The five homeowners featured on this year’s Art Tour of Homes, presented by @ Homes Realty, show that when it comes to art and how you live with it, there are no rules. Three of this year’s homeowners share with us the stories behind their personal collections and how when it comes to art, you just have to follow your heart.

What is your favorite piece of art in your home and what is the story behind it?

Todd Lowry & Zara Edwards Lowry: We love everything in our home, but if I (Zara) had to single out one particular piece it would be the Ylia Zomb that hangs above our bed. The story unfolded over 20 years, when I first moved to Huntsville and I got a postcard featuring his show in a gallery in Knoxville. I fell in love with his work but never could make it to the show let alone afford any of his paintings. Fast forward 17 years, when on a trip to NY we stumbled into a gallery in Soho because I recognized one of his pieces in the window. He was there to close out his show and although most of it was sold, I fell in love with a particular piece that was available. My husband bought it for me for Christmas.

Sheri & Mike Belmont: It’s hard to pick a favorite piece.  So much of our art is sentimental.  It was either made by a close friend or relative or we acquired it on a travel adventure and the piece has the memory of the purchase attached to it.  After a lot of thought, we have a painting in our dining room that we got after Mike’s mother passed away.  It came to her after Mike’s grandmother in New York passed away.  That makes the painting probably 150 years old.  We have no idea who the artist is, but it is something that has been in Mike’s family a very long time and we love it.

Anne and Mark Harbarger: Our favorite piece of art is a large landscape mural that was originally painted on the foyer wall in Anne’s grandmothers home in south Mississippi. The mural was painted by Vera Reinike in 1954 and depicts Anne’s grandmother, grandfather, mother and uncle on a spot on their homeplace in Picayune, Mississippi. Later Mrs. Reinike returned to add the baby in Anne’s grandmother’s arms as the family continued to grow

Do you remember the first piece of original art you ever bought? What was it?

Zara: The first piece of art I ever bought was a sculpture from Sergio Bustamante, a Mexican artist whom I had seen in my early 20’s in South Florida. After a bitter divorce 9 years later, I was wanting to assert my independence so I bought the piece as a sort of talisman, a symbol of female empowerment. It gets a lot of mixed reviews, but I still think it is a great reminder of strong will, a determined attitude and a celebration of colorful cultural heritage.

Sheri & Mike: The first piece of art I bought was pottery piece by Arch Pike that I fell in love with and purchased at the Monte Sano School auction probably 25 years ago.

Anne and Mark: Both of us would say our first original purchases were local artists, most likely either Carole Foret or Leslie Lockhart.

How would you describe your personal design aesthetic?

Anne & Mark: When renovating our home on Randolph we had a vision of our home being “southern casual.”  We wanted it to feel inviting and warm and tried to retain as much of the original structure and character as possible. We keep it “southern” by featuring art from regional artists such as Adele Yonchak, Tiel Duncan, and several local Huntsville artists.

Zara: I always find myself thinking in terms of color, form, function and most importantly, appeal. If I feel a visceral positive response to a piece or an idea, I get excited and want to be near it or have access to it. This has applied to not only our art purchases, the art I create, but also to how we designed our home and furnished it. My general philosophy on art and living spaces is that they need to be practical yet beautiful. They need to serve as a comfortable refuge, a constant source of stimulation and daily inspiration.

Sheri & Mike: I’m not sure we have a particular design aesthetic.  We buy or acquire pieces we love.  I’m not sure we’ve thought, “we will bring that piece home and put it [in a specific spot]”.  Even when we have, we end up moving the piece around until it finds its own happy place.

Did you go into designing your space with a pre-conceived vision, or did it develop organically? How did/does your art play into that development?

Sheri & Mike: We are quite certain our space has developed organically.  Mike had pieces when we married, I had pieces and then we have purchased many pieces together.  It was definitely a blending of our two acquisitions.  Amazingly our tastes are very similar except I probably lean more towards three dimensional art.

Anne & Mark: As we designed our home we left large walls to accommodate art. We lived with mostly bare walls for almost a year before we were ready to commit to hanging art and continue to add to our collection.

Zara: When we decided to build, we knew we had to keep in mind our love for art and the pieces we already had, we also wanted a fresh start. Coming from a darker 1900’s historical home, we wanted an open, simple, naturally bright and modern setting for our lifestyle.  As we started to bring in the art from our previous house, things seem to come to life in a more vivid way. This new perspective has inspired us to continue adding bolder pieces. Our taste hasn’t really changed, but we are now much more aware of the visual impact the art we have or choose has in our home.

What advice would you have for homeowners who are new to art-buying or feel stumped about how to incorporate art into their home?

Zara: If you bought a piece of art, it is likely because it made you feel something compelling, but if you are unsure of where to put it, then I like to think of it in terms of how often do you want it to remind you of those emotions? Do you want to share them with others or does it not matter? To my husband’s dismay, we have some of the most meaningful pieces from our collection in our bedroom. They are perfect there, because selfishly, they are the first things we see in the morning and the last things we gaze upon at night. That makes us happy. There are no rules. Go with what you love and put it where you want. Moving things around is a great way to appreciate a piece in a new light (no pun intended). Just have fun assembling over time a collection of art that make you feel excited.

Anne & Mark: (Anne) If you like it hang it and remember a little putty and some paint can cover those holes. (Mark) Never forget that fine art can be a good investment.

Sheri & Mike: Buy what you like and go with your gut.  We have seen pieces that stopped us in our tracks and for either logistics of getting it home or whatever reason we passed on it and then later were sad we didn’t make the effort to bring it home with us.  Also, don’t think all art has to be pricey.   some of our favorite pieces were acquired for around $25.  Case in point is the painting of a conquistador in our foyer that we bought on a back-road antique store somewhere in rural Alabama for $30.  We love it and have developed a whole back story for him that he is a long lost uncle three times removed who came to South America to conquer the natives and whose decedents worked their way up into North America.  LOL.  We have a warped sense of humor and some of our art reflects that.