How to Sell Art To Interior Designers

The Interior Designer Market Is Potentially Lucrative for Artists

Guest post by Dick Harrison
Interior with Painting #16801-B

Are Interior Designers on your prospect list? If one of your objectives, aside from becoming “famous” and sought after by top galleries and serious collectors, is to sell the wonderful art you create, you should consider the following stat provided by the Department of Labor: In 2008, there were 6,600 Art Galleries in the US and 71,700 Interior Designers.

You Cannot Ignore the Size of the Market

Though the number of galleries and design firms has probably taken a “hit” because of the poor economy, where do you think you are most likely to make a sale if you haven’t already established a base of buyers or a “famous name”?

Selling art to this lucrative market requires an understanding of how an Interior Designer perceives the artwork he or she must usually purchase to complete a design job for a client.

Success Requires Collaboration and Flexibility

Let’s compare the “composition” she is working on to the one that’s on your easel now. Both you and the designer have considered the design or theme you are creating. Yours is the canvas you are finishing up, adding the final details to complement the Center of Interest – the main subject – in your painting. That doesn’t mean you haven’t put a lot of effort into making those details just right.

The “composition” the designer is working on may be a single room, a whole house, and apartment or business office. She, too, has given careful thought to the design or the theme – “the look” of the total project, just as you have for your painting. Her distinctive look consists of many parts – color coordination, furniture, carpets, window treatments, and finishes from paint to wallpaper. Moreover, yes, the artwork she will hang on the walls – possibly yours. It all has to “work together” to create the perfect look her client expects.

Art to Interior Designers Is a Detail — Not Necessarily the Focal Point

Here’s what you must know if you want to sell your “composition” to her to hang on a wall in her “composition.” Your painting is one of the “details” – probably not the Center of Interest, nor where she or her client has spent the greater part of the overall budget. That doesn’t mean your painting is unimportant! If it’s wrong for the spot in her overall composition it can detract from, or ruin, the whole – but it’s still a “detail.”

That’s why to make the sale of your art will depend on how well it coordinates with her overall theme – it’s color, size, shape, proportion subject and PRICE, compared to the budget she must work within. Sadly, art is often the last detail chosen, so the more you understand, and are willing to work within her perimeters, the more likely you are to make a sale. She wont buy it if it isn’t right, any more than you would introduce a jarring or sloppy note in a detail in your painting because she’s a professional, too.

Success Rule for Selling Art – Go Where the Buyers Are

Nevertheless, remember – IT’S A HUGE MARKET – more than 10 times larger than the gallery market you may be working so hard to break into and your “fame” as an artist is far less important to the designer than it is to a collector.

By Dick Harrison (Full-time Successful Art Rep to Interior Designers for more than 20 years)

I met Dick Harrison years ago when we were both trolling the Wet Canvas boards seeking eyeballs for our first art marketing books. I don’t think he had yet celebrated the 40th anniversary of his 39th birthday then. That way of putting things in a humorous, clever manner speaks volumes about what a smart, delightful character he is.

Dick has been a tremendous source of inspiration to me. I marvel at how he has taken to learning new technology and is reinventing what he calls his last career writing books and advising visual artists. I only hope to be as active and interesting as he is when I celebrate my 40th anniversary of my 39th birthday.

Guerrilla Marketing for Artists


    • says

      Hi Pat, It is a matter of research and prospecting. Anyone who is serious about a career as an interior designer is easy to find when you start looking. I recommend you start off trying to meet one or two designers who would be willing to help you gain insights on what they are looking for, how to approach them. The more you do it, the easier it becomes and the better you get at making valuable contacts. My Guerrilla Marketing for Artists book is full of information on how to prospect and network effectively.

      • says

        My interior designer found my work in our coop gallery and borrowed a couple of pieces. That was 8 years ago and and many paintings later. Mostly commissions. She gives me colours and sizes and I paint what I think will work in the space. I also get commissions from other clients who see the finished design and want me to paint for them. Pricing is important as the designer has one in her head.

        • says

          Great news! It is always wonderful to hear about success stories. Designer can be fickle. But, if you find one who is really busy and with whom you can meet their needs, they can be a steady source of business, as you report.

