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

20 Comments

    1. Congratulations on your gallery opening! It is certainly worth all the hard work that it takes and although it will take hard work and it is a very competitive business in a strange kind of way, your persistence and with Jason’s advice, it will pay off in satisfaction, even if not always in financials. My gallery lasted 11 years before a deep recession assisted in my gallery’s demise.
      That was more than 20 years ago – and I still have fond memories of it.

  1. I recently took a number of new paintings to a brand new home in a nearby city. My clients had already indicated which pieces they wanted to consider, and I added a few others that had not made it to my website for them to see. They really appreciated being able to see how the paintings would fit in their new home. And yes, they already had some art work to admire and we talked about the great choices they made in customizing the home. I also offered to “go away” for a while so they could talk privately. That actually spurred them to talk more openly about their preferences and they committed to purchase three.

    So I think being willing to give your clients some space and private time builds trust, even if they do no take you up on it.

  2. Over the years I have noticed that many of my sales are the first non objective works going into a collection that is basically old master or very traditional. Because of this I usually have items framed quietly but significantly. The framing helps bridge the gap and once hung the buyer loves the work .they often send me photos after the work is hung.

  3. Jason, thank you for sharing this experience. If the client had requested to think about it overnight and let you know the next day, how would you have responded? Would you have left the sculpture?

    1. Absolutely June – we do this quite often. If I don’t know the client well I may ask for a credit card number to hold the piece, but I often don’t even do this when I’ve been to the client’s home. We’ve had very good results over the years when letting people live with the work overnight. I would far prefer to do this and find out they decided not to purchase, than to have them purchase and then call the next day to let me know they’ve changed their mind.

  4. Oh boy, so many stories to tell, but I’ll be brief and tell two quickly, good and bad.
    A couple saw my work in my studio and loved it. They had just finished a major remodel and wanted a painting from my red-winged blackbird series, all of which are 102″h x 30″w, very tall and narrow. I brought several to their home to choose from and in spite of their poker faces I could see that they were smitten. They discussed together – as I stood in silence – trying to decide. (Yes, silence is awkward but necessary.) Then they wondered what two would look like on either side of their living room picture window. Yup, they bought two. What’s more, they also bought a large, horizontal abstract from a different body of work for their dining room, and are still considering buying the companion piece to that. That’s the good.
    The bad. A collector expressed interest in my work and asked me to bring pieces to his house to view there. Of course I was thrilled to make the appointment and brought quite a few that I thought might please him. I spent an hour or so bringing works in and placing them where we thought they might work. He loved everything and I was feeling quite optimistic about selling a few pieces. Then he asked about pricing which I always make sure to discuss ahead of time to avoid surprises. He then proceeded to “negotiate” offering about 40% of their retail price! This time I had the poker face, bit my tongue and took a minute to collect my thoughts. We went back and forth with the discussion and he didn’t budge. I wish I could say there was a lesson learned but I haven’t figured it out yet. Those works did end up going to happy homes so maybe that’s the lesson.

    1. 40% would not have been acceptable to me either but I’m curious….what would you have considered to be reasonable? I have a piece hanging in my son’s gallery that I have already discounted 15%. While people have shown interest it’s been there for some time and I’m to the point where I just want to sell it or bring it home. I’m willing to take it down another 10% and give it until the end of November but I’m thinking that’s all.

  5. I love your real-life experiences that you tell us and I learn something from every one of them. It’s not the first time you’ve mentioned socks without holes – it cracks me up, but it’s so true.
    When visitors come to my home, most take their shoes off at the door. It seems to be a practice here. I have appreciated that some workmen come with plastic shoe protectors when they come. They are somewhat like clear shower caps.
    When people take care of the homes they go into, it’s appreciated.
    I recently spent a month in a couple’s home. Initially when we talked, it sounded like a private “residency” but as my communications with my hosts developed, it became more like a commission. They wanted specific views from their house and view of the house itself. As a result, I spent time doing fairly realistic views and didn’t mind. When back in my studio, I will use the reference photos for more freely developed work which is more my style.
    I also have a personal conduct rule that I don’t ever touch any of a homeowner’s things (artworks, more specifically) without spoken permission.

    The take-away for me was that it’s best to pin as much down beforehand with your customer so that there are no misunderstandings; and get it in writing if you can, including the prices you will sell your work for. Otherwise, it can become awkward at the end and it gives the artist little room to negotiate a fair price.

  6. Great article, Jason. I encountered a situation a few months ago I hadn’t before and wanted to share. Most of us can navigate our way around collectors fairly well with what works in any industry; politeness, interest, respect, answer their questions, serve your customer …. but this one was touchy.

    An older gentleman commissioned a portrait of his dog on the spot at a show. I’m not fond of pet portraits and avoid them as a rule but he was such a sweetheart, I did. He supplied me with endless photos of his Shih Tsu and was an enthusiastic participant in the process. I gave it my best effort and he was very happy.

    I delivered the painting and with the first ring of the doorbell I heard a furious barking. The gentleman had to gather his dog up in his arms to restrain him before he opened the door. The dog snarled and snapped at the air toward me most the twenty minutes I was there.

    The dog and his owner were lone companions and I was a trespasser … not that I blame the dog. I did what I normally do around pets and tried to make friends, not too forward, just let him figure me out. That dog was having none of it.

    We talked about framing and I offered suggestions. The gentleman handed me a check he already had made out and I left. I think he was a bit embarrassed. That wasn’t the end of it ….

