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 Dad was an Artist | A Survivor's Story and 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

30 Comments

  1. This makes total sense. When relatives visit for a long weekend or a holiday dinner and fail to show interest in new paintings, whether my own or ones I have purchased, I am disappointed and wonder what’s wrong with them. If I have those thoughts and feelings so do collectors. Acknowledging and appreciating the works in their collection seems like such an obvious gesture, if not just basic common courtesy.

  2. I had a great experience recently bringing art to a couple’s home. They came by my booth at a local art show, and said they loved the small wine & cheese still life that they’d purchased from me a couple of years ago. They looked around my booth, and mentioned that they’d like another similar painting to put with the other in their bar. I pulled out one that was a little larger and hadn’t been on display. They really liked it but weren’t sure it would fit in the space. I had a measuring tape with me (always a good idea), and gave them the dimensions, and they decided to go home and measure the space. Often that’s the last you hear, but happily they called while I was still at the show.
    They wanted to try it in the space, and since they didn’t live far away I offered to bring the painting by after the show. I also decided to bring a screwdriver and another painting of the same size in a slightly smaller frame, so I could switch out the frames if that worked better. It did, and I was able to switch frames right on their kitchen counter. They were really happy and impressed that I’d gone the extra mile,. I got a sale and established more of a relationship with these clients. Win win!

  3. About “socks”. There is a standing joke of sorts in our family. We were taken care of by my mom’s aunt. She was urban, had married well and was professional in her own right in her career years. Decorum and “how to behave” were part of what she brought to the table where we unruly children were.
    Here’s the joke part. She always asked if we had put on clean undergarments. This was crucial for her because as she said, “If you ever have to go to the hospital you do not what to be embarrassed by what you have on.” And, she of course was right.
    I really appreciated your post because it reminded me of just how careful many (maybe most) people are about how they appear to others and act.
    I look forward to an opportunity to deliver an art work to a prospective client’s home. It is my habit to have an outfit that is ready to put on. I’ll make sure there’s a new pair of socks available.

  4. This is a great article, Jason. Love the step by step way you handled it and the approach. I haven’t had to hang a painting at someone’s home or office but I have had to hang some solo exhibitions. And I am going to use the same approach as I get people coming by and asking questions or giving comments while I am hanging. That is a good opportunity to take a break and make a pitch.

    I just had a solo show at a country club, and as I mentioned, people coming in and out of the club stopped by to comment. I should have taken more time to feel them out and have some good scripts ready. But it is never too late. Because I had to hang over 24 paintings, I have to admit, I was eager to finish the job and drive back home (a 2-1/2 hr drive one way.) As artists, I think we plan out our adventures and get focused on the job at hand but fail to expand on the added opportunities
    .

  5. When I was in the construction industry it was a requirement to wear shoe covers when entering a home and gloves whenever we had to move anything. I’m surprised that’s not a common practice when moving art into a home.

  6. In your example, where the client has not yet made a decision, what would happen should the art work get damaged en route to the client’s house? Would the Gallery be liable and have to pay the artist?
    If the client had already paid for the art work, and the art work was being delivered by the Gallery, but it got damaged en route to the client’s house, (e.g., an auto accident), would the gallery have to pay the artist?
    If you were hanging a piece of art work already paid for by the client, and the art work or even the wall gets damaged during hanging/installation, would the Gallery have to pay for damaged art work or the wall?
    Is this just a standard Gallery insurance that has to be maintained?
    Our Gallery considered providing these services, and backed off.

    1. We would be responsible. We have insurance. In the hundreds of deliveries we’ve done over the years, we’ve never had an issue, but if we ever do, I’ll take care of both my client and the artist. Delivering artwork to a client is such a great opportunity that it’s well worth any small risk.

    2. Gallery Owner: Your gallery’s Business Liability policy would pay for any damage done to a client’s home under the Property Damage to others’ property, but not for the damage to anything that is in your care, custody, and control. So the artwork itself would have to be insured for physical damage while it is in transit and/or being installed.

