April Russell – How to Create the Perfect Interior for Art

Once you’ve built your art collection, what do you do next? April Russell has more than 20 years’ experience with interior design, working with Percy Bass before setting up on her own, first in the UK and then expanding into New York and Palm Beach. In the last seven years, she has started specialising in helping her clients’ art collections to look their best in a home. She talks to Arkitexture about how best to show off your art and the importance of ‘depth’ within interior design.

Can you describe what you do?

We are not art specialists but rather we bring in as much information as possible to help with a collection. So we do the general but also have the skills to do the specialist – for example I work with Jo [a former Director at Christies] and Tom Baring. Obviously there are collections and there are collections – I’m not necessarily talking about someone who requires a curator to hang their works – it can be one or a few paintings. You’ve spent money but you don’t know how to display it to the best advantage. We help your investment to perform the best way it can.

art collection specialist

This office interior features different elements to allow the diverse artwork to ‘speak’

How does this work?

It’s not heavy-handed – we come in and make sure there’s, for example, a vignette here or a sitting area there so you can contemplate the piece. We use every inch of the space to make sure it’s working for the painting by creating individual pockets. You also need to think about the client and their future collecting, how they see themselves and how they collect, then layer it slowly as the budget affords it. That’s the best way really, enjoying each journey as it comes rather than bulk buying.

What are the key elements when putting up an art collection?

You need to start with positioning. We look at the collection as a whole and what rooms will suit what piece, to determine a balance. It’s really important to have space to appreciate the art – something big and powerful might need to be on its own. You also need to think about conservation: most art has to be preserved in three ways: out of direct sunlight which you can reduce with UV film on windows or voiles; and away from heat sources and condensation.

Then you look at the lighting. I work with TM Lighting and Rebecca Weir among others. TM Lighting’s LED lights are particularly good for older pictures that need strength to see the colours. It’s also very important to plan the position of the lights before anything happens.

Then you need to get down to the interiors – the furniture, what’s required, how the client is going to live, what fabrics are needed. You can use delicate and expensive in a formal house but when kids are involved they have to be more user-friendly! You pull all the textures, colours together in harmony then you need to look at the flow between room to room, and the access between rooms, and in doing so you give the space character.

Also you need to think about framing. You don’t want to have a situation where, for example, all the works are from the same period but framed differently. It’s confusing on the eye. There needs to be a thread to the hanging. The same goes with the picture lights – you need cohesion.

What do people forget when they’re hanging pictures?

The backdrop colour is very important. People think that paintings should be hung on white, like a gallery. Well, let me tell you there are 50 shades of white out there! I think you can use pale colours, though you want to avoid having the wall surface take away from the picture. I like to use light colours applied with a specialist technique which has a little movement in the finish and gives an illusion of depth. For lesser works that need help you can do really fun things like a lacquer wall in a funky colour. This also applies to framing – don’t overdo it but have a little something fun.

art display

Specialist paint techniques can add depth to a neutral wall

And what are common pitfalls when pulling a room together?

Colour and textures. The wrong textures on the wrong pieces can really jar, or just not be fit for purpose. People graduate to things they like without thinking about the engineering side.

What elements of an interior require particular attention?

Doors are quite important. If I can hide a door I will, if I can’t I’ll show it off – I raise them, make them double doors. Even if you don’t want to go to the expense of a new door you can tweak it here and there, eg create the illusion of panels out of ply. The ironmongery is the piece de resistance – the detail that makes the door. Charles Edwards and Collier Webb have beautiful things – I love their sea urchin handles – they’re like little treasures. It might not be a priority but a nice chunky door is a very good thing. You need to think about floors too – I try to leave a little stone area – and definitely consider patterns.

art collection

Doors can be raised and enlarged to create a statement entrance

What about service spaces like kitchens?

You spend a lot of time in the kitchen so make sure you have beautiful things in there. Even in a small kitchen you should have something, perhaps glass art light pendants, or create a feature wall with wonderful paper from Fermoie. Unique pieces of furniture can also create a backdrop – I love Plain English and their craftsmanship.

artistic kitchen design

Kitchen interior

Do you have a favourite type of project to work on?

The ones where I can make furniture. It’s such a treat for me. I get to work with craftsmen, to collaborate with people who help make your work special. I started designing pieces for places that needed a little something extra. As a designer I found it odd I would go to another designer to get what I needed. I was influenced by companies like Promemoria – their finish was so amazing. It’s that attention to detail – the ironmongery, lacquers, leathers – that make a piece. I was particularly pleased with the Empress bar.

bespoke furniture design

April designs furniture if she can’t find the perfect piece. The Empress bar

Do you have a signature style?

No – it would be so easy then! For me it’s about the client and their art collection and lifestyle, I’m just here to help. From 20 years of experience I felt and still feel that a lot of design is done without soul. Living in a home with depth to it is really important. But it takes time and effort and you have to be very passionate. I go into every aspect. It takes time and I think that shows in the finish. It makes for those little details that stop you getting bored of your interior.

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