  1. says

    Thanks for the article Barney!

    To respond to Patricia’s question, I have been researching the interior design market by for one joining some interior design groups on linkedin. There’s been one very interesting thread where a photographer asked about buying art online versus in a gallery or shop, and there’s been a lot of responses and different info. about this new phenomenon of buying via internet, that’s useful to an artist wanting to sell art. It’s real useful to “get inside the designers heads” as far as seeing what issues they’re posting about, to learn about how to market to them and fit “into their world.” I also am on the site, meaning I visit there and look at art there, that’s been included in design projects, to see what is going on as far as art choices in the interior design market.Just so I don’t sound too over the top here, I want to also say that I have a background in graphic design, and I currently love interior design, hence my keen interest! -KW

    • says

      I always thought that was the whole purpose of Linkedin… to get to know those who can influence your career. I suggest be respectful, not greedy and don’t overdo your prospecting. That is, do it a little at a time. I devote a whole chapter in my new book to networking. Although I am talking in it about in-person networking, the same principles apply. Gest to all who try using Linkedin. It would be great to get some reports back here on anyone’s success, or failures for that matter.

  2. michael ward says

    It would be nice to get your thoughts on pricing works for interior designers. I have sold a few works to interior designers through a gallery that carries my work. The IDs ask for, and get, a 10-20% discount on the gallery’s asking price, which they split with me. No doubt the ID bills their client full retail, or more, for the art. So, if approaching an ID, what price should we quote on a work relative to what it would sell in a gallery?

    • says

      Good question. I think 15-40% is the range most designers are looking for. They are billing their clients full price. The commish is how many of them get paid. That is, they earn their living on the difference between your price and full price. Galleries get 50% because they are inventorying and marketing your work. A designer may only inventory for a few weeks or months. Respect the ID is trying to make a living, and go from there. If your pricing is consistent, giving up 40% to an ID shouldn’t kill you to do it. You’d pay a gallery more and most often wait longer to get paid.

  3. says

    Barney, excellent suggestion about marketing to Interior Designers who are a much bigger group than galleries. It certainly represents a good potential market for sales.

    But also let me suggest that a artist may need to be prepared in a different way for this than selling to individual buyers. A local friend of mine, a very good painter, has sold a few works to ID’s and says she does not like doing it because the ID’s are a tough lot to deal with. She was asked by one to repaint a work in different colors to match certain room colors. Others wanted her to lower her prices or no sale. Now I am not saying that Interior Designers are not a good market direction but that the artist simply needs to be prepared to deal with them, maybe more so than with individual purchasers. Have your prices down and know what you are willing and not willing to do to make a sale.

    • says

      Hi Stan, you have made good points worth considering. The market is bigger, but repeat sales can be less frequent. And, you are right IDs can be picky, but so can many other types of clients. Having thick skin and being flexible, to a point, are good attributes to have.

  4. says

    As an artist specializing in ‘Metal’, I was a ‘happy camper’ reading the In’s and Out’s of targeting Interior Designers. I’ve read your books and found them to be a most valuable source of information. But in order to approach designers, I was often referred to Art Consultants first, which can be very cumbersome. Gail Taylor

    • says

      The only way approach an interior designer is to learn what they need, and find out if they can use your work. If your art fills their need, you have the possibility to create a profitable business collaboration.

    • says

      Hi Mel,
      Great question and an even better personal aim inherent in it ! – one that ties in so perfectly with another of Barney’s perceptive blogs– Dec. 16th – SELF LIMITING BELIEFS. He and I have exchanged some thoughts on that and I just sent him a possible guest post on the “self limiting belief” for not selling to designers I heard most often from artists in the twenty years I was an art rep – equally valid for approaching gallery owners, collectors, etc.

