How To Hang Artwork: Is That A Blemish on The Wall or Artwork?

Well peeps – it’s time to have that heart-to-heart talk every polite designer wishes she could have with every well-loved new client. But it’s good manners and a kind soul that has to date stopped me.

You see, aside from my my mother’s ‘mothering,’ it was her gifted oncologist who indirectly and kindly taught me that in certain situations, one must answer only the question that is asked. I’ve come to believe this to be an excellent rule of social conduct in general (don’t get me started!). And I also believe this modicum to be an important guideline for designers in most, if not all, cases as well. For example, when a client calls me into her home to help her with, say, her family room – unless asked, I will not comment on the fabrics in the dining room that may not exactly coordinate or on the over-scaled chandelier that hangs perhaps almost on the border of being threatening. Let me tell you – remaining ‘silent unless asked’ is not always easy to do. It’s respectful and correct, but it takes self control … like the dermatologist who walks into the examination room and cannot scream “Holy smokes…what’s that on your face?” to the patient who has come in with a nail fungus.

First do no harm! A great medical credo, sure, but I think lots of us humans and professionals would do well to follow this guide regarding general conduct. But…I digress.

So – I admit to having a pet peeve in here somewhere. All kidding aside, I honestly don’t judge or dislike what I see when I look at that fictitious dining room that I have not been invited in to design. In the end, if it works for the people who live there – that’s all that matters. As a designer, I’m not here to pass judgment, rather my commitment is to help where invited to create interiors and homes that look and feel stunning to their owners. However – there is one ‘Nails On A Chalkboard” area for this designer that I have to fess up to. And I have held my tongue in many a meeting . . . But….we’re here in the safe confines of my blog world now, yes? So – in an effort to let some of the the pent up steam out of the pent-up pot due to all of this tongue holding on this one particular issue . . . may I respectfully, but lovingly ask: Who hung that over there?

Ah. That feels better already. Now – let us proceed.

I have seen too many rooms sabotaged by incorrectly hung artwork. In fact – a client called most recently as yesterday asking for ‘a quick phone consult’ about hanging something in a particular spot that, from my point of view, would have been ‘interior homicide.’ (I talked him out of it. 🙂 For had he done so, the peaceful, cozy and elegant master bedroom we created together would have begun to pick up some of its former ‘clutter steam’ that shut down the former room in the first place – which is why I was called in to help initially.

A sweeping and key principle regarding hanging artwork that will never fail you if you can remember to use it is this: Artwork must be hung in relationship to the thing it is over or near. Period. Small or large – it must be hung next to, or close enough above, or in relationship somehow to …SOMEthing else. A piece of furniture. A doorway. A window treatment. Between doorways. Always in relation to something else.

Next – Large expanses of wall over the sofa let’s say – need larger, more important items – hung close enough to the sofa to feel like they are part of the ‘sofa story’. Further – as you see in the plan here – a carefully thought out grouping can be used in a larger space instead of 1 single piece of artwork. I show you this photo because you can see the concept without being affected by whether or not you like the artwork. This photo also actually shows a great way to prepare to hang a grouping …but this author prefers to mark things out with white chalk instead…it takes less time and wipes off painted surfaces in a snap.

So – back to our lesson: Large expanses need either something important and large – or a grouping of two or more items. That means that the 8×10 photograph hanging on the wall halfway up the stairs may not be so hot.

Balance, scale, proportion. That itty-bitty 8×10 school photo on that expanse of wall that runs up the stairway is dwarfed by its location and proximity to nothing much. Better to have nothing there, than something tiny.

Balance, scale proportion. These must be considered in the equation of “hanging artwork in relation to the thing it is near or above” That’s precisely why groupings like the ones above work. (Provided the frames are the same, or in strong conversation with each other). Groupings work because what you are doing is joining and/or creating relationships between multiple smaller items in order to create greater mass, weight – and therefore importance.

Apart from what you might thinking, I’m not a large ‘grouping’ groupie. I do also love pairs of things, trios and singles. Certainly single, well-scaled pieces of art are superb in their right location, but not all of us have this type of collection. (Enter the custom sized mirror to solve that problem …make it whatever size you need.)

And finally – one more word here about hanging your art. OK…2 words.

Negative space.

Ah….my shoulders drop just at the mention. Yours will too when I explain. “Negative Space” is not ‘negative’ or bad. It is a rest. A necessary rest. Just as Mozart placed rests in his great music – great interiors need moments of rest too. It is part of the necessary visual rhythm of the room that allows me as your designer to direct the eye to the grand focal point, let it drift to the secondary points and let the room itself feel alive, open, warm, dramatic . . . or whatever effect my client and I are going for. In other words, try not to cover every inch, every corner with some hanging ‘thing.’ Let there be rests. Negative space. Ignore this truism and you will create clutter and chaos with your wall art – and you will make a room feel either smaller, chaotic or just ‘odd-feeling’ somehow. *Unless you are my cousin Paul who can masterfully cover almost every free inch of his San Fransicso home with art and it really does work for his style…but I do mean every available inch of wall space…very extreme.

So now my creative, talented and able bodied reader – you are ready to get out the hammer, nails and hooks. Let me know how it goes. You are ready for excellent work . . . be bold and be brilliant . . . I’m pulling for you!