Adding Functional Art to Your Home Décor: A Beginner's Guide

Tips and pieces from the artists themselves show off innovative yet functional art pieces which can be art and, for example, a timepiece.

A recent exhibition by NY NOW revealed an interesting trend in the design industry, and that was for art or décor that had functionality too. One of the most iconic examples of this was the display of clocks by QLOCKTWO, which offers a clock unlike anything else available.


In an interview done at the exhibition, one of the representatives for the firm described the clock concisely by saying that they "tell time with no hands and no numbers, but with words". The clocks look like square plaques of metal or other materials that have been imprinted with a random array of letters. Behind the front plate is a source of illumination which shifts as the time passes. Rather than illuminating a typical clock face, though, it illuminates the letters that spell out the time.

For example, at 9:50 AM or PM it will read "IT IS TEN TO TEN", but the text will be spread out randomly, causing you to read the words individually. Taking the time to read and note the time, as Thomas Moore (the representative for the firm) said, was the point of the design. "Time today is so fast moving" and so this piece is meant to create an awareness that a standard watch or timepiece does.


Meant to be a form of wall art or replace a large painting, the clocks are a good illustration of the growing preference for "functional art" in home and commercial décor.


Online retailer Brabbu also explored this trend in mid-2015, looking at a handful of pieces that incorporated unique style and design into truly functional pieces of furniture or décor. They explored the idea of "artistic and practical" and how the two concepts could be joined effectively.


They looked at the Elephant Chair by designer Maximo Riera which was equal parts chair and figurative sculpture, using the animal's front legs as the rear legs for the chair. A subtler piece featured was the impressive Cay Gold Side Table which used raw formed metal to create a unique table base, and a simple circular table top to complete the piece. Equal parts modern sculpture and functional end table, it is a perfect example of form and function.

The trend has expanded and appears in pieces like the Pixel Cabinets by Boca do Lobo and the Cygnus tables crafted by Brabbu.


Commercial Appearances

This trend is not limited strictly to the home or office, and a journal article in April 2016 pointed out that hotels are also using functional art as well. Citing the artwork integrated to create the illumination inside the Baccarat Hotel & Residences in New York, the headboards that were actually wall art in the Loews Miami Beach Hotel, and even the stones and sponges that were artfully displayed around the tubs of the Loews chain which were actually part of their high end toiletry collection.

From small and subtle to full-scale pieces, functional art for the home, office or commercial setting is something to consider. Whether it is a new headboard that has been crafted from a large painting or a side table handmade by an artisan to serve as a piece of beautiful sculpture while doing double-duty as a table, functional art is an important and significant issue.


How to Work It Into Your Home or Space

If we take some tips from the experts who are seeking to integrate functional art into hotels and public spaces, we would recommend these simple and readily accessible tactics for homeowners:


Don't leave hidden spaces without décor. Your closet doors and cabinet spaces are utilitarian, but can be enriched with a simple treatment of color or art. Why not line closet doors with paint or even artwork such as printed papers or even do a mural yourself? Just because a space is typically unadorned does not mean it should remain that way.


Painted cabinet


Paint with light. Just as the Baccarat Hotel in New York has done, consider how to use illumination, wall art, and hanging fixtures to create the best or most inspiring light. For example, a mobile or array of prisms will create artwork when refracting light. A chandelier with a few mirrored shards can reflect or cast light in unusual, but controlled ways. As one designer has said, it is all about "painting" the space with the light and making your lamps more like functional art than utility items. To keep it simple - invest in LED tape lights and attach them to the back of framed art as a source of illumination in a room…functional art!




Don't overlook wall hangings and tapestries. With the rise of sites like Etsy, you can find artisan made wall hangings that can serve multiple functions. Drape them over a doorway, window or wall where they serve as equal parts art and functional door. While we are long past the days of beaded curtains, you can still enjoy the same effect with high quality, artisan made items.

It is not all that difficult to keep on trend here and find ways of blending items that are functional while also beautiful and a true form of art. Follow some of the examples and suggestions here and also keep a sharp eye whenever in hotels and commercial spaces as they are on the cutting edge of this emerging trend.

Images used with permission, courtesy of, and

Next: How to Use Typography in Your Home Design