      Here’s an excerpt from my book SALES TIPS FOR ARTISTS that answers your question:

      Many artists have the impression they must go to the effort and expense of matting and framing their work in order to show effectively. The reality is, taking that step often makes the sale more difficult. The decorator looks and says something to the effect, ‘Love the picture, hate the frame…or I can’t use it, the mat color won’t work with my job.’
      Poor artist, he’s just spent a hundred and fifty hard earned dollars to have it framed in gold with a peach mat and the decorator wants blue mica and white linen. Neither the artist, nor the decorator want to “eat” the cost of reframing and the sale falls through.
      Interior designers are used to seeing art in the raw, thumbtack holes in the corners and color splashes on the unpainted edges. It won’t affect her judgement when it comes to buying. She’s also used to having art framed to her specifications and probably works with a framer on a regular basis. Framing has a different discount/markup structure and it can complicate the sale when you show framed art. There is an easy way an artist can earn extra dollars by working with a framer and carrying mat and moulding samples, but thats another chapter.”

      • says

        I should have added that if you are showing your art on ebay, at an auction, household or fine art, unless you have a “name” and are well known, framed art sells better in these venues. Don’t expect to get anywhere near gallery, or wholesale price.
        Art Fairs are different and framed art is more likely to sell at a better price, but keep in mind your art and prices are being compared to others at the auction. And “OH BOY!” are they a lot of work!
        Once you have become a reliable resource for an Interior Design firm, if they like your work, you WILL sell over and over. I sold art to some designers for decades. If you are using POD and your printer has the profile of your original, he can print it to any size the designer wants – even print a portion – say a vertical piece out of a rectangular work . When you say: “I can have this printed to YOUR specifications,” your chances for a sale go WAY UP!

        Take a look at: and

        Much success for the new year.
        Merry Christmas!

  5. says

    Selling prints through interior designers is a lot easier with newer designers. I find they’re much more eager to develop new business relationships along with the opportunity to get referrals from you for future clients. You can find new interior designers through the schools they attend and even online classifieds such as Craigslist etc. Always be sure to ask them if they have any interior design “friends” that they think you should contact as well.

  6. says

    I am an artist working in wood for over fifty years. My current work is to make well known art into 3 “D” , framed in wood and with a resin finish. Chagall’s figures fly off the surface as well as Lautrec dancers kicking feet into the air.They have made sales and are very attractive. Have contacted museum stores but there seems to be a problem with reproductions. Photos do not show the space between images..where do I go??
    Bernette Rudolph

    • says

      Hi Bernette, Museum stores are already probably selling reproductions by famous masters and have an inventory to sell already – your work would be competition to what they already have. I’d suggest you contact and visit Interior Designers, decorators and architects in your hometown. Your art sounds unique, but hard to show in a 2D email. Interior designers and their clients respond and appreciate art they can actually hold and touch.
      Try always to make an appointment by phone – these are busy people. If you have samples to show and ask for an appointment, just saying the words, “If you have just 15 minutes to see my unique work, you’ll know if it is something your clients will like. Are you working on any projects now? I can leave work on approval to show your client and can produce special pieces to your specifications,” will usually get you through the door, so your art can speak for itself.
      Look in the yellow pages or google: “Interior decorators, your city.” Design firms with phone numbers in which the first 3 digits after the area code are often in the same closely ares, because that is a “trunk line” and if you make an appointment with one designer, you’ll probably find others you may be able to visit on the same trip.
      Nothing beats showing your art in person to the buyer so they can fall in love with it. If what you show fits a project they are working on, fits the budget and the wall space they have to fill, you’ll walk away with a sale. Always ask the designer, “Can you suggest someone else who should see my work/’ and have some sort of “leave with” brochure, review, list of awards – anything with how you may be contacted. Interior designers have great memories and will often say, “I can’t use it now, but will remember it for future projects.
      Very few will have seen the sort of art you create. Finally, have you considered doing your own original designs? The ability to produce something in the colors the designer needs, should you be asked, will increase your chances for a sale. Watch for a book Barney and I are working on together HOW TO SELL YOUR ART TO INTERIOR DECORATORS
      Good Luck,
      Dick Harrison

  7. says

    Hi I am an Indian artist.Working mostly figurative abstractions on canvas with oil.I am visiting my son here in Fort Worth and will be staying till may 2015. I have brought some of my works. I would love to get my works out .Where do I go?

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