Discussion: Selling Art at Home Interior Stores

I recently received an email from a blog reader asking about showing and selling artwork in home furnishing stores:

A friend of mine who is an interior decorator has asked me to do some art for a high end home interiors store here in Fayetteville AR where I live. She works there and is trying to add local art to the store. This seems to be a great venue for me but I am wondering what the benefits and the pitfalls would be?  I have noticed that they have asked for art that is mainly contemporary and in certain colors that fit the home interior trends. All of the work they have is $2500 and below, most of it in the $1000 range, and many of the pieces are quite large and simply done. Some of the art are art warehouse prints that the owners of the store have bought and framed for sale. Eventually they are wanting to have less of the warehouse art and more of the local original art.

I know you have always operated a gallery but what have you heard about selling art at home interior stores?

Denise S.

Fayetteville, AR

I had to reply that I hadn’t worked much with interior stores, but I promised to post the question to the blog community to see if other artists had experience and input.

I can certainly see the appeal of working with such a store – it would seem that their clientele would be complementary to ours – people looking to furnish their homes. The artist’s I’ve heard talk about showing in these kinds of venues, however, didn’t report great results. My father showed in a high-end Scottsdale furniture store for several years without a single sale, and I’ve heard other artists who felt their work was only there to accent the furniture.

I have been approached by such stores in the past asking if I would like to show gallery work in their showrooms and I’ve always declined. For me, the added complexity in terms of tracking inventory in another location, along with the liability of having my artist’s work in another business were major factors. I also know that selling art takes a trained salesperson, and though these showrooms are full of salespeople, selling art is different than selling a sofa.

But perhaps the equation is different for an artist. If you aren’t yet showing in galleries or participating in shows, exposure in an interior store would certainly beat no exposure at all. I would also suggest that it would be better to display the work in a showroom that has in-house interior designers (and it sounds like this is the case in the situation Denise describes above) who can influence their clients to consider the art.

What do You Think?

Is it worth considering showing your work in a home interior store? Have you had experience with this kind of venue? What advice would you give to someone showing in a furnishing store for the first time? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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38 Comments

  1. I would be very careful. I recently did this and when I went to get my check for a $900 Painting, the owner said she didn’t have the money. It took me 2.5 months to get paid after threatening small claims court. You would think she would forfeit her commission after that but she did not. So, be careful and put everything in a written contract. On the other hand, I have two designers I routinely work with who buy my art outright at a 30% discount which has worked out very well.

  2. This is an interesting question (topic, in general). I’ve not done it, but among other concerns, I would want some assurances regarding liability. Your art is in a space that could see a lot of traffic, not all of which will be gentle with things on the wall.

  3. What I would recommend for this artist is to set a time-frame up front with the store…maybe 6 months max, where if at the end of that time there are no sales, then it’s agreed that the artist can take the work out (without this being a surprise or having hard feelings). I tried this when I was a newer artist (years ago) in businesses with some sales here and there…but there usually comes a time where you need to take work out and show it elsewhere and having that time frame set up front is best.

    The one thing that this situation has going for this artist is that they have a friend who loves their work who is also an interior designer…and this designer may have some sales skills.

    The last part of this scenario is that if this designer were to leave this business, then that might be another reason to have a possible exit time-frames set up because the person who believed in the work the most—the designer friend—would now be gone. Hope that makes sense!

  4. From my limited experience buying furniture, the showroom pieces or the “floor models” are often sold at a discount, maybe because of the perception that they have already been “used” by shoppers. I wouldn’t like for this perception to transfer to any of my art also. In my imaginary perfect world people would furnish their homes to complement the art, not the other way around.

  5. To tell you the truth from an artist perspective I won’t do it. In-house interior designers first priority is to sell furniture and help the client make up their mind on furniture. The other factor that is in play is that the client has just spend a huge amount of money on furniture. They would not want to spend more money on an art piece (this is from my interior design experience perspective). As an Interior Designer I have had an opportunity to work with both ends off the spectrum. Low to middle income clients saved to afford the furniture they are buying therefore no money for original art. High income clients would prefer to commission a piece from an artist that is relatively well known or a well known gallery. They would see art from a furniture store as reproductions and would rather want a one off original. As an artist this is a sad but true reality.

