It's one thing to appreciate a piece of art, it's another to know how to hang it in your home. You need to consider more factors than you might think ' good principles of display involve more than just eyeballing what you think the middle of the wall is and banging a nail in. Done right, art can complete the look of your living space. But too often placement, lighting, and even frame material take a back seat or are never considered at all.
Although rules of thumb exist, you don't want a space that seems to follow them stiffly. Give yourself permission to be creative, says J.J. Johnson, senior designer for Rubin's Furniture and owner of Designs by J.J., a private design consulting business. It's also important to think beyond the artwork and about how you want the wall to look overall, he says. It's all about 'the big picture': Think of the entire room as a canvas; your artwork should balance everything else in the space.
Here are a dozen tips for hanging two-dimensional art in your home, compiled from conversations with Wendy Skinner of Moore Designs (part of the Designers Studio in Middleton); Daryl Haessig, who works with two-dimensional artists as a merchant at The Guild in Madison; and Johnson.
Get ready, get set.... Place furniture and put up any window treatments first, because curtains define the end of a window and the wall space remaining. That's important for placement. If you want to paint or add texture to the walls and ceiling, do that now too. Especially with the finishes available today, the whole wall can be a piece of art and what's hung there in a frame is just the final touch. Consider the color of the wall behind the piece of art, too. That can make or break a piece of art. You can't ignore its surroundings. Johnson, who generally avoids white walls when designing rooms, likes to go with deeper hues if he's hanging art dominated by primary colors. Otherwise he will look for a consistent color among the pieces and pick that for the wall they will hang on.
Try for eye-level placement. A frequent blunder is to hang artwork too high. The middle of the piece of art should be 5 feet 5 inches ' or about average eye level ' off the floor, depending on the size of the art. Anything higher is disconcerting. But there are exceptions, depending on what look you are trying to achieve.
The exception to this is when you hang salon-style, floor to ceiling over the whole wall. This might work best if the spot is spacious ' it's a big wall or the ceiling is high ' and with some theme to the art. But Johnson thinks the look can work in smaller spaces as well, especially if larger pieces are used. He likes to start with a larger piece in the middle and then let pieces radiate out from there while they get proportionately smaller and the number stays uneven.
Complete environmental impact statement. Well, it's not that complicated, but many people forget about the need to conserve the artwork. You need to worry about art on paper, for instance, if it will get direct sunlight; oils and acrylics are more stable. You should consider exposure to moisture and dramatic changes in temperature that you might get in a location like a three-season porch or a bathroom. Consult with a professional framer about protective glass that prevents damage from sunlight.
Oh say, can you see? While natural light may damage the art, of course you want to be able to see the art well. Light can be supplied artificially with adjustable track lighting or with individual lights that hang over the painting. Pin lights can shine down from the ceiling while hiding the light source, or up-lighting (a can light that sits on the floor or a piece of furniture) may add a different dimension. Rope lighting can be attached around the circumference of the back of the frame, giving the art the effect of floating.
Buy what you love; the rest will follow. If you love it and you want to live with it, make it work in your house, Haessig says. If there's a painting you're drawn to but it doesn't match your upholstery, go for the painting. It's going to maintain its value a lot longer than a sofa will.
Mix and match. Try combining abstract art and realistic art in the same room to add interest and accommodate your different moods. A room has different focal points, allowing the style of the work to be different in each. The pieces can be tied together by using similar frames.
Family matters. Hallways are nice for photos and portraits because you can get close to them; they don't work as well in public rooms, except perhaps a den.
Hang art in surprise locations. For one client, Skinner hung a tiny 3-by-8-inch, detailed painting in the second-floor hallway above a clothes chute in an alcove. You are going to go up to it, you are going to drop laundry down and you can focus on it, Skinner says. Johnson hung machinery parts around a thermostat, incorporating the utilitarian object yet taking the focus off something less than beautiful installed smack dab in the middle of a wall.
I need you so much closer.... Make it easy to get close to small, detailed artwork that needs to be studied. You can also display detailed artwork on a small easel set on a mantel or buffet where people can pick it up and appreciate it. Larger pieces can be set on normal-size easels on the floor so people can walk up to them.
Proportion is important. You can't take a little piece and stick it in the middle of a big wall. On the other hand, some space around artwork allows the viewer to focus on it. And you don't need something on every wall. It's nice to have a place of rest, Skinner says.
Try grouping art. It's a popular look right now. Put botanicals or landscapes together, or group art by the medium, the style of frame or the artist. This is one solution for small items so they don't get lost on a big wall. Different sizes can be mixed ' they're unified by the mats and frames. Johnson likes to group odd numbers. You can even create sort of a collage over the fireplace, as long as you then don't overload the mantel.
Go off the grid. Artwork can be placed in a row or grid, but if not, create some kind of order ' for instance, by putting items of the same size together. Or create uniform spaces between pieces. Before hanging groups, cut shapes to match them out of cardboard or paper and tape those on the wall to make sure the arrangement works.
Put it on shuffle. Hang the art by one hook and then secure the back with a removable adhesive. That way you aren't locked into a location, and photos can be changed seasonally. It's fun to see the walls of your house as an ever-changing gallery, where you get to play curator.
J.J. Johnson: 608-255-8998 and 258-9366
Wendy Skinner: 608-831-6667
Daryl Haessig: 608-227-4119