How to Behave in an Art Collector’s Home

Not too long ago, I had the opportunity to deliver a sculpture to clients’ home. The couple had seen the piece in the gallery and wanted to have us bring it out to their home so they could see if it looked good in their space and then could decide whether or not to purchase the piece. My gallery director, Elaine, had worked with the clients when they were in the gallery, so I hadn’t yet met them. My father, John, was kind enough to come along to provide some muscle to help move the somewhat heavy and awkward sculpture into the home.

As we  pulled up to the large, Taos style home in North Scottsdale (one of the ritziest area of town), it seemed pretty clear that these were qualified buyers. We already knew that they liked the piece. All we had to do was not screw anything up and it seemed pretty obvious we would make the sale.

I will admit that even after having been in the business for over twenty years, this scenario can still get my adrenaline pumping. I feel in complete control when interacting with collectors in the gallery, but it is a different ballgame when I’m in a potential buyer’s home. Suddenly the buyer has home court advantage!

I knocked on the front door, only to hear our client call from the garage and beckon us over. After introductions he told us he thought it would be easier to access the home through the garage. We unloaded the sculpture from our van and walked it through the garage and kitchen to the dining room, where there was a long, low ledge that looked like it had been designed for the piece. We placed the sculpture and stepped back to see how it looked . . . and it looked awesome! The client had us try it at a couple of different angles, before returning it to sit straight on the ledge.

As the husband and wife looked at the piece there ensued a bit of an awkward silence. I don’t mind silence, but I realized that my whole situation felt a bit awkward because I had no relationship with these potential customers – not a situation that puts me in a good position to close the sale.

So I began asking the couple some questions about themselves to break the ice.

“You have a beautiful home,” I said, “how long have you lived here?”

They said they had been in the home for several years.

“Do you live here year-round?” I asked in follow-up. It turned out that the couple is from Iowa, but has this beautiful home in Scottsdale, where they spend the winters. The wife is a recently retired attorney and the husband an active attorney. They explained a bit about how much time they are able to spend in Arizona each winter.

IMG_20150130_105009Then my father hit on the perfect subject. “Those are beautiful Ed Mell pieces,” he said, referring to a sculpture outside the window and a piece above the fireplace.

The clients suddenly blossomed. They began showing us around their home, proudly pointing us to a number of pieces they had acquired at auction or through galleries. The collection included a number of famous artists – Thomas Hart Benton, Joseph Henry Sharp, Gerard Curtis Delano, and others. They were excited to show of their collection to an audience (us) that could appreciate it.

After taking an informal tour of their home, we returned to the dining room where the piece we had brought was waiting.

We talked a little about the lighting (I suggested they could add a fisheye fixture to one of their existing recessed lights to provide some direct light to the sculpture).

I then asked them, “has the piece found a home?”

They looked at each other and I saw a brief nod pass between them. There was a brief negotiation on the price (that would be a subject for another post) and the husband went to write a check for the purchase.

We left their home congratulating them on their new piece, and they thanked us and asked us to let them know when the artist would be in town for a show.

Not a bad days work.

Considerations when Delivering Artwork to a Client’s Home

If you’ve had the opportunity to sell directly to art buyers, either through your studio, gallery or a show, you’ve probably found yourself in a similar scenario. Selling to a client in her home can be a challenge, but getting the art into the client’s home in the first place is more than half the battle. I have several suggestions that might help you the next time you find yourself with your art in a client’s home.

  1. Scout out the space before you take the art into the home. I actually didn’t do that in this case because the client was already in the garage and had pre-scouted the best route for us. In most cases, however, it’s a good idea to try and get the lay of the land and find any obstacles before you take artwork through the door.
  2. Take extra care to make sure your shoes are clean and free of debris so you aren’t tracking mud across your client’s floor. I’m not afraid to take of my shoes, if necessary, to avoid making a mess. Which leads me to:
  3. Make sure your socks don’t have any holes in them! I know this sounds silly, but muddy shoes aren’t the only reason you might be taking your shoes off during an art installation. I have had to climb on couches and beds, mantles and tables to install artwork over the years. It’s often easier to take your shoes off than it is to move heavy furniture. It’s a good idea to pick your best pair of socks when you are getting dressed on the morning of a delivery. So how’s that for some practical advice!?
  4. Compliment the clients’ home. It’s a small thing, but art collectors have often put a lot of effort into creating a beautiful home. Trust me, they will never tire of being complimented on their efforts. You can make your compliment even more sincere by commenting on a particular detail you like. “Gorgeous stonework,” or “What a view!”
  5. Ask questions. Without being too intense, you can ask “getting to know you” questions of your potential buyers. Questions are a great way to break the ice and get a conversation started. “How long have you lived here?””Where are you from originally?””What drew you to this house when you first discovered it?” All good questions to get started.
  6. Notice and comment on the client’s art collection. As I mentioned above, this really started a great conversation in our delivery. People love to show off their collection, and as an artist or gallerist, you are in a position to truly appreciate the art. You should be sincere – if you don’t like the art, you can skip this suggestion altogether. Better to say nothing at all than to be insincere.
  7. If you make a mess, clean it up. I always make sure that we have cleaned up the area where we have installed the art. If you’ve had to drill, make sure you clean up the drywall dust.
  8. Ask permission to take a photo of the piece. Photos of your art in a collector’s home are worth their weight in gold. If you can find a way to do it naturally, you might also try to get a photo of yourself and the collector with the art.
  9. Don’t linger too long. After the installation is done or the sale closed, wrap things up. Congratulate your buyer and thank them for their business, and then hit the road. You don’t want to overstay your welcome.