  6. I have had experience in showing my work in a small coffee and sandwich shop and they love the fact that I change it out periodically. But no sales yet! I have my bio posted and prices on each piece. I think that the clientele think it is just decore and don’t look at it to seriously buy. Art in a furniture or home decore venue can be viewed in much the same way. The store people are intent on services surrounding their product, not mine.

  7. I have been considering showing in model homes and with stagers for high end homes. At this time houses are selling so quickly in our area it has not seemed like a profitable situation. However, there are homes that sell for well over a million that are on the market somewhat longer which might work better. So far I have felt that the logistics would be problematic for me as I am a stone carver. Interior designers might be a better way to go but only with a contract that you and your attorney have written or reviewed. Timelines for payments and return of artwork are critical.

  8. I’m mainly negative. The art work in our local interior design store is innocuous and complementary to the furniture and accessories that are the real show. None of the work is original that I can see. I well acquainted with one of the designers who knows I’m an artist. Art has never come up.
    HGTV doesn’t help, especially when the “designer” says, “and we’ll make some art for that funky space.”
    To be blunt, as an artist, I realize that the art we see is the residue of the thought, media choice, skill, and personal investment/commitment of the person behind the signature. Absent that- the result is pretense.
    That said- If you are interested in creating those expressions, and someone wants them, and if you can get away with it within your work process and identity as an artist- I’m sure there’s money on it. That would be the transaction though.

  9. As with everything, you have to evaluate the detail and purpose. I struck up a conversation with the owner at a popular interior store I visited, we hit it off quickly and I showed her some of my work. Eventually I showed 3 large pieces at her store, she promoted the art well through her Instagram and I came to a vendors event at her store. Within a month I had sold all the pieces and made good money on the sale. It was a mutually respectful and fair engagement. My name as an artist was successfully marketed and I’m overall happy with the experience, and absolutely will show my work there again.

    I believe there is not one correct answer to the question but rather a case by case mindful investigation to discover whether it’s right for you or not.

  10. I was in a high end furnishing store. They wanted 40% commission. They were good at selling furniture but knew very little about the art or the artist. It was a good deal for them getting their showroom beautified. I pulled my work out.

  11. This is a terrible idea. You’re basically encouraging retailers to decorate their interiors and enhance the furniture they offer for sale without paying anything for the art. In this context, I once had art on display at a gallery in a solo show. After the show came down, the gallerist contacted me to ask if I would bring back one of my pieces to hang during an event at the gallery. He was renting out his space for events (as many galleries do) and the people had seen my painting earlier when they were making the arrangements. I realized they just wanted free decor for their event, without purchasing my painting. No. If they like it that much, let them buy it. We have to remember that the purpose of an art gallery is to sell our art, we are not here to create work to enhance decor for rentals or salesrooms of furniture.

  12. As a professional interior designer and having worked with countless furniture stores and showrooms, I would have to say “it all depends”…

    Retail furniture stores can obtain “art” at such a low wholesale price point that it is almost impossible to compete… Additionally, your art will have to “blend in” with their look and style… therefore the artist has to conform…

    On the other hand… high end showrooms that are to the trade can be a better source for original art… but still there are limitations…

    I do think that if an artist is willing to conform to the current trends that he/she may want to consider marketing these works under a pseudonym….

  13. I’m a fine art photographer & looked into this at one time speaking to a couple of local outlets. What I found was that their prices for art are so low that I could not make reproductions for the price they were selling them. At another store, the artist got only 10% of the sale price. I haven’t looked at this since.

  14. I work with a high end interior designer gallery, they hand make all their own furniture as well as custom make it. I have shown my work there for 8 years with a great deal of success. They do show alot of abstract and typical designer art that you can see in Home Sense, all hand made. My work is very realistic with high prices. The only issue is that they are always looking for a deal. So I split a 10% discount with the gallery and usually works. I dont advertise them on my website because they are not a full fledged art gallery. I hope that helps.

