A Look I Love / Oil Portraits & Pared Back Interiors

3rd September 2014

I’ve had a certain look in my head for some weeks now and I just can’t shake it. Wouldn’t like to call it a trend as such because it has such a history and a timeless quality, but of late it’s been difficult to ignore it popping up all over Pinterest and a few of my favourite blogs. It started like this. Some time ago I was having my usual charity shop snoop when I almost fell over this oil portrait of a Georgian woman in a powder blue dress in a gilt frame. She was in a slight state of undress, her hair falling loosely about her shoulders, a knowing glint in her eye. And suddenly my mind was in over-drive – “should I buy this?” “how can I make it work in our home?” “maybe for the bedroom?” but on closer inspection, although the frame was a very good quality, there just wasn’t enough texture on the canvas for it to be genuine. A canvas print perhaps? So I left her there. Stupid, stupid girl.

Back home I set to searching for interiors with oil portraits on Pinterest, found three of my favourite examples and decided to decipher how to style and make the look work so that the next time I went back for her, I’d be armed with ideas and could defend my actions when Rob called me a crazy loon for bringing home such a massive, slightly bizarre piece of decor.


Take Two 

The Look – Lived-in flea market style mixed with Mid-Century Modern design classics. This 1930s bungalow in Marrakech has a costal vibe and follows a palette of blues and oranges throughout the house with feature geometric tiled flooring.

Why It Works – The portraits sit together alone as a pair anchored above the two worn leather chairs and two retro floor lamps on either side. Nice bit of mirroring there. The deeper tones of the paintings tie in with the darker areas on the chairs and the tiled flooring. Against that calming, classic blue green and that pop of orange in the light shade, they’re picked out as a feature.


Connect The Stripes

The Look – White walls drenched in light, polished concrete flooring, eclectic treasures and textiles. A simplistic look for a renovated apartment in Barcelona.

Why It Works – Sitting just off-centre on those black floating shelves, the portrait becomes a focal point in its gold frame but also blends as part of the overall look amongst some treasured finds and souvenirs. I love that they connected the stripes in the boy’s blazer to that of the mis-matched patchwork quilt. A clever way to anchor the art to the decor in the room.


Moody Hues

The Look – Classic, minimal, almost austere. High quality finishes and furniture, with polished parquet flooring, heritage grey walls, and detailing around the windows and ceiling.

Why It Works – All the portraits grouped within this scene are dark and moody, but there are lighter tones of grey and off-white in some of the women’s gowns which connect to the grey of the walls. You’ll notice that whilst there is a small selection of portraits hung in gilt frames, the rest are in a modest black or perhaps not at all. This salon style gallery wall is anchored by that beautiful, sleek, black dining table and chairs and I love that they’ve been positioned almost to the skirting board.

How To Make It Work For You 

1. Connect – The key to getting this look right is to connect your art to your decor in a way that makes it a feature but also blends it to look like a natural part of your surroundings. I mention “anchoring” several times here, it’s a fundamental rule in styling, in this case it means that you always connect your art with a piece of furniture (like the chairs in the first example) or perhaps with the soft furnishings like the stripes in the second).

2. Keep It Simple – Don’t be tempted to clutter it up with other pieces unless, like the third look, they connect to each other. Keep it minimal.

3. Consider Your Display – Experiment with the way you display your art-if it’s big enough try leaning it against the wall on the floor. Think about the frames you choose-will they all be in the same style? Perhaps you’ll use a mixture of two colours in different styles to mix it up a bit?

4. A Complimentary Backdrop – Stick to block colour on your wall that works with your art as heavily patterned wallpaper can make your portraits look old-fashioned and a little twee-you can never go wrong with fresh white walls in my book although a dark grey, almost black would be stunning in the right setting.

I did go back for my Georgian lady, twice. The second time I got scared and changed my mind. Again. The third time, I went with the absolute intention of buying her. She had gone.

So tell me, are you loving this look as much as me? Or are you one step ahead and already have a few portraits up in your home?


Great post! I love the look and you’ve found some amazing examples here of why I do! It’s one of those trends that I’ve been quite afraid of implementing – knowing how to anchor it to my own decor has been a struggle so I’ve never pulled the trigger as it were and purchased one. At the same time, I have no doubt my other half would think I went completely bonkers so for now I’ve steered clear… FOR NOW! So sorry your Georgian lady was gone, I’m sure you’ll find another you love just as much soon 😉 xxx

Haha yes! Brilliant! So pleased I’ve helped give you the boost to go for it Kimberly. I think it sounds a little more daunting than it actually is, I think what kept putting me off was that we live in a 50s build and the painting had a Georgian feel. But I think if I’d removed the gold frame and made it the only thing on the wall above our bed (with walls freshened up in white) it would’ve worked. Sob. Never mind, keeping my eyes peeled… xxx