complement|contrast: Saatchi Online Spotlight on Latin American Artists

March 19, 2013 | Alex

Saatchi Online's  weekly newsletter is a great way to discover up-and-coming artists, whose original work is still "affordable" (by art world standards, that is.) I'm particularly jazzed about this week's edition because the focus is on Latin American artists. Anyone who knows my family knows we have a real soft spot for Latin American art and textiles-- and a house chock full of Brazilian and Andean flea market finds.

For today's installment of complement|contrast, I selected Frida  (24 x 18" Acrylic on Canvas) by Argentine artist Royal Priest and No Title  (23.6 x 31.5" Acrylic on Canvas) by Brazilian artist Tania Nitrini. In addition to the typical rules of the game for complement|contrast, I made an effort to incorporate pieces from Design Within Reach, in honor of the final day of their Semi-Annual Sale. Final hours, people-- 15% off nearly all of their collections!

complementary palette | contrasting style

I was attracted to Royal Priest's Frida Kahlo "remix" for its bold palette and a distinct sense of place. But I especially love that he plays with time by contrasting the iconography of Kahlo's original works with a contemporary subject. I was inspired to continue Royal Priest's distortion of time, and further distort by playing with the sense of place.


complement | The palette is queued off of the painting's rich spectrum of reds and greens, with hints of brown and black providing a neutral stabilizer.

contrast | The art work evokes a lush, humid and wild backdrop, where the angular furnishings lend a feeling of the cool rigidity born of industrial construction. The reference to Frida Kahlo's iconic paintings plant you firmly in the Latin America pantheon, where the decor is heavily influenced by Scandinavian design and the German Bauhaus-- while the nationalities of the designers behind the furnishings span three continents. The jungle is timeless, where the decor is distinctly 1950s/1960s retro. The artist, too, plays with a sense of time in his modern spin on Kahlo's work. The contrast is inherent in the paintings and further accentuated through the use of iconic mid-century pieces.

Sources (clockwise from top left)

  1. Frida, 4 x 18" Acrylic on Canvas, by Royal Priest via Saatchi Online - $1,500
  2. Lean On Me Table Lamp, Bo Concept - $399
  3. Earl Credenza, Thrive Furniture - $3,199
  4. Stobel Textile, via Dessau Bauhaus (for Bauhaus inspired rugs that are available for purchase, see Oyyo's collection.)
  5. Eames 2 Seat Sofa, Design Within Reach - $8,719-$9,318
  6. Girard Table, Design Within Reach - $925
  7. Paulistano Outdoor Armchair, Design Within Reach - $1,062-$1,250  (*semi-annual sale price)

complementary style | contrasting palette

I'm a sucker for concentric squares. So when I saw Nitrini's Joseph Albers-inspired piece, I knew I wanted to run with the concept of grid logic. To me, this grouping epitomizes Brooklyn style-- an abundance of graphic patterns, nods to the design pantheon and an eccentricity that walks the line of discord-- the sort of edge you can only really achieve when you're just one concentric-squared throw pillow away from triggering epilepsy in your house guests. It's a tricky tight rope to walk, for sure, but my fellow Brooklynites seem up to the task. I picture this arrangement in a old brownstone with weathered, farmhouse flooring. 


complement | The furnishings, lighting and textiles echo the concentric squares found in Nitrini's piece, although they play with the dimensions and regularity of the squares. To provide relief, the ottoman abstracts the central concept one level to form a diamond pattern out of overlapping squares.

contrast | Where the painting's palette is cold, reclaimed wood and velvet upholstery offer warmth and rich texture. A spring and mint green set off the burst of orange in Nitrini's piece, while brass legs contrast with the palette's steely grays. A single strain of orange detected in the throw's weave and the copper hardware of the lighting fixture keeps the arrangement from veering into haphazard.

Sources  (clockwise from top left)

  1. Nos Das Throw by Donna Wilson, Design Within Reach - $102-$267.75  (*semi-annual sale price)
  2. Framework Credenza, CB2 - $599
  3. Bluff City Pendant - Large, Design Within Reach - $637.50 (*semi-annual sale price)
  4. No Title, 23.6 x 31.5" Acrylic on Canvas, by Tania Nitrini via Saatchi Online - $1,000
  5. Kite Kilim Floor Pouf - Iron/Straw, West Elm - $249
  6. Major Chair Satin Brass Finish - Emerald Velvet, Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams - $1,245

complement | contrast: Pink + Green Unprepped

February 5, 2013 | Alex

Ready for another installation of complement | contrast?

There was a shameful period in my past, which for the sake of convenience I'll refer to as "high school", where I essentially morphed into an illustration out of the preppy handbook. Challenging times, folks. In fact, at a recent gathering of old classmates, a friend reminded that I (allegedly) once said, "I don't understand why anyone would wear a shirt that doesn't have a collar." Yikes. I'd like to believe I'm more collarless shirt tolerant these days.