      Read your policy. The property coverage on most regular business owners policies has value limitations on art, jewelry, coins, etc., because that special, higher-value property would be rated differently than your other contents. So, artwork, in general, is limited in value for physical damage, even while it’s in your gallery, and especially when it’s in transit, Without extra coverages, you’re on your own. Check with your insurance agent. The coverages may not be as expensive as they are worth it. Just in case.

      1. That’s correct – we have a fine arts floater policy that covers liability for artwork. There is some coverage under our standard business policy, but it is limited to $25,000.

    3. Making an insurance claim on a piece of art can be difficult and contentious for all involved. Speaking as an artist, I would prefer to repair any damage done to one of my paintings myself. I would expect the person who damaged it – the owner or gallery – to compensate me for my time and any shipping costs, neither of which would be very high. This happened to me years ago when an owner returned a painting to my gallery to have me fix a .22 bullet hole in one of my paintings. I think my charge for the repair was about $200. (In answer to the obvious question, the owner’s grandson was playing with the gun and no, no one was hurt.)

  7. Throughout my time as an art dealer, I have had many opportunities to be involved with a sale in the customer’s home. I have always been aware of a change in attitude when the customer is negotiating in their own home vs the gallery. They tend to feel more comfortable, and somehow think that they have an advantage. I am keenly aware of this, and somehow tend to keep conveying the idea that this is an “opportunity” for them. I compliment their taste, and always point out why the piece compliments the room and how it enhances it without dominating it. I let that little comment sink in. Then somewhere down the road ask them if the room feels better to them with it in it? More than often they do say yes. If they are hesitant then it is not a good fit for the setting or the price is an issue. At this stage it is usually not the price. I like to leave the piece in the room and ask the client to walk out of the room for a couple of minutes and then return to see how it effects them. This sort of helps them clear their minds a bit and it does help get a better perspective on it. Always be polite, accommodating and never overstay your welcome. I only accept a drink or something to eat if the check is in hand.

  8. Great subject Jason. Just last week an acquaintance said he would like to look at my work that is in my studio and home. He looked and looked and then said he could not decide which would look best in the space he had in mind in his home. Because I have been reading “Starving to Successful” I recognized the signs of sincere interest. I let him know that we could take a couple of my fused glass landscape paintings to his house and once there I held them (heavy) in place momentarily so he could see them how they might be hung. He still could not decide so I asked him if he wanted me to leave them there, propped up on the couch so they would be vertical and in good light. Of course he liked that and I left. A few days later we met to mountain bike but he made a big announcement that he liked them both and will buy them both. Thanks for the great advice, Jason. We all are benefitting of it.

  9. Great Advice, I do find your fathers commenting on their sculpture the best part of this story . I believe that when you have invested so much on collecting art work, and you do have gallery owners/ specialized in this sort of business coming to your home :you further feel more proud to show off your art investment. I love it when people walk in to my small apartment and drop jaws to see so much art , if they don’t say anything I am most likely not fond of them .

  10. I don’t read too many blog posts due to time constraints but yours is very informative and I have learned a lot. Thank you!

    I have learned when I encounter a client with questions about a piece through my website that it’s best for me to not to be to wordy, to get to the point, be gracious and answer pertinent questions in a respectful manner. So I suppose many of your points apply there as well. I guess the equivalent of wearing your best socks during an encounter with a prospective client even if it is not face to face. 🙂

  11. Jason! I am curious as to why you tell us that your father is an artist and that you carry his paintings in your gallery but you refer to Elaine, your mother, as your gallery director and don’t tell your readers that she is your Mom. I met Elaine a couple of winters ago and she is lovely.

