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  • Writer's pictureTim Rhodes, RA., AIA

Architectural Principles of Designing with Art

Updated: Jan 2

For over 28 years, Rhodes Architecture + Light has designed homes that feature art collections, carefully planning for fixed and moveable art, paintings, prints, and sculpture. Our team has embedded art into our houses as parts of the architecture, planning locations, support, viewpoints and background finishes to create art places within the environments our clients craved. Art can take precedent over interiors and exterior spaces to be featured by the built space. This article focuses on the architectural principles of designing for art.


The Canoe Trail residence was designed to act as a gallery for artist and homeowner, Jane Friedman, to create and display her work, including the large encaustic painting titled “Rooted” featured in the upstairs living room, and “Cognitive Dissonance” above the fireplace downstairs. Jane’s studio occupies a renovated garage bay and opens to the Puget Sound for both creative inspiration and fresh air circulation.  

Seattle artist custom home with Jane Friedman encaustic painting
Canoe Trail Residence Image featuring the painting “Rooted” by Jane Friedman

“The large painting, “Rooted,” was inspired by a large oak tree on our property that had two trunks joined by a limb that connected them. The encaustic and oil painting is 60 inches wide by 84 inches high, in a steel frame. The tree in the painting contains a symbol of our family through a pair of owls, and a nest with five hatchlings. A closer look at the leaves reveals hundreds of hummingbirds and butterflies, while the water hosts all the varies marine animals that visit us here.” –Artist and Homeowner Jane Friedman

Living room remodel in Bremerton featuring artwork by Jane Friedman
Canoe Trail Residence Image featuring the painting “Cognitive Dissonance” by artist and homeowner, Jane Friedman

Designing a home that features an owner's artwork involves careful understanding of the art objects themselves, the media of the art and both the architecture and the interior design. Natural and manufactured lighting is a crucial consideration as well to highlight or backlight art. The size, configuration, weight, and mounting or support of each piece of art must be reviewed.

Mercer Island custom home architected by Rhodes Architecture + Light
Mercer Island Residence

We have framed paintings with projection lighting, created custom niches for historic stone panels featured in an entry and designed settings (and checked supporting structure) for two statues each weighing a ton. We’ve created “gallery walks” using a long entry hall as an art experience space.

Designed by West Seattle Architect Tim Rhodes
Lowman Beach Residence

Art can mean valued, antique and historic pieces that form focal points and provide storage and places to place additional art. Art can be featured inside and outside the home in places of interest.

Point Roberts Residence featuring custom niches for historic stone panels. Indianola Residence with bike art. Canoe Trail Residence featuring an encaustic painting by artist and homeowner, Jane Friedman.

Custom home near Seattle, WA designed by architect Tim Rhodes
Norway Hills Residence
Landscape design by Rhodes Architecture
Norway Hills, Flourishing 20 Years After Construction
Renovated garage bay turned artist studio of the Canoe Trail Residence. Artist Jane Friedman.
Renovated garage bay turned artist studio of the Canoe Trail Residence. Artist Jane Friedman.

Art can be displayed in places and ways within our homes that are unexpected or provide blank canvasses for future creation. In a small family home in Kirkland, we used an indoor-outdoor fireplace surround (finished with natural plaster) to create various niches to place the owner’s collection of Indonesian puppets and we built in a large chalkboard surface in the center of the house, a canvass where our clients and their kids could add their own changing art.

Kirkland custom home design by Rhodes Architecture of West Seattle
Kirkland Residence
Modern home design by award winning Rhodes Architecture of Seattle
Kirkland Residence

We have found that planning for the incorporation of art is worth the effort. Art creates focal points and guides one into a space, centers a room, making it special. Art adds color and texture, enlivening spaces used daily; it spurs conversation and brings richness to our lives.

Bremerton home renovation by Rhodes Architecture of Seattle
Canoe Trail Residence

Here are some key steps and considerations Rhodes Architecture + Light employs when designing a space that features art effectively.