    Olaf
    olaf_artist@mac.com

  15. This is a cheap way for a retail store to have something attractive on the walls and not have to pay for it. They should buy it outright or at least not charge some commission for doing nothing. I doubt there would be alot of art sales in a furniture store. However, i have seen work sell quite well in coffee shops. People take the time to look. Of course the prices are low, but all proceeds usually go to the artist.

  16. When I first started as an artist I went to the local kitchen store and asked if I could show my paintings there. The reason for that was that when I bought a kitchen in that store there was another exhibition and I could win a large painting if i participated in some sort of questionnaire. I did, and I did win the large painting. It was a very well know painter and the painting is worth a fair amount of money today.
    I have sold a lot of paintings from that kitchen shop and they never wanted any commission, just asked the customers to pay me directly. I had a showroom and they had some nice paintings on the walls.
    Today I do not exhibit in a store like that. I’m trying very hard to get in to galleries (I have read your book Jason 🙂 ) and find that I need to stay at a certain level to send the message that I’m a serious artist. I have though just left two paintings with a small shop who does a lot of decorating and the owner has a lot of private customers that she is decorating for. I have just been with her for 2 weeks, and I pop in to the shop maybe once a week, to learn to know her and her business. She knows that I take interest in her business, and maybe she can help me sell my paintings just as if she was a small gallery. There is a lot about trust in this relationship, something we need to decide for ourselves how far we go.

  17. On “Is it worth considering showing your work in a home interior store?”. I feel it is better to ask if showing your work at a home interior stores on consignment is worth it. I have shown in a few larger furniture type stores and never sold anything with one store and the other store sold 2 pieces that I got paid for but the book keeper at the store took one of my artworks home to give to her husband for Christmas. When I questioned the non payment a few months after I saw the artwork off the wall, she was annoyed that this was found out. I had her personally write me out a check and took the remaining artwork home. If you do a consignment deal with any local business, have a signed contract that at least states when you will get paid after an item is sold and what percentage the store keeps.

    For me, I would want to arrange for the store to purchase my artwork wholesale for a decent discount off of selling price. This way, it is their artwork to sell as they want to and eliminates many of the problems. I rather have a smaller profit per piece selling wholesale than getting paid only when a piece of art sells.

  18. In my experience, the interior designer that asks for work on consignment wants the look of fine art in the display space without investing anything. Each company that I have worked with had no real appreciation for unique, fine art. They hated having anything marred in their handling of the art, usually without a good understanding of why your art is different than décor prints.

    I tried to explain that for a fine art piece, the value is in the actual artwork. Yes, the presentation is important and adds value, but in the end, that frame needs to be changed at times, and that frame is not the part that sustains the value of the piece over time, especially with contemporary works.

    People might like my work, but unless they are attending an art event, it is highly unlikely that the art will sell. Designers that commission artwork for their clients are working with you as a team member, and that is a whole different scenario.

  19. I agree with the majority of comments above. People are looking for furniture, not art, sadly, in a furniture store.
    People will often approach you with ideas for ‘exposure’ etc…they are kind, but know nothing about the business of selling art. Kindly and politely decline their well-meaning offers if you have any doubts.
    That said, I once exhibited alot of art in a gym that always put art up. I sold two paintings to the same collector, who then collected my work for years, and who commissioned two large pieces as well. He put my art in two of his offices as well as his home. He was a true art lover, unlike most who went to the gym.