What do You Think?

Have you had any great (or miserable) experiences delivering art to a client’s home when they are deciding whether or not to buy the art? What have you learned? Do you have any questions about the process that weren’t addressed here? Share your thoughts, experiences and questions in the comments below.

 

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About the Author: Jason Horejs

Jason Horejs is the Owner of Xanadu Gallery, author of best selling books "Starving" to Successful & How to Sell Art , publisher of reddotblog.com, and founder of ARTsala. Jason has helped thousands of artists prepare themselves to more effectively market their work, build relationships with galleries and collectors, and turn their artistic passion into a viable business. Connect with Jason on Facebook

16 Comments

  1. I have a lovely collector that I can now call a friend as well, thanks to the experience of delivering my paintings to her home. She owns 9 of mine now, along with dozens by other artists. I’m always happy to help her move the art around and try different lighting and spaces for pieces in her collection and I really enjoy our visits. When I delivered my last piece I had no idea she could make room for more, but when I got there she asked, “Did you bring anything else?” Darn! Could maybe have been another sale. You can bet the next time I’m in the area I’ll bring along some more paintings, “just in case”.

  2. Hi Jason, this is a very readable and practical post. I once had a commission to paint the view from someone’s home. I was not in love with the view. What made the difference for me in finding connection and motivation was asking some of the questions you mention. When I found out that my client had summered in this location for almost 50 years of her life–since early childhood, I understood her love for this location and realized she loved her summer. Ire the way I love mine–the one I paint over and over again and have watched for almost 60 years. I determined to paint her a something that reflected our mutual love of place and I enjoyed working on the commission in a way I would not have, had I not gotten to know something about my client and her childhood spent with this view.

  3. Jason thank you, great advice. I love the practicality of the suggestions as well as the reminder that a genuine relationship provides the fertile ground for a potential sale. Knowing both your artists and your collectors (well) puts you in the enviable position of being able to provide happiness all around. A win/win as my dad was fond of saying

  4. I recently brought a piece to a collectors home after I changed out the frame for them . Thank goodness I thought to bring a piece that she had asked me about at a recent show that I did not have on hand at the time. When she saw it in person she loved it and bought it also !

    I also took another piece to a home because the potential buyer wanted to see how it looked in the space she had in mind. She loved it and bought it on the spot then talked to me about a possible commission for a different area of her home. She brought up politics . I could see that we were of different mindsets in that arena . So I carefully changed the subject and left soon after. I think it’s best never to discuss politics with potential clients !

  5. I would agree, getting a painting into a potential buyer’s home is half the battle. My sister was telling me a friend of hers had visited my website and really liked my bright, big orange poppy painting. I suggested my sister take the painting with her (she lives in another town) and give it to her friend to see if it was something she might enjoy making it part of her home. She was under no obligation to buy it and I would arrange to take it back in a couple weeks if she did not absolutely love it. Her friend was glad to see the painting in person and agreed to hang it in her home. We also made arrangements to have her pay for the painting in a short installment plan, which sealed the deal.

  6. During the local open studio tour a couple of us artists had large paintings selected, paid for by the same person with the request it could be returned if it did not suit the space. After the second weekend I checked in with the “client” and was told she hadn’t gotten around to returning it. Nobody sold art to her and her checks were returned in full. She was having a fancy dinner party? No idea but I did not bother keeping her on my email list.

  7. I was asked by an out of town gallery to bring 3 pieces to a potential client who lived in her city. Some months had transpired since the pieces had been seen. I had to take one out of a Gallery in a distant City, one was sold and the third I had to exchange for another piece in a solo exhibition at another gallery in another town.(a story in itself). The following day I drove to the client’s city with the pieces (about 500 km of driving) and met the gallery owner at the client’s home which was in a splendid part of a beautiful city. The client had forgotten the appointment. When she finally arrived I took the pieces into the home (along with a couple of others).We stood in a well lit large vestibule where she accessed the paintings. She chose one and we took it into the room where she contemplated having it hang. She then pointed out every colour in the piece that did not match her decor. We countered with all the colours that worked and why! I went on to describe the story line of the piece and how emotionally I feel it was good for this meditation room. Finally the gallery owner asked if she wanted to purchase it, and she nodded. It was about a half hour of her just staring at the piece, having us lift it to various heights over a couch. It was the most difficult sell either of us had done. She was simply quiet, introspective and indecisive, and it had nothing to do with the quality of the piece or the price.