Art is or is supported by paper, canvas, acrylic, tile, glass, stone. How it is mounted, the materials it is made from, how large or heavy it is are all considered at the inception of art placement. We build in flexibility when a wall-hanging is desired and the art is not yet  known; ideally, we have the art in hand and can measure, weight, and understand it. Most prints and paintings require lighting and daylighting (ultraviolet light in sunlight) needs to be carefully considered and likely controlled to reduce yellowing of paper and fading of paint.


“The house was designed to maximize the windows and the water view, so we had to carefully consider what spaces would be available for displaying artwork. Tim and Hugo were very creative in finding ‘art spaces’, and then designing finish elements to facilitate placement, such as lighting and secure blocking behind the drywall for ease of hanging. Some spaces were designed for specific pieces, with hidden access to power, dedicated spotlights, or custom hardware for hanging. Other walls were designed to be versatile, with large white spaces that can accommodate a variety of ideas as we rotate the display of our favorite pieces.”

–Ken and Jane Friedman

House plans Custom Seattle Home by Rhodes Architecture Seattle's best architect
Indianola Rendering

Modern, contemporary remodel of Seattle waterfront home by Rhodes Architecture and photographed by CHERYL MCINTOSH of Quanta Collectiv
Indianola finished Atrium/Stair

For residences that feature art, we model the spaces as they are designed in three-dimensions and create placeholders for the art pieces. We’ve used flat panels in modeling to represent the size and shape of hanging pieces (and ensure wall space exists and we and our clients are aware of sight-lines and how the art will be viewed from each approach). For sculpture we have used generic freestanding spheres or modeled large pieces from images and measurements to ensure that we can plan the placement, space around sculptural pieces, and manipulate settings and direction of art.

Hanging art may mean building solid blocking into walls during framing; we create interior elevations and show structural supports with notation to alert the builder that these anchorage points will be built in in the early stages of construction.


Large sculptural pieces, such as the “Scholars” at the Canoe Trail Residence, each weighing a ton, required more planning. We modeled these stone statues, created custom steel bases that could support the weight and allow placement, and worked with our clients to view several positions and orientations of the sculpture before construction started.

Designing for art in a custom home by Rhodes Architecture of Seattle photographed by CHERYL MCINTOSH of Quanta Collectiv
"The Scholars". Canoe Trail Residence

Homeowners Ken and Jane Friedman expand on the sculptures and their placement process:


“What we call “The Scholars” are actually Korean grave guardians. During the Joseon dynasty in Korea (1392-1897), stone sculptures of human figures and animals were placed around grave mounds to honor and guard the tomb. The figure wears the robe and hat of a civil official. He holds an audience tablet, lifted with both hands, and held below his chin. This pose, along with his slightly hunched shoulders, indicates respect and humility.  Each of these two figures weigh in at one ton each and were part of the collection at the Friedman Oens Gallery in Bainbridge.


During the design process with Tim and Hugo at Rhodes Architecture + Light, we mentioned that we had these pieces and sought advice on placement. (We originally assumed they would be outside because of their size and weight). Tim suggested we use them as an informal divider between the kitchen and dining area to create a hint of separation for the large main floor room. After a lot of discussion about which way they should face (towards each other or towards the kitchen) we settled on the more traditional orientation. We love how they add an ancient touch to our modern kitchen. They completely fit in and comfortably reside in the center of the action, bringing the warmth of well warn granite, that doesn’t stand out or overpower the room.”

– Ken and Jane Friedman   

Art installation in gallery style custom home renovation by architect Tim Rhodes Rhodes Architecture
Architect’s Modeling of Sculpture. Canoe Trail Residence
Gallery style custom contemporary home design by Seattle architect Tim Rhodes and photographed by CHERYL MCINTOSH of Quanta Collectiv
Installed sculptures acting as a divide between kitchen and dining area of the Canoe Trail Residence

Art may mean music as well. We designed a custom music space for the Wingspan Residence in the Seattle area, incorporating a bar, refrigeration, display of album covers, guitars, even a space for drums and other instruments. A sound-proofed home entertainment theater and play spaces were located nearby. The purpose of the bar, cabinetry, and display space was to encourage the family to get together, grab a drink, pick up an instrument and jam.