Even though my personal style may have evolved considerably, I still nurse an affection for a pink-and-green pairing. To prove that you don't have to be Lilly Pulitzer to pull it off, I'm taking on the classic color combo-- pink + green unprepped.

complementary palette | contrasting style


complement | The room takes its color cues from the artwork, introducing a green carpet with two disparate shades of green found in the figurative work. Picking up the black in the background of the work helps to temper the pink-and-green. An oak headboard softens the palette and alludes to skin tone-- a shade, it took me a moment to realize, that isn't actually present in the art work, but is one I inferred and so closely associate with the exposed torsos of the subjects. (Isn't it fascinating when our brains project what isn't there?)

contrast | The challenge lay in contrasting both the organic outline of the mens' figures and the sharply geometric, almost geode inspired, interior detail (an interesting contrast within the work itself). I opted to introduce a curved lampshade and pillow with a circular motif to contrast with the interior geometrics, while rigid horizantal lines in the carpet, headboard and locker dresser contrast with the casual posture of the human forms. Cold steel and a pale oak contrast with the heat scanner-inspired warm color variation in the piece.

Sources (clockwise from top left)

  1. Chantalle Lumbar Pillow, via Joss and Main - $19.95
  2. Murano Rug - Green by Missoni Home, via One Kings Lane - $315-$999
  3. The Lads, 2008 by Jeffrey Cutaiar, via Artsicle
  4. Locker Dresser, PB Teen - $999
  5. Low Wood Cut-Out Headboard - Barley, West Elm - $249-$399
  6. Bruno Scissor-Arm Pharmacy Sconce by Robert Abbey, via Lumens - $187

complementary style | contrasting palette

Since it's fairly easy to contrast with a black-and-white palette, I thought I'd extend the idea of complementary style one step further. How far could I stretch the thematic element before it felt hokey? Granted, the heavy-handed 'flora and fauna' theme is fairly site-specific. For a sleek SoHo loft, I overshot my mark. But in a Palm Springs mid-modern bungalow, for example, it might just the right about of kitsch. (Try picturing concrete flooring to help balance out the print overload.)


complement | The leaf pattern sets the motif for the room. An iconic print by Josef Frank and a larger-scale abstract floral pattern by Bemz play off the theme, but lend a Swedish vibe. The impact of negative space in both prints echoes a similar use of negative space in the artwork. Slab-cut coffee tables hint at the flora motif more subtly, both by virtue of their organic matter and their petal-like shape. The twisted, winding nature of the Ikea PS 2012 lamp reminded me vaguely of a climbing vine.

contrast | A black-and-white photographic print contrasts with an over-abundance of color. A deeply saturated green and magenta compete with a rich teak wood tone. The piece's photographic-- and therefore hyper realistic-- depiction of leaves contrasts with Josef Frank and Bemz's highly stylized and disparately-scaled patterns. 

Sources (clockwise from top left)

  1. Mohair Throw - Magenta, Serena & Lily - $250
  2. Ikea PS 2012 Wall Lamp, Ikea - $49.99
  3. Long Sofa by Josef Frank, via svenskttenn
  4. One Kind of Paradise (08) by Tim Trompeter, via Artsicle - $35/mo. (rental fee)
  5. Roots Coffee Table, ZinHome
  6. Ikea Lillberg Rocker w/ Flamingo Park Printed Cotton slipcover, Bemz

complement | contrast: Photography by Elizabeth T. Jones

January 29, 2013 | Alex

For my second installment of complement|contrast, a series demonstrating helpful strategies for decorating around art, I'm excited to use the work of Brooklyn-based photographer Elizabeth T. Jones as my inspiration.

Enjoy! And please don't hesitate to comment if you'd like to suggest a piece of art work for the next complement|contrast. This series has been a blast so far and I'd love to try working from a reader selected piece.

complementary palette | contrasting style

Rooster, by Elizabeth T. Jones

I like the idea of this rooster portrait (blown up into a large-scale print) in a bedroom. Since the spirit of the column is juxtaposition, there's something weird and wonderful about a farm animal in space as intimate as the bedroom. 


Complement | The room plays off of the mottled black, white and grey tone of the rooster's feathers. Citrine and red accents highlight the rubbery flesh of his feet and comb. While the floating night stand might seem off palette at first glance, it picks up the blue undertones of the piece's cool white background.

Contrast | Where the subject's feather and flesh are soft, the wood and steel furniture is rigid. Where a barnyard animal is rural and of the land, the sconces add a posh note in brass while their design is faintly nautical. Where the feather's are mottled in color, the lines of the bed linens and rug are sharp and geometric. Where a rooster is a timeless symbol throughout history, the mid-century designs of the bed and bench distinctly "period".

Sources  (clockwise from top left)

  1. Iris Swingarm Wall Sconce by Robert Abbey, via Lumens - $363
  2. Stonington Gray, Benjamin Moore
  3. Slice Mint Wall Mounted Storage Shelf, CB2 - $149
  4. Draper Stripe Ash Duvet Set (and matching sheets), DwellStudio - $310 (queen duvet) + $300 (queen sheet set)
  5. Najavo Red Rug, One Kings Lane - $229 (No longer available. See similar here and here.)
  6. Andalucia Black Leather Bench, - $146.99
  7. Mid-century Bed Frame, West Elm - $599-$899

complementary style | contrasting palette

Croque Monsieur, by Elizabeth T. Jones

This piece seems like a natural fit for the kitchen, although I visualize it in a stark, almost sterile white kitchen. I'm imagining high gloss white cabinets and subway tiling with black grout.

