A “Gallery Walk” Challenge: How to Create an Ideal Setting for Monumental Art

Published: September 12th, 2018

What inspires the design of a room? A homeowner’s travels, heirloom rugs or a spectacular view perhaps, but I often find inspiration in a monumental work of art. People generally assume that large pieces can only be hung in large spaces on expansive white walls. I was thrilled to challenge this with a vignette I designed for the River North Design District (RNDD)4th Annual Gallery Walk. We were paired with the world renowned photographer David Yarrow of Hilton/Asmus Contemporary and with Casa Spazio, a premier Chicago showroom specializing in contemporary Italian furniture.

Now the challenge! In collaboration with gallery owner Arika Hilton, we chose a single, massive work by David Yarrow entitled, “Mankind III.” The stunning photo, 60” high and 114” wide, depicts a panoramic view of Dinka tribesmen in South Sudan “sprinkled among a forest of long-horned cattle ranged on a flat plain ribboned with smoke.” The photo is astonishing in scale and perspective and compelling in detail, drawing the viewer deeply into the scene.

Yarrow is a rule-breaking photographer, inspiring me to break a few rules as well. For example, hanging this photograph on a gray or white wall, a more typical approach, would not have done this magnificent piece justice. Look closely at the photo for what inspired our alternative. It’s there in the hides of the cattle and the traditional garb of the tribesmen: hues of amber and terra cotta. We hung the piece on a rich and textured terra cotta Maya Romanoff wall covering, drawing out the depth and richness of the photo itself. 

Throw pillows covered in Thai silk along with fabric for seating, all by Jim Thompson Fabrics through Holly Hunt, extend this richness into the space. A series of African textiles including a wedding shawl and kuba cloths from Primitive amplify the effect.

The large rug, called “Smoke,” was a great find from The Rug Company. The colors echo the tones of the cattle hides while the swirling patterns reiterate the curved shapes of horns and the silhouettes of the tribesmen. The multi-gray hues of the fur throw from Holly Hunt echo the colors in the photo and the swirls of gray in the rug, providing a great finish to the scene.

All of this is beautifully offset by a mix of tribal and contemporary furnishings. The armchair with ornamental metalwork, again from Primitive, complements the contemporary lighting, seating and coffee table from Casa Spazio.

A late night street-side view through the showroom window reveals how the resulting space embraces “Mankind III” as warmly as an African sunset.