  20. I had a different experience than most. I sold in a high-end furniture and accessories store successfully for over ten years. The key here is HIGH-END. Multi million dollar homes/customers. Not only was I getting sales from walk-in customers, but designers placing my work. The store had opened up a smaller second location up the street that was more contemporary and would showcase “real” art as well as some limited edition giclees. This was a unique situation because I knew the owners so well, could trust them completely, and had worked there as a floral designer for years. (my regular gig). I hadn’t painted in years so we brought in a designer who had experience placing art up in the six figure range. He helped me price my art because I was clueless. If left to me I would have way underpriced my work. This arrangement worked very well, but as my prices went up, it became apparent to the store owner and myself, I could get prices for my paintings that didn’t match where they were being sold. I should be in a real gallery. My most expensive painting sold for 10K.
    I have now stopped selling at the furniture store, and am not selling anywhere. I’m trying to sever associating my art with a furniture store. My game plan is to build up a group of several paintings and approach galleries. Also have been working with a nationally ranked artist (my mentor) in an effort to take my art to the next level (charge more). My mentor is concerned that locally I will be known as an artist that sold in a furniture store which cheapens my image. He’s thinking somewhere out of the city/state. Buuuut….I have a following here. The current painting I’m working on now he recommends asking 15K (it’s very large). This next step is the great unknown and approaching a gallery makes me weak in the knees.

  21. I currently have five paintings in a popular furniture/home decor store in my area. There is a curator, who does revolving shows at the store–several a year. I’ve been in three shows, no sales so far. That doesn’t bother me, because in my opinion there is not a direct correlation between showing at a particular venue and sales in that location. I feel the act of showing one’s work is putting energy out there, my name is seen by the community and I”m building credibility as an artist. I think it is better to show work in a public place, than have it sit in my studio. I’ve had two very good commissions this year totaling a sales of seven paintings. I feel what comes around goes around– and not necessarily in a direct way.

  22. Interesting to see everyone’s experience with decorator stores. The venue I talked to wanted to give me 25% of retail, since they liked to give their designers a chance at a 50% markup after the store did their own 50% markup. Needless to say, they never got my art!

  23. It’s been my experience that people don’t go to furniture stores, coffee shops and restaurants to buy art. If you have a good friend who is an interior designer and they want to help you, let them have a small portfolio of your work and then talk you up while furniture shopping with the client. Maybe even arrange an interview after said furniture is purchased and discuss with the client an original commissioned piece if they like your work. And as we all know, the art isn’t supposed to match the furniture.

  24. I’m only in business one year, so far… so my experience is quite limited. I have one large print (i do landscape photography) in a high end design store and several up in a salon near my home (las vegas). I have made one sale from the salon but I had to be proactive about it.
    A friend of mine is in the mortgage industry and wanted me to ‘donate’ art to decorate his office, hallways and boardroom. He told me “it’s great exposure”. After considering it for several weeks I reminded him that people die from exposure. So we agreed that i would put one print in his office from my rotating selection of inventory – and I get to take it down and he deals with empty walls while I do shows.

  25. All the above comments have merit. IT ALL DEPENDS. If you have inventory stacking up, home furnishing stores/staging can be visible storage. I have had designers rent my work for stagings and one time Home Shopping rented some of my work as backdrops for high end products. I have sold some work from restaurants, coffee shops, galleries, booth shows, online (kickstarter), and any other way you can sell it. I am happiest if I can sell my work and keep all the money, but I get more work seen and sold if I show it in galleries and am happy for them to get 50%. I hate talking to people I don’t know and it is worth it to me for them to interact for me.

  26. The gallery in which I exhibit has an arrangement with several local merchants, including one clothing shop, to display works of members of the gallery in their shops. The art adds to the appearance of the shop and gives a bit more local exposure to the artist. Sales are between the artist and the purchaser and if the artist has not sales tax ID (necessary in MI) between the purchaser and out gallery. This works rather well and I don’t see any drawbacks.

  27. Various restaurants have housed my art for months at at time, and sometimes I’ve sold work this way, and sometimes I haven’t. However, have to say that most of the work I sold was to people I sent to the restaurant to see it and not often to people who just happened to be there. Insurance has been an issue for me and I feel like it’s taking a big risk to have my work out somewhere (especially lots of it) that I don’t have any control of it (as mentioned in a couple of the stories mentioned above). So, I’m pretty selective about where I will let it reside, and for how long. Perhaps earlier in life, it was a good way to get some experience showing my work, and some exposure, but now that I sell my work for more $ and have been depending on it for part of my income, it just doesn’t seem worth the risk unless I can find a way to get insurance to back it up.

