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Originally published Saturday, September 27, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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What to know when choosing, or creating, an art grouping

Columnist Marni Jameson creates art for a hallway niche.

Special to The Seattle Times

"I want the monkey."

"No! I want the monkey."

"Then I want the dragonfly."

"Fine, then I get the yellow bird."

Though I feigned distress at my daughters' arguing, secretly I was delighted. At issue was which of the eight nature prints I just framed would hang outside their bedrooms.

When I started this art project, everyone in my family, including the dogs, moaned and rolled their eyes. They anticipated the pain, inconvenience and lousy dinners that usually accompany my home-improvement efforts.

My project started after a close brush with public humiliation spurred a task I'd put off for five years — changing the art in the upstairs hall.

The outgoing art — four stylized flowers imprinted on vertical pieces of composite board — hung on the wall facing my daughters' bedrooms. The wall has four large (2 by 5 feet), recessed art niches, a detail some clever builder thought would break up the space, but which pressures homeowners to feel they have to place something fabulous there.

Succumbing to niche pressure, I hastily bought the flower art right after moving in, breaking rule one of art buying: You gotta love it.

Regret grew. When giving visitors a tour, I'd wave my hand dismissively and say, "And these are going."

The clincher came while I was getting takeout at a local Japanese restaurant, one known for food, not décor. My daughter said, "Look, Mom! They have the same art we do." Yikes! On the wall, sandwiched between sumo-wrestler posters, hung the same four bad pictures. I got home and, with the urgency of an ambulance, dispatched the art to the garage.

I scoured catalogs and Web sites to find new art. I found a set I liked, but it had only three prints. (I needed four or, if I put two in each niche, eight.) I found eight the right size, color and motif, but the price almost triggered an aneurysm.

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I spotted the solution in a magazine — a bedroom wall featuring framed squares of vintage wallpaper. Ding! I'd frame my own art. I could frame old magazine covers, calendar pages, photos of leaves, postcards of places I've traveled, pictures from storybooks my kids loved, pieces of an antique map, unpaid parking tickets.

Inspired, I went to the bookstore and found a series of Dover Pictura art books filled with beautiful color illustrations, and CDs to import them. I snagged the flora-and-fauna book. Untamed nature seemed a fitting theme for outside the girls' rooms.

I printed images I liked on archival-quality paper. At Michael's craft store, I found solid-wood frames, flat black with pre-cut mats and glass, for only $8 each. Score! Because the black looked too pedestrian, I bought antique bronze paint to rag on and add dimension.

That night, fortified with a dinner of dark chocolate and strong coffee, I turned my dining-room table into Frames R Me. I dismantled the frames and rubbed paint on the wood with terry cloth. As I placed the art under the mat, my 12-year-old stopped by and, sounding stunned, said, "They look so professional." I puffed up like a kid with a bee allergy.

That's when the fighting broke out. The 15-year-old came on the scene. "I want the monkey."

"No! I want the monkey."

At last, one of my neurotic projects got the respect it deserved.

According to Kelly Jaycox, wall décor buyer for Ballard Designs, in Atlanta, here's what to know when choosing, or creating, an art grouping:

Flexibility. A set of unified prints often costs less than a large piece, and is more versatile. You can arrange sets in grids, side by side, up and down, or flanking a mirror.

Placement. Small-scaled prints work well in intimate spaces, like hallways and powder rooms. Tight quarters don't allow enough distance to appreciate larger pieces.

Motif. Fit the location. Put pictures of food in kitchens, maps in studies, wine labels in bars, wild animals in kids' areas.

Rules. Images should share a theme, all photos of umbrellas or water-colored scenes of France. Frames should match, and not be bulky. Hang them meticulously. Grids allow no room for forgiveness. More advanced decorators can break the rules a bit, says Jaycox. For instance, they could get frames of the same color, but not matching.

Mix. Jaycox encourages clients to layer framed art with other wall décor, such as mirrors, shelves or corbels.

Do it yourself. Creating your own art lets you express your passions, and can be much cheaper than ready-made sets.

Here's what mine cost: Dover Art Book with CD, $40; eight frames with mats and glass, $64; antique bronze paint, $8; archival paper, $6; total $118, less than $15 a piece.

Cheaper art you'd have to steal.

Syndicated columnist Marni Jameson is the author of "The House Always Wins" (Da Capo), available through Amazon and Barnes & Noble. You may contact her through www.marnijameson.com.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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