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REAL ESTATE

The Lazy Homeowner's Guide to Finding Great Art for Your Home

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Perfect sofa? Check. Renovated kitchen? Check. But if you want to really raise the sophistication level in your home decor, original art is in order. If you find the process of picking a modern masterpiece intimidating (not to mention expensive), fear not.

This installment of our Lazy Homeowner's Guide offers easy, budget-friendly strategies to score stunning pieces for your pad. So go ahead. Read, shop, repeat -- and then stand back and enjoy!

Think outside the gallery

Want gallery-grade work at nongallery prices? Skip the galleries and head to an art fair instead.

"There are great prices at art fairs because the overheads are so low in comparison to a gallery," says Lola Bodansky of Lola Bodansky Design Consultants.

Some big art fairs to hit include California's annual Palm Springs Fine Art Fair and The Art Show in New York City, organized each year by the Art Dealers Association of America. The handy Art Fair Calendar highlights events throughout the year, including the 47th Annual Ann Arbor Summer Art Fair in Michigan in July and Minneapolis' renowned Uptown Art Fair in August.

Plus, there's a bonus to making a road trip or vacation out of it: "It's always fun to buy art in places that will remind you of your trip."

Go back to school

Colleges can pose an excellent opportunity to snag stunning pieces from up-and-coming artists.

"Students offer originality and innovative ideas, and would most likely be happy to earn very little money for their work," Bodansky says. "A great time to go is June, during end-of-year graduation events, when the school will always display the students' best work."

Enlist some help

"Working with an art consultant can steer you in the right direction," Bodansky says. Sure, they require a fee, but galleries often give art consultants 20% off, which can balance the cost of hiring them.

For general advice -- including artists to watch, trends to follow, and how to value pieces -- art consultants charge clients $100 to $250 an hour. Find an art consultant in your area through the Association of Professional Art Advisors.

Get guidance online

To learn more about art collecting, Bodansky suggests following bloggers "who have an inside opinion of the talented artists out there" or visiting sites such as Artsy.net. In addition to selling more than 200,000 works on the site (ranging in price from $100 to $1 million), Artsy offers news about gallery and museum exhibitions and art fairs around the world. The site also provides art-savvy specialists (hailing from auction houses, galleries, and museums) who can help guide buyers to pieces matching their taste in their price range.

Buy recycled art

The expression "one man's trash is another man's treasure" can also apply to art. You'd be amazed by what people are willing to unload for a song when they're raring to clean out their attic or moving across the country.

To find these castoffs, head to flea markets, antiques fairs, and estate sales, says Bodanksy. Find events in your area on Americanfleas.com and Fleamarketfinder.org, both of which detail events by city and state. Locating estate sales is a cinch with photo-filled directories such as EstateSales.org and EstateSale.com.

Get personal

Transform your own images into tasteful art by changing up the presentation. A standard photo on paper becomes much more chic when mounted on wood or acrylic at Art.com.

Wood mounting ($90 for a 24-by-32-inch image) works beautifully for a contemporary, frameless look, while acrylic delivers a polished, dramatic effect complete with brushed nickel hardware ($250 for a 24-by-32-inch image).

For a reimagining of the image itself, All Pop Art can manipulate your photo into an Andy Warhol -- inspired pop art four-square, a comic book illustration, a propaganda-style poster, or even a watercolor sketch (each from $100 to $200).

Turn kids' stuff into masterpieces

Yes, even your kids' scribbles hanging on your fridge can be transformed into formal art.

Take a cue from one inspired mother who morphed her son's preschool craft into a minimalist modern art piece with cardstock and a matte frame. Or elevate youngsters' scribbles by turning them into a 3-D sandstone sculpture. Or, simply seek out items that resonate with you and make them into a focal piece by displaying them as a series. Another mother did just that with three of her daughter's swimsuits. When each is mounted in a shadowbox and hung up in a row, the keepsakes become a sweet statement piece that reminds us: Some of the best artworks are, after all, creations that make you smile.