Kirkland and Bellevue area architect Rhodes Architecture and Light photography by CHERYL MCINTOSH of Quanta Collectiv
"Music Bar" in the Wingspan Residence

Architectural Placement and Background


Art can be a focal point during the passage through a space, guiding the eye. It can be a visual center for a space where time is spent such as a dining table or a bar. Art can also screen spaces, creating a perceived separation between two functions (dining and sitting, for example).


Modeling the placement in three dimensions (we use advanced Revit software to model all buildings and spaces) allows our clients to literally walk around the spaces and the art. At the Canoe Trail residence, an old neon sign was special to a client and became the focal point above a coffee-making space, warming a kitchen and announcing the function of this place in a home. This sign became a modeling element during design and visualization of the kitchen.

Exterior living places are greatly enhanced with art. At the Canoe Trail residence, antique Mexican columns reused creatively as planters frame the south end of an outdoor “dining room”, screening the space without fully enclosing it.

Landscape architecture by West Seattle award winning architect Rhodes Architecture photographed by CHERYL MCINTOSH quanta collectiv
Exterior Garden Room with Column Screens. Canoe Trail Residence

Embedding art into exterior spaces, Rhodes Architecture + Light created custom places for metal screens at the same residence, allowing our clients to fabricate permeable panels that contain the lyrics to a Joe Cocker song with great meaning to their lives. The final screens were water-jet cut from marine bronze.

Brick fireplace and custom metal grate Seattle home

“We really relied on RA&L to figure out the outdoor areas around the home. While we had a wonderful deck over the water, we didn’t have other spaces that we could fully appreciate and use. The trellis design truly framed the house and added so much interesting detail to an otherwise long and flat shape. The patio area, framed by the trellis, brickwork, fireplace, and Mexican columns, has turned out to be one of our favorite new areas of our home. It’s easily accessible to the kitchen and shares the same great view of the water and a small patch of grasses and other small plants. It turned out to be the perfect location for the steel and glass table we designed, and it doubles as a ping pong table when the family is visiting. The area is highlighted by a bronze panel and matching doors that have the lyrics of one of our beloved songs cut into the metal.”

–Ken and Jane Friedman

Art + Material and Finish Selection


Once art is envisioned, measured and placed in three-dimensional modeling, the materials and finishes it is ensconced in or backed by are important choices.


A cabinet of washed stained wood can frame a fine painting, a wall paint color may contrast the primary tones in wall art hung on it. 

Remodeled dining room near Seattle by Rhodes Architecture and Light photographed by CHERYL MCINTOSH of Quanta Collectiv
Focal point. Canoe Trail Residence
Built in shelving in custom home on the water near Seattle designed by Rhodes Architecture + Light photographed by CHERYL MCINTOSH
Curating Art with Built-in Cabinetry. Canoe Trail Residence
Library and office design custom home by Seattle Rhodes Architecture and photographed by CHERYL MCINTOSH of Quanta Collectiv
Curating Art with Built-in Cabinetry

Architecture, Materials/Finish Considerations and Art


Wall Space: Designing space and layout to have sufficient wall space for displaying artwork is obviously important. We consider the size and scale of the pieces that the owner wishes to showcase, and plan accordingly.


Neutral wall colors, cabinetry finishes, and other materials including accented natural wood forms a place to collect art.


Furniture and Decor: We suggest keeping furniture and decor simple and tones/colors understated to avoid competing with artwork. Using furnishings that complement the overall design enhances a gallery atmosphere.


Specialized Spaces: We design dedicated spaces for specific types of art, such as a sculpture garden, a media room for video installations, or a well-lit area for delicate pieces. This adds diversity to the gallery experience within the home.


Flexible Layout: We design the space to be flexible and adaptable to different art installations. Consider movable walls, display panels, or gallery-style hanging systems that allow the owner to change the arrangement and presentation of their artwork easily.


Display Heights: We plan for a variety of display heights to accommodate different types of artworks, from large paintings to sculptures and smaller pieces. This creates visual interest and ensures that each piece receives attention.

Art Storage: We may also incorporate storage solutions for the owner's art collection, including climate-controlled areas for sensitive pieces, considering built-in cabinets, shelving, or hidden storage to maintain a clutter-free appearance.

