living room. The carved panel was removed and mounted in its own custom niche opposite the vanity in the master bathroom. A recessed spotlight illuminates it from below. “It’s very fabulous,” says Ms. Kutik, a former teacher.
With limited space, artwork in the bathroom needs to be protected. “You want everything to be nicely recessed and tucked away,” says Ms. Huh, who also advises clients to place artwork out of the way of sinks, bathtubs and steam showers. Smaller sculptures can be displayed on high shelves or on custom pedestals placed against the wall. In general, consider artwork made from “ceramic or wood or anything sculptural,” she says, and stay away from textiles, antique scrolls, paper sketches and watercolors, which are vulnerable to moisture damage.
Mr. Mass, the Florida homeowner, is working with a curator to enclose an oversize abstract oil painting, a nude by Canadian artist Jen Mann, in a glasslike box to protect it from humidity. During a recent condo renovation, he installed extra ventilation in the master bath to keep artwork from getting damaged.
The temperature and humidity in the bathroom should be kept as steady as possible, says Richard Norton, an art-gallery owner in Chicago. “The ideal environment is a stable one.” Art pieces displayed in the bathroom should also be kept out of direct sunlight, Mr. Norton says. Instead, they need their own lighting: Halogen lightbulbs installed above a painting add polish to the room.
Mr. Norton encourages clients to think beyond works of classic nudes and choose pieces that show a sense of humor. “People can let their hair down and put up the most eccentric and fun stuff,” he says. “The bathroom really shows [a client’s] personality.”
Photographs are the go-to art for Los Angeles-based interior designer Alison Palevsky, who prefers to display “anything behind glass” in bathrooms she designs for clients. Her own powder room contains a cheeky print by artists Edward Ruscha and Raymond Pettibon. She purchased the signed print 10 years ago for $7,500 and placed it strategically above the powder-room toilet.
“For men using the bathroom at eye level, there’s a playfulness to it,” says Ms. Palevsky.
Turning the bathroom wall into an art gallery shouldn’t be an afterthought, Ms. Palevsky says. Powder rooms and master baths have become some of the most thoughtfully decorated rooms in the home, and artwork can instantly spruce up drywall. “They shouldn’t consider it a waste of a great piece of art,” says Ms. Palevsky.
When selling a home, Darin Tansey, director of luxury sales at Douglas Elliman, says large master baths that remain empty can especially benefit from an art piece. Buyers are subconsciously looking for personality in a home, says Mr. Tansey, who is working with Mr. Mass to sell his home. The extra flourishes in the bathrooms can also help a seller turn attention away from flaws, such as a bathroom’s small size. Buyers “want an experience, and art can certainly do that.”