Funny side note: I was walking to my first night of class at Parsons yesterday when I saw this photo on the wall of a restaurant. Turns out Elizabeth took this photo for La Maison du Croque Monsieur, a cute eatery about a block from Parsons.


Complement | The artistic, grid-like arrangement of the toast pieces turns sandwiches into pop art. In keeping with the pop-modern theme, I chose a hyper-modern, almost futuristic, light fixture and stalactite-inspired chair. The natural color gradient in the butcher block's mimics the color variation in the toast, and along with the subway tile, echoes the photo's rectilinear configuration. The dot pattern in the tableware draws out the banana slices-- a fun focal point of the photograph.

Contrast | Where the photograph is packed with color and organic textural variation, I kept the kitchen sleek, glossy and predominantly white-- with a few black accents. In a slight bending of my palette contrast rule (see, this is why I avoid rules), I included subtle red accents to tie the photograph to its environment. The multi-colored vs. the monochromatic.

Sources  (clockwise from top left)

  1. 3x6 Ceramic Subway Tile - Bright Snow White, Home Depot - app $2/sq ft.
  2. City Chandelier 7, Schoolhouse Electric - $195
  3. Ikea PS 2012 Dining Chair, Ikea - $79.99
  4. Potter's Workship Tableware - Dot, West Elm - $8-$12
  5. Raw Wood Board - Large, West Elm - $59
  6. Strut Medium Table - White, Blu Dot - $699

Hope you New Yorkers are enjoying the heat wave (well, relative to the past week anyway.)

complement | contrast: "Me at 28" and "Ellie Sitting"

January 23, 2013 | Alex

When you decorate a space, where do you begin? Well, I like to begin with art.

I'm not a fan of rules when it comes to decorating. I once read in House Beautiful that every room simply must have an accent that makes your eyes pop. Reading that made a blood vessel in my neck pop. Look, it's your house, do your thing. But in practice, strategies can be helpful. Not maxims or even guidelines, but strategies. I'm comfortable with strategies.

One of my favorite strategies is to use a work of art as a jumping off point. Why? Because look to your art collection and therein lies your aesthetic sensibility, signs of your roots, and clues to how you see yourself and how you want the world to see you. In short, the art you bring into your home is the special sauce that makes you you. Ok, so there's your daily dose of profundity. Moving on.

I use art as a diving board in 1-of-2 ways:

  1. Take cues from the palette, but contrast the style.
  2. Take stylistic cues from the piece, but contrast the palette.

A space I remember is usually one with a compelling balance of complement and contrast. To demonstrate how to employ these strategies in practice, I'm super excited to launch a recurring series called complement | contrast.

In each installation, I'll begin with two works of affordable art. One will be styled using the "complementary palette | contrasting style" strategy. The second will be styled with the "complementary style | contrasting palette" approach. If I'm feeling really crazy, I might even style the same piece two ways. Here goes.

complementary palette | constrasting style

Me at 28, by B.D. White (Acrylic Spray Paint, 36" x 36") via


complement | The room plays off the teal, black & white palette of the piece, with a few brown accents thrown in.

contrast | Where the figure is masculine, the floral pillow is feminine. Where the figure's expression is very human, the light fixtures are sterile and robotic. Where the canvas is square and acrylic, the side table is  round and composed of natural materials. Where the piece's lines are organic, the vase is geometric and the rug grid-like. Where the street art inspired medium is urban, the cowhide chair is rustic.

Sources  (clockwise from top left)

  1. Aqua Floral Pillow, - $72
  2. Form Pendant Lights,  A+R Store - $120 for 3 
  3. Rolly Side Table, Design Within Reach - $300 (temporarily unavailable) 
  4. Stockholm Rand Rug, Ikea - $299
  5. 'Diamond' Vase, Bo Concept - $59
  6. Cowhide Butterfly Chair, Circa 50 - $425

complementary style | contrasting palette

Ellie Sitting, by Matt Capucilli (Acrylic on Canvas, 36" x 24") via


complement | A graffiti pillow complements the street-art reminiscent piece. A concrete table complements the minimalism of the canvas. The bisecting diagonal lines of the kaleidoscope rug and arm chair complement the diagonal composition of the figure. A construction-site sconce complements the industrial, urban tone of the piece. A long, low credenza echoes the rectangle running lengthwise across the canvas.

contrast | A black & white canvas contrasts with color-block furniture, with gray thrown in as a unifying neutral. 

Sources  (clockwise from top left)

  1. Oh 23" pillow, CB2 - $39.95
  2. Element coffee table, CB2 - $399.00
  3. Brio Deep Charcoal Geometric Rug, 2' x 3' Jaipur Rug via - $80
  4. Radar Sconce, Schoolhouse Electric - $159
  5. Sig Lounge Chair, TOO by BluDot - $220
  6. Framed buffet by moca, via