Kids skipping rocks in the Puget Sound landscape architecture by Rhodes Architecture and Light photo by CHERYL MCINTOSH
Art framing life. Canoe Trail Residence

Lighting Art: Daylighting


Art is seen because it reflects light (art pieces that produce their own light excepted). Lighting art requires a good understanding of the medium and especially the lighting of the piece. The intensity, light temperature, color (a lamp’s CRI: color rendition index), lighting location, and the projection of manufactured lighting are all important considerations. Lighting art is an art.


Daylighting is renewable light at no cost and it is a full-spectrum light. (we refer to natural daylight in order to distinguish it from artificial light sources, such as incandescent, fluorescent and LED light/lamps). Direct light, unfiltered, contains intense ultraviolet wavelengths and can damage and fade art including painting, fabric, printed materials, even metal finishes. Daylighting is not available at night either, of course; art desiring viewing after sunset requires manufactured lighting as well.


Daylight is often desirable as an art lighting source. Natural light from the south, east, and west daylight varies dramatically across the day, however. South light color temperatures may be 6000 kelvin during an overcast day but increase to 10,000 kelvin during a clear afternoon. So, lighting art with daylighting depends on the lighting direction, window or skylight placement and glass, and time of day, making it uneven. Large and well-placed north-facing windows are the best way to light art with natural light.


We favor LED lighting for art and art studios; it is consistent, available in “daylight” color temperatures (5000-6000 kelvin), and has a CRI of at least 95 (a lamp’s CRI, color rendition index, determines how accurately it will render colors; a higher number, above a CRI of 90, is highly desirable for art lighting). This lighting needs, however, to be carefully reviewed and selected.

Jane Friedman art in a remodeled garage to perform as an art studio near Seattle waterfront home
Artist Jane Friedman Encaustic Paintings; Canoe Trail Artist's Studio

The amount of light (lux) is important too. Direct sunlight can produce over 30,000 lux; it is not recommended for lighting art that is sensitive to fading and will deteriorate art works. By contrast, a good level of illumination for a painting or print is 30 foot-candles (a unit of luminance or intensity), equivalent to 325 lux.


The role of lighting in galleries is to allow the art to be seen and also to protect the art itself. We maximize natural light to illuminate the artwork and reveal its true colors. Large windows, skylights, and glass doors are several means of bringing in daylight, voiding direct sunlight, understanding the direction of the light and using filtered glass or obscured sky-lighting.

Art studio for artist, Jane Friedman. Renovated garage by Rhodes Architecture photographed by CHERYL MCINTOSH
Art studio for artist, Jane Friedman. Canoe Trail Residence

Lighting Art: Selecting Manufactured Lighting


We create lighting that can accent, frame, or backlight art. Understanding the fixtures, adjustability, projected light size and patter, and the location of the fixture itself are all important considerations. There are a number of basic fixture types used to light art.


For the most flexible projected lighting a track-mounted system may be the best option to provide for adjustment and the movement of fixtures in the future. The fixtures and lamping (bulbs) and their size, lenses, projected light pattern, color temperature and color rendition index are all important when specifying.


When tracks are not desirable or we want to hide the lighting or use a single fixture, we specify adjustable recessed ceiling spots that can be aimed at a piece of art. The affect in residences is to highlight the art, accenting a piece with light and increasing the contrast relative to the background. Most adjustable spots (which can be as small as 2-4 inches aperture and fully-recessed into a ceiling) produce a curved lighting pattern and this causes some curvature of the lighting on the piece (especially a flat wall piece such as a painting) called “scalloping”. When this effect is not desirable, we may turn to a true framing projector.


Framing projectors are a flexible and more exact way to light the face of a piece of art, allowing the light to be “framed” to the exact size and shape of the art. This type of fixture is fully adjustable, using light-masking shutters to shape light that is focused by optical lenses to frame light to the contour of art.


Small attached art lighting solutions abound as well if the fixture can be clipped to or mounted directly above a piece of art. These are fixtures, usually LED’s today, that arc over the top of a painting, print of other wall-mounted art, casting focused lighting directly onto the art. The fixture is very noticeable and visible but the light cast is dedicated the art surface and can be somewhat adjustable.


