By Design

Hanging your art is an art in itself

by Patricia M. Cove
Posted 4/20/23

Every room usually has seating, tables of some sort, carpet and lighting. But if the walls are bare, the space also appears bare.

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By Design

Hanging your art is an art in itself


Every room usually has seating, tables of some sort, carpet, and lighting. But if the walls are bare, the space also appears bare, and certainly unfinished. 

Noted decorators like Mario Buatta, Charles Faudree and Edith Wharton all understood the importance of how walls are treated within a design. And even the most modern architecture seeks to complete a space with some sort of texture, sculpture, or contemporary painting.

But just knowing how important artwork is to a space is not enough. You need the all-important artistic “eye” to be able to visualize how the pieces of art will not only stand on their own but contribute to and complete the design of the entire room. Lots of people have that ability, but many rely on the judgment of an expert to fully understand the workings of space, and to incorporate artwork in a way that brings the design to its fullest potential.

If you have that ability, your rooms most likely appear complete and unified, as one area flows uninterrupted into the next, and your artwork melds seamlessly into its surroundings. But if you are flummoxed as to why your rooms are not so harmonious, here are some guidelines on how to display your pieces of art while integrating them fully into your overall design.

One of the most blatant errors people make is hanging their artwork too high. With the average ceiling height at eight feet, the center of a piece of art should be 57 inches from the ground, to match the average eye level. This rule can change if the piece is to go above a sofa. In that case, place the bottom of the frame 8 to 10 inches above the sofa back. If the painting is to go above a fireplace, it will naturally be higher than the 57 inches, but select a piece that is at least as wide as the fireplace opening, which will create a critical balance.

If you are placing a piece of art above a table, the perfect size would be 2/3 the width of that table and never exceed the table’s length.  Take into consideration any decorative pieces or lamps that may rest on the table and adjust the artwork proportionally, so that the least amount of painting would be obstructed.

Hanging collections of art presents different challenges. The chosen wall is critical, as is the total space that the collection will inhabit. The entire collection should be considered as one piece of art.  Because the pieces of the grouping may be of different shapes and sizes, it is important to lay out the collection on the floor first, making sure the spaces between the pieces are all equal, and that the far edges of the collection form a specific shape. 

Putting a collection together without forethought can actually detract from a room’s cohesiveness. If you start at the center with the largest piece and work outward, the grouping can almost assemble itself. But you may want to consider hiring an expert installer, as such an arrangement presents mathematical challenges. Your results could be much more rewarded. 

A gallery wall can appear as one unified piece with matching mats and frames, or as a mix of different mediums that incorporate a mélange of styles. If it is a wall “statement” you are after, it will be important to concentrate on pieces that relate to each other. A series of black and white prints, similarly matted and framed, will create more of a statement than a mixture of modern and traditional paintings in a variety of frame styles.

There are also tenants to keep in mind when hanging individual pieces – what may be referred to as layering. Each section of your room – the sofa, the fireplace, the conversation seating area and the accent tables – is defined by the walls behind them. Imagine those walls integrating themselves with the furnishings to become a single vignette. Artwork will need to be strategically placed within the parameters of that vignette. Placing paintings outside those parameters is the equivalent of coloring outside the lines, and will make your room look disjointed.

The designer Charles Faudree was an expert at layering. Using an odd number of paintings, he would layer different size artworks above a table or chest, creating a perfect design vignette. The entire grouping of a table, mirror, accessories, lamp, sconces, and even the addition of decorative wall plates becomes one design vignette that works together as a whole, while highlighting each individual design element, making the complete wall a unified statement.

So, whether you are hanging one piece or an entire collection, keep in mind the design guidelines that will make your artwork not only sing on its own, but will also become the feature that brings your entire room together.

Patricia Cove is the Principal of Architectural Interiors and Design in Chestnut Hill, and can be reached through her website,