    Cheers,

    Verna 😱

  12. I love that you are so direct, don’t use artspeak and made useful practical suggestions that gallerists and artists can benefit from. As an artist, I mostly have not had to deliver art to a collector. I did win a solo exhibition in a gallery in Chicago that is a co-op. So, I did a talk at a nearby gallery and was heading out when I saw a woman from the gallery who exclaimed that she would be taking a sculpture I had made to her house to see if she had room for it! She did not want more art, but she loved the piece so if she could find a place for it she would buy it. So, thought stunned that she would remove my work and then ask me (because I happened to be around). So, I asked if she could please provide me with a signed receipt for the piece? She did, took it home and then purchased it.

  13. Thanks so much for sharing this! (As well as so many other thoughts…)
    On that last note though…
    “9. Don’t linger too long.”
    I had a couple who I enjoyed many good conversations with. I considered them to be good friends, although there was the distance of being in business between us. There was never an awkward silence, and after an hour or two of conversation about everything under the sun, I would tire of the conversation (being a bit of an introvert), and I would politely tell them I had to go. I haven’t seen them for quite a few years but I still think of them and how they’re doing.

  14. I am wondering if you should be sharing as much personal information about your buyers as you have … they may not appreciate it.
    And you may have lost any future sales or referrals with them..

  15. Thanks for the article Jason, it is all very good info. I just had an experience where I took two large pieces to a client’s home—one worked perfectly, the other (larger, more expensive) did not work for her in the spot she had envisioned it. I am an artist, but also the gallery manager of an artist collective, and I hang shows every month at our gallery, which involves curating. #1, I could tell the client really WANTED the art. Which led to #2—I needed to find a spot for the piece in her home to help her commit to it. I had noticed other art, much of it leaning against walls unhung. A piece stood out as the the right one to balance the new piece, which I was trying on a different wall than originally planned. The tableau came together. Suddenly it all worked. The client purchased the art and I came back with the artist on a different day to hang both pieces. Clients often are too close to their art and can’t see the relationships…new eyes, bringing unexpected combinations can be very exciting for everyone involved.

  16. I haven’t done any sculptures since art school. I did work in my mother’s commercial art studio where I did a lot of painting and drawing. After Bill Flynn retired, I also started doing all the photography work. We had customers picking up their art in the studio. Rarely we would arrange for clients to pick up their work at the printer or framer. I have never delivered artwork directly to a client’s home.

  17. Lovely piece ! Great article!
    I enjoyed meeting and visiting with you at your Pinetop, AZ, location of Xanadu!

    Really a beautiful space with wonderful art to see! (I bought 2 items!!!)…a welcome addition to the White Mountain community.

    I wish you much successs at this new location as well as the Scottsdale gallery.

  18. This all sounds familiar. I live in MS and had a Nashville couple come to my studio and commission a 48×48. They had saved an advertisement of my work in the MS Magazine and came to show me photos of their home where they wanted one of my southern landscape paintings. They paid the 50% deposit, hinting at an additional future painting and asking for suggestions for the spaces they had for art in their newly renovated home.
    Once the commissioned painting was done, instead of charging them $500+ for shipping…. and since I had other business in the area…I simply offered to deliver it (4 hour drive). They were so appreciative and were happy that I could actually see their home in person!
    When I arrived, before un-crating it, we had them wait in the room with eyes closed until it was unpacked and brought into the room as a way to “present” it to them in the space. They were delighted!
    While there, we got to see other works they had in their collection and measure for a 48×60 Rural South landscape they wanted next.
    Although I did not actually hang the work it was great to show them the care and respect I had for my own work! Afterwards they treated us to lunch in a nice upscale restaurant where we talked over the next painting! We left with new collector friends!

  19. Asking them if they are there full time and specific questions about their collection makes it sound like you are casing the place for a robbery. This would shut most people down at best and get you fired or reported at that worst. You got lucky.
    It’s better to ask more non threatening and neutral questions such as, who is the collector? Or, how long have you been collecting, or did you choose this piece together?

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