“Lighting in this project was a primary focus of the collaboration between us and RA&L. We relied on their expertise to create warm, indirect lighting that highlighted the steel beams in the kitchen and washed the living room ceiling and walls with light. We added a few classic fixtures to enhance some of the special places in the home. A P.H. Artichoke Lamp (copper) is the centerpiece of the home’s entry tower. Its placement allows for it to be enjoyed from outside the home, the entryway, and the living room. In the kitchen we added a Synapse from Apparatus, for a unique element that added interest and kept the area more open. Upstairs, we used a Serge Moulle two armed rotating sconce, for a classic element in the living room bar area.” –Ken and Jane Friedman

A P.H. Artichoke Lamp (copper) is the centerpiece of the home’s entry tower. Seattle lighting design Photography by CHERYL MCINTOSH
A P.H. Artichoke Lamp is the centerpiece of the home’s entry tower.

Custom Art Installations + Art Embedded into Architecture


We have designed and built many custom architectural elements that double as pieces of art: a lyrical metal screen built into a residence, a towering two-story structural Red Cedar column, distinctive branding signage for commercial clients, custom installations of mosaic tile in floors, and the selection of hand-blown glass lighting that becomes a focus as well as producing light and color in a space. We are passionate about incorporating artistic elements because, historically, buildings have been regarded as art in their own right. Incorporating artistic elements into the architectural design enriches the overall experience, curating a rich and dynamic ambiance.


Architect for art collection in a gallery style home Rhodes Architecture photographed by CHERYL MCINTOSH
The floor to ceiling Red Cedar column extends upstairs, adding a sculptural element and central focal point to the owner’s art collection.

“The house is supported by a metal post from the main floor to the beam at the top of the second-floor ceiling. The support post had to remain, but we weren’t sure what form it should take. We kicked around a lot of ideas, like an old mast from a sailboat, or leaving it as exposed metal. I wanted something contemporary, but also something that reflected our location in the Pacific Northwest. We ended up with a tapered Red Cedar pole, with steel interior, exposed at the top and bottom. The modern elegance of the shape, with the timeless beauty of the long grain cedar creates a stunning focal point for our entry way and can be enjoyed from both the kitchen and the living room above it.”

–Jane Friedman

Canoe Trail Residence

Home art collection architect Rhodes Architecture in Seattle
West of Market Residence
Traditional home design in Seattle
Anderson Gardens

A fireplace “inglenook” at the historic Anderson farmhouse seemed to be the perfect place a custom art. We designed native Douglas Fir crown molding with a custom- routed and copper back-painted Ralph Waldo Emerson quotation to frame time around the hearth. “There is no event greater in life than the appearance of new persons about our hearth….” The fireplace niche and mantle, backed in glazed tile, were created to encourage the display of art as well.

Traditional style home custom designed by Rhodes Architecture
Constance Lane
Traditional style home designed by Rhodes Architecture
Constance Lane

Floors in custom marble and hand-blown lighting incorporate color and texture in permanent places that greet every entrance to a residence and lighted niches are great focal points at the end of circulation spaces. An atrium converted to a gallery space incorporates new daylighting, LED lighting, and a custom niche for a treasured art-glass piece at the entry to a home in Suquamish, Washington.

Artwork featured in gallery style Seattle Custom home
Youngone Mixed Use Building
Mixed use building design Rhodes Architecture Seattle
Youngone-Art Landings

At a mixed-use live/work building Rhodes Architecture + Light designed in West Seattle, special landings at each open stair level (the building has six) was lit with natural light slots to emphasize art at each floor. Open lighted “canvas walls” were incorporated for historic images of the owner’s Korean boyhood home, lending meaning and focal points in living areas.

Remodeled garage for an art studio Rhodes Architecture Seattle
A peak into the Canoe Trail artist studio

“Working with Tim and Hugo at Rhodes Architecture and Light was a fun, creative and exciting collaboration.  We appreciated an approach that combined their experience and creativity with our dreams and ideas for how we would live in our new home.” –Ken and Jane Friedman  

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