    He emailed a photo of the framed dog painting and then asked about doing a landscape for him … a larger painting, more detailed, which made the dog portrait a starting point for the second, a significant commission. We communicated over a week and I was able to use his photo references again for a combined landscape of his favorite scene.

    My point is, had I over reacted with his dog the second commission would never have happened. Sometimes you just have to smile through it. When a patron finds an artist or gallery they can work with they are more likely to seek them again for more work.

  7. My wife and I delivered a commission piece to a clients’ home at the base of a mountain and on the edge of a golf course in LaQuinta, California. They had fallen in love with one of my paintings at One Steamboat Place in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, and went to the trouble of looking me up from my signature on the piece. The commission painting was the biggest one I had done at the time, but I thought it came out great. Because we had done lots of email correspondence before the delivery, I felt like I knew them. So, as I unwrapped the packaging, I had them turn away. Then I set it on the back of the couch on the wall where they planned to hang the painting. “Okay, you can look now.” They turned around and she started to cry, and he yelped (can’t think of a better word). I wasn’t quite sure how they were taking it. But it was all good. He said he had chill bumps and she cried some more. They both loved it! But you never know. It’s always baring your soul. We left with the check in hand. (C:

  8. Hi, my question is a little off-topic. Should I offer to hang the painting in the customer’s home? I really wouldn’t feel comfortable doing so, and am not sure I could do a professional job. If a customer asks me to hang the painting, are there professionals to whom could I refer him or her?
    Mary Ellen

  9. Hi Jason:
    Good conversation! I have been in homes, but since I know the conduct for job interviews and being offered a drink. The correct answer is to decline.
    What is your advice on a delivery to a home and being offered a drink?
    My inclination is to decline usually because I am driving.
    Last summer , three of us were in a paintbout , painted a house with thebiwnet’s permission, and were invited to return with our work because the client indicated that he wanted to buy one of the pieces.

    I could not use my usual excuse for declining the drink because I was not driving.

    My friends accepted which left me excepting too. What I noticed after the rounds of drinks and small talk the client really wanted the price lowered to considerably less than he offered for the piece that he had selected.

    I felt awkward after this. The negotiations went back and fourth after all the small talk about the renovated house etc and, of course, in the end he purchased the least expensive work backing off his original selection.

    He had done us a favor by letting us paint on his property. Of course, he did invited us back to paint next year!
    What are everybody’s thoughts on accepting drinks. ??

    1. When people offer a drink I usually say ‘just a glass of water’. This is easy and quick for them to do and doesn’t take much time or get in the way, Sometimes it feels politer to say this than to say a bald ‘no thanks’ which can seem a bit offish and rude. And we want the word ‘yes’ to be going around in a sales environment, not ‘no’! If they offer alcohol I would say ‘I’m so sorry, I have another appointment to get to later’. If they insist I’d say ‘just a glass of water please, I’m rather thirsty’, Or ‘I’m sorry, I can’t – I’m on medication. For my heart. I wouldn’t want to collapse on you!’ Be creative. Make it up. Have it thought out ahead of time, if you can. Practice your spiel out loud in the bathroom mirror. That way whole phrases will trip off your tongue quite naturally, that you practiced saying earlier, when the moment arrives! If you don’t want to lower the price, consider offering an additional work for free. Like bundle something in. Eg ‘I’m so sorry – I can’t reduce it any more – but I could offer you one of the original drawings for this piece, which you could hang nearby’. We can quite often add a lot of value in this way – without any real cost to ourselves. If you are going to a sales meeting with friends you could meet with them first and plan your strategy around likely scenarios. Like ‘what do we say if they offer drinks?’

  10. Great article and advice, Jason!

    Thought-provoking and wise, and it brought out very interesting comments from others, too.

    I find it’s good to take along a side-kick or two – a couple of sensible friends, or staff, who can unpack the work, drill the wall, tidy up, grab items from the car, etc, so that I can focus on interacting with the client and making everything roll along smoothly.

    The friends might also help with the details of taking the payment and counting the money, and completing the invoice, which I would have already written out, at least partially. I’d talk through the whole process with my friends first, telling them exactly what to do and what to avoid. I would tell them to decline drinks, probably. Because getting drinks for 3 starts to get in the way.

    It can be challenging selling to two clients, because they can have different points of view. And you’re just one person, they are two, you can only address one person’s concerns at a time. Taking a smart friend along can help, as they can interject comments which support your case and help you out – because they are not so ‘on the spot’ like you. Sometimes my friends will talk to the wife, in the kitchen, while I chat to the husband in the lounge, building rapport. My friends help to ‘coral them’ into agreement, in this way.

    Loved your sock tip, by the way!

  11. I just had a positive experience working with someone to install art in their home. I had a friend see some of my tiles and make a comment that she would like some for her home. I did up a series of 3 small tiles and took them over to her as an example. She decided she liked the tiles and wanted a series of 5 to go on the wall. So I left the original 3 for her to play with and did the 5. When I came back with the 5, she wanted the 3 to go on the bottom of the 5 and it worked! It was fun working the whole thing out with her.

  12. HI – Interesting conversation and I have a related question:

    My gallerist has delivered two of my paintings recently to a home after the couple picked out the work in the gallery. They have confirmed purchase of one of the pieces. However, they have still not paid for the painting, after now having it their home for at least 4 weeks. My question:
    What is a reasonable amount of time to “try out” a painting (or other piece of art) in a home before making the purchase? As the artist I feel this is too long and need to be paid or otherwise need to have the painting back in the gallery.
    I would greatly appreciate guidance and comments about this. Thank you.

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