Hanging art and other decorative items on the wall – one of the final steps in decorating your home – should be fun. Then why is it often a source of fear?
Maybe it’s because there are so many things to consider. How do you decide what to hang up where? What hardware should you use to keep heavy paintings – or worse, large mirrors – from falling on the floor? Do you damage the walls if you make a mistake? And what if everything looks kind of wrong?
Don’t worry: if you follow a few simple guidelines, decorating your walls won’t be difficult.
“The big thing to overcome is the intimidation factor,” said David Kassel, owner of ILevel, a professional art installation company in New York. “This is not rocket science.”
And if you make a mistake, he adds, “it can be easily changed” – with minimal damage to your walls.
Art installers and consultants recently revealed some of their secrets.
Choose what to hang
When you have a large art collection figuring out where to put everything can seem so overwhelming that it can be difficult to get started.
To make it feel better, Berley recommended Farber, the founder of Farber Art Services, a San Francisco-based installation company, to divide things up into categories.
“When someone has a hodgepodge of pieces, we generally go over them and sort them into A, B, and C,” said Mr. Farber to make sure that their favorite pieces are prioritized. “The A are the pieces we will find a location for; the Bs that we will use to fill in the blanks; and then the C’s may or may not make it to a wall, ”depending on how the installation progresses.
Mr Farber said that he also likes to keep different types of parts separate.
“Are you art, family or traveling?” He asked. Family photos, he noted, usually look best together, rather than scattered among paintings and travel souvenirs.
When you’re short on artwork and want to expand your collection, online vendors like Saatchi Art, Lumas, and Desenio make it easy to find more art quickly.
Decide which walls you want to use
Not every wall has to be covered in art. Less is often more.
“I prefer not to hang something on every wall, but rather to play with identifying the most important walls,” says Erica Samuels, director of Samuels Creative & Co., an art consultancy in New York.
Think about where your eyes rest as you walk into the spaces you use most, including the foyer, living room, and master bedroom. If you find yourself staring at a long, cold surface of barren drywall, this is usually an ideal place to hang a favorite piece of art. A short wall that is sometimes obscured by an open door may not need anything.
Also, think about how the scale of each piece will look in different rooms, because an oversized painting could easily overwhelm a small room.
“Size is really important,” says Monty Preston, Manager of Curation and Art Advisory at Saatchi Art. “Find a room that gives the artwork enough room to breathe.”
Finally, think of sunlight, Ms. Preston said, as it can affect works of art. For conservation reasons, consider installing your favorite items and valuables away from windows that get a lot of sun.
Place individual works
In general, art should hang at eye level with an average height person, with the center of the work about 60 inches above the floor, said Kassel, “This is kind of a gallery approach.”
But few houses are as minimalist as galleries – there are mantels, moldings, window treatments, and furniture, all of which can affect the level of art, so there isn’t a strict rule.
For example, in a room with exceptionally high or low ceilings, or a room with moldings, you might want to hang art a little higher or lower for better balance.
“It definitely helps if someone holds it up so you can take a step back,” says Kassel and makes adjustments.
If you are installing a piece over a sofa or console table, Ms. Preston recommends leaving four to six inches of space between the top of the furniture and the bottom of the artwork. If you prefer a more casual look, you can simply place the artwork on the console and lean it against the wall.
The widths also play a role. When hanging art over a piece of furniture, both Ms. Preston and Mr. Farber recommend choosing a piece that is narrower than the furniture below. “Having a work of art that is about 75 percent the width of a piece of furniture is a good rule of thumb,” said Ms. Preston.
When you find the height you want, use painter’s tape to mark where the top of the piece meets the wall so you don’t lose sight of the position. Ms. Samuels said that she sometimes tape the full shape of the piece to the wall to make sure she’s happy with it before hammering nails.
Or hang several parts together
If you hang several works together – whether in a row, a grid or a free-form gallery wall – one thing is crucial: the distance between the works.
Most plumbers recommend arranging the art on the floor first, under the wall where you want to install it, and creating a composition you like before transferring the arrangement to the wall.
The ideal distance between the frames “depends on the number of works of art and the size of the wall,” said Mr Farber. “But it should generally be between an inch and a half and three inches.”
The vertical and horizontal spacing do not necessarily have to be the same.
“If you’re hanging in a hallway, make the vertical distances shorter and the horizontal distances wider,” he said to emphasize the length of the corridor. If the pieces are of different shapes and sizes you will have to accept some larger and smaller gaps.
One of Mr. Kassel’s favorite techniques for hanging works of different sizes is to hang a series of pieces so that the tops of the frames are aligned 59 inches above the floor. Then he hangs another row on top, with the bottoms of the frames lined up at 61 inches. This creates a neat, two-inch line of empty wall surfaces between them.
“It gives it a cohesive, designed look where there’s a common element and then that freeform aspect,” he said.
Use the correct hardware
All the installers we spoke to recommended avoiding picture wires and sawtooth hangers on frames if possible, except for the smallest parts. Instead, hang each piece directly on two D-rings.
“If you want a beautifully placed picture flat on the wall, you have to remove the wire and replace it with two D-rings,” says Christopher Kopczynski, owner of NYC Art Installation. The D-rings should screw into the back of the frame, about a third from top to bottom.
If you do, said Mr. Kopczynski, “the picture will be straight on the wall, flat on the wall, and not move.”
D-rings come in a variety of sizes and weights, including strap hangers that attach with multiple screws for heavier jobs.
But not all frames accept D-rings, including some antique and metal frames, so it may be necessary to use some picture wires. In these cases, Mr. Kopczynski recommended placing assembly putty under the lower corners of the frame where they touch the wall to prevent the piece from shifting over time.
Some plumbers, like Mr. Kopczynski, like to hang each piece from two screws that are attached to the wall with drywall anchors. Others, like Mr. Kassel and Mr. Farber, prefer to use picture hooks from companies like OOK and Floreat, which are designed for different weights and only leave tiny holes when you need to remove them.
Since you use two picture hooks for each piece, you can double the weight, Kassel said, “If you use two 30-pound hooks, you can actually hang something that weighs 60 pounds.”
When you hammer the picture hooks into the wall, he said the more you can angle the nail down, the more secure it is.
Another great way to hang heavier, longer pieces is to use a cleat made from two interlocking strips of metal or wood: one strip is attached to the back of the frame; the other is attached to the wall with several screws. When you lift the work into place, the pieces snap together.
But whether you’re using screws with dowels, picture hooks, or studs, it’s best to avoid testing the weight limits advertised.
“If something weighs 60 pounds, I would still use two 50-pound hooks,” said Kassel. “It’s better to be stronger than not.”
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