  8. Jason, you make some good points. Being complimentary of the art already in the home is s plus. I had a recent experience with a new collector who visited my studio in Cincinnati. They were drawn to one painting that they wished to purchase for their bedroom. They had recently moved to the area from Utah 3 months prior. They moved into a recently remodeled home and needed art work. Maybe 2 pieces of art.
    I offered to bring whatever pieces they would like to see. They were happy about that and picked four paintings. I
    was more than happy to oblige, and we arranged an appointment the next day. I felt good vibes and packed a 5th painting (one that she liked but did not pick.) I thought what else I could do to enhance the experience……and came up with the idea of bringing a bottle of champagne as a house warming gift, since they had just moved in 3 months ago.
    When I greeted them , I offered them the house warming gift. They were pleasantly surprised.
    We went on with the largest of the paintings which ( not to my surprise ) was too large for the bedroom ( 48″x60″.)
    We were going up and down stairs and tried his office (also on the second floor.)
    It looked ok, but I kept my eyes opened for a better space. I found it! The entry foyer by the stair case. They were agreeable to taking their current art off the wall to try the new painting. It was perfect! They told me it was perfect as well. The energy in the room magnified.
    Now they could decide on the other art work. In the end they bought all five paintings including the sunflower painting I brought along as extra.
    Then we all shared the champagne!
    Normally , I don’t overstay a visit to
    A collector’s house, but this time I was there two and a half hours.
    The champagne was an unusual but nice touch!

  9. Many years ago someone was interested in my work and asked that I bring about 5 pieces to hang in her big open foyer. She had me help hang them, and asked for design advice, as well. I spent quite a bit of time with her. A few days later she called me to come back to retrieve all the paintings. She even told me that she had had a dinner party with them hanging there! I vowed never to bring my work to a person’s home again, unless they had bought it ahead of time. It sounds like you have had good luck with this approach. Do you think I should revise my opinion about providing that kind of service?

    1. This is a very unfortunate situation and very dishonest of the client. I’ve heard of this happening, but as far as I know it’s never happened to us. We deliver art on approval to clients’ homes dozens of times every year without issue. It’s a very powerful sales tool. While you might run into imperfect situations from time to time, it’s worth it in the long run.

  10. Another helpful post, especially about the sox! 😉 Two years ago, a couple saw one of my larger botanical paintings (48”x36”) on the final day of a juried show and inquired about it. They did not purchase it but gave the show their contact information and asked them to forward it to me. I contacted them and they said that they really liked the piece but did not think it was quite large enough for the space that they had in mind, above their large rock fire place, and asked me if I did commissions. They also wanted something a little more vivid as a center piece for their adobe living room. I told them that I did accept commissions but also offered to bring the smaller existing piece to their house for them to see in the space, hoping to make a quick sale rather than have to do a commission in the middle of a busy time for me. Once I had the piece in their house, and was straddling between a ladder and their mantle (shoes off and fortunately wearing nice socks, or socks at all for that matter), we all agreed that the piece was indeed too small for the space but the owners could not agree on how big the commissioned piece should be. I took a photo of the space along with some measurements and offered to mock up various shapes and sizes superimposed over the photo of their fireplace using Photoshop. They agreed on one a few days later and I went to work. As a side note, the art that they previously had hanging there was about to fall out of their applied flagstone wall because they had not used adequate hooks. I had noticed this and was able to bring a better hanging system when I delivered the commission. They were extra impressed that I was able to provide that and could install it more securely.

    1. Your post made me think about the liability of hanging on a surface that is difficult or like stone that can’t be repaired. Would you put the hangers into the mortar between the rocks? You certainly can’t use trial and error to hang it, especially a piece there on a trial basis. I’m so glad that you knew how to handle the situation and that it turned out well!

  11. Great suggestions in your ‘getting to know you’ comments. Some of it is easy but your comments made me think a bit further as I transition form wearables to wall pieces.

  12. The best aspect in visiting a customer’s home is to see the work of other artists. I have been fortunate to see visionary work of obscure artists and the unpublished work of some very famous painters and sculptors. One customer commissioned a work from an artist famous in my genre. It was, hands down his most excellent work, and had never been published. Commenting positively on the work of other artists, and the often thoughtful placement in the home is a real ice-breaker!

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