    Did run across an interesting idea while visiting a friend of mine in San Francisco, and one that might work once I have a decent inventory built up again. My friend had found an artist (or gallery, not sure) who allowed people to “rent” their art for a monthly rate in order to decide whether to buy it for their home or not. My friend had rented a couple different pieces before deciding to buy one that felt right in his house. Apparently there was a decent contractual arrangement up front regarding the amount to be paid and about what would happen in the event of damage, etc. Seems to me this might be a good thing to pursue sometime once I have built up a decent inventory (if it doesn’t end up in a gallery instead) but only with the right legal paperwork to go along with it. Otherwise, I don’t think I’ll pursue having my art out in a venue other than a gallery or specific art show again myself.

  28. It definitely depends on the store, the designers at the store, and if this is the type of art you are willing to create. As a full-time artist in Northwest Arkansas (which is where Fayetteville is located), our local art market is in its developing stage. That said, I have worked for years with a regional home decor retailer (10+ years) and have had wonderful success through them. My advice to Denise is to know her market AND her art. We have a balancing act here of being home to Walmart and a world class Museum, Crystal Bridges, and a long standing reputation of being a craft fair market, with very few commercial art galleries (I can count them on one hand!), plus an MSA of over 500,000. You can just imagine the income spread we have here.
    I’d say, be comfortable with the art you produce, KNOW your target market … don’t try to fit a niche that you don’t enjoy. I love what I do, I’m paid well (direct sales plus through galleries and the retailer), and I have my own downtown art studio that I work in almost every day. And by the way, I love HGTV … this retailer referred me and now I will have some pieces (that they purchased) on a couple of shows next Spring. I can’t buy that much advertising!

  29. I think there’s too many variables to give a single answer. If you’re in a town that has galleries, too–better off in the galleries. if there’s no galleries within miles of your town, then it might be the best chance to get your art in front of the people most likely to buy. I know when my parents bought their current house, Mom thought this wall needed a painting. She eventually went through a book of “100 of the World’s Most Famous Paintings” and had a local semi-pro copy one. If there had been compatible art in the store where she bought the sofa set, she might have gotten it there. (No art galleries anywhere near our home town.) And what is your art? Safe, traditional landscapes go along with classic/antique furnishings. Abstracts and geometrics go along with modern/minimalist. Large sculptural works don’t get along with “step saver” bungalows. Slick cityscapes won’t look good with “shabby chic.” My guess is if you’re running a “bread and butter” line or some kind of prints that are compatible with the prevailing decorating style the store is selling (since they’ve probably figured out where their clientelles’ taste lie) and your prices aren’t too much over what might be in their decorating budget (yes, guessing what that might be is quite the challenge), its’ worth looking in to. If there’s plenty of galleries in your town and you don’t want to compromise your style, then pass on them.

    Speaking as someone who lives in a community where even the highest-quality sofa-sized paintings rarely fetch more than $500.

  30. I managed the framing department for several Dayton’s Home Stores in the St. Paul, MN area many years ago. We supplied the store with high & midrange priced art. We sold a great deal of work. It was my job to train the Interior Designers how to sell art, and encourage them to do it.

    If you’re willing and available to do some training for the sales people, this could be a very lucrative set up for you. If the sales people receive say a 10% commission on the artwork they sell, it is in their best interest to see to it the customer buys the work from them. Sales people are good at figuring commissions, and they know 10% on a cheap reproduction is not nearly as good as 10% on an original of say $3000.00 or more. (Obviously the furniture store will take a larger cut than the sales person receives, and paying the sales person is their responsibility.)

    Still pay attention to getting a good contract and keeping track of your inventory.

  31. I have read so many of the comments here and have to say that I have had a lot of great experience selling through interior design showrooms as well as on consignment. I had one design showroom that sold what they had of mine and then I had trouble getting paid. I dealt with it. got my money and moved on.
    I do not think that galleries are the end all in the least. I showed with a very reputable gallery that was in the best location and they had a hard time paying me and some of the other artists. They only sold one of my pieces while showing with them for a year!! Meanwhile my art was selling regularly on consignment and online. I think its just a matter of what works for you. We are all making different stuff and all designers and galleries are different.

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