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A Guide for Hanging Art

Photo by Anna Routh

I recently posted a Q&A box on my Instagram stories to gather feedback from folks as to what topics they would like to see addressed in future blog posts and I got a couple of questions related to hanging art so I thought I'd start here. Specifically the two questions I got were:

  1. How high do I hang art?

  2. How many walls can I hang art on - how many walls are too many?

I'll address both questions in this post.

First, the biggest/most frequent mistake I see when people try to hang art is that they hang it too high. Another issue I see is people frozen in fear about hanging art so they just don't hang it and have it sitting around on the floor or in closets, attics, etc. My two cents - if you've got it, hang it! A little hole in the wall if you need to move things down the road is not the end of the world to patch and fix.

One of my favorite client appointments are when we have "art days" where we get to lay out all the pieces that a client has and we walk around and determine the best place for each piece and how high to hang it. I love hearing the stories behind how client's acquired the art, why they love it, why it has sentimental value, etc. Art and photographs in your home are so personal and meaningful and a necessity for making your spaces feel unique to you and also completed.

Two special pieces that hang in our kiddos' room.

On to the specifics of the first question: how high do I hang it? There's that saying that "you need to know the rules so you know when to break them" and I think hanging art is a perfect example of that being true. In general, you want art just hanging on the wall to land at eye level of an average sized person which typically ends up being between 57-60" off the floor. If you have a really tall family, you may need to move it up and vice versa if your family is on the petite size.

An example of art hung at eye level but we moved it down to accommodate a child's vantage point.

Photo by Abigail Jackson

Another extremely important thing to consider when hanging art is how high to hang it when you are hanging it over something - a couch, a piece of furniture, a toilet, etc. The way I think about it is that you want the elements that are positioned together to feel like they are part of the same vignette - not two separate pieces floating near each other. Hanging the art somewhere between 6-12" over a chest or a piece of furniture is a good rule of thumb - assuming that the scale is big enough to accommodate hanging it that low. If not, you may need to consider how you style the piece of furniture underneath to close the visual gap left by hanging the picture up at eye height. And while I mention scale, in my opinion it is important that the piece of art (or ahem, television or whatever the case may be) is not larger than the piece that it sits above. The way I like to think about it is the piece needs to be visually "strong" enough to hold whatever is hanging above it and if the top piece is larger it feels top heavy.

In this client's entry the art is scaled large enough to carry visual presence over her entry table and low enough so that it still feels like it is part of the vignette.

Height plays an important role in decorating - you always want to have something that is going to draw your eye up so that rooms feel bigger, taller and more visually varied. Height can be gained from a tall piece of furniture, mounting window treatments closer to the ceiling to maximize height or art that is on a larger scale (if you don't have large art, you can achieve this by stacking pieces or creating a gallery wall that allows you to hang pieces of art or photographs up higher.

Art really is the star of the show in this space - a pair of Chinoiserie panels adds such a presence in this sitting room.

And that is about it for the straight forward advice. Everything from there is nuanced but I thought I'd share a few examples of art hung differently than the general guidelines I explained above and why.

In this client's home they had a mirror that was beautiful and they really wanted to display. The problem was that the mirror itself felt too small in scale for the furniture below it. To solve for that, we hung the mirror slightly to the right of center and filled in the space with a smaller piece of art that we centered on the mirror. To fill in the visual gap left under neath the smaller piece of art, we styled the chest with the branches that added height.

Here the art in our living room is hung slightly higher than eye level for two reasons. First, it is centered on the wall space between the top window and door frames and the top of the furniture below it to create balance. And secondly had it been hung lower it would have been completely blocked by the lampshade.

This vintage art in our bedroom is just higher than my eye height because of my husbands tall height but also because I wanted the art to feel centered with the mirror on the adjacent wall.

Photo by Anna Routh

Think outside the box a little on where you hang art - bookshelves, bathrooms, kitchens - they can all be great spots if you've got pieces you want to display.

Art hung on a client's bookshelves.

Photo by Anna Routh

Art we hung in a client's bathroom brings color and interest to the space.

Photo by Abigail Jackson

Now on to the second question - how many walls can I hang art on? The answer is as many as you want! If you've got a great collection, I'm team maximalist all day long when it comes to displaying art. But, the caveat to that answer is that it still needs to be thoughtfully placed. I try to limit the number of gallery walls that I do in spaces so that your eye can visually rest. So, if you have a grouping of family photos on one wall then I'd opt for a larger piece in the space as well so you can vary the scale. And of course, as with every rule, there are exceptions - here my client had so much great art that we wrapped her gallery wall around the corner.

While we are on the topic of gallery walls, I'll say a couple of things. A gallery wall can be a great way to display multiple pieces that you love but the other thing a gallery wall affords you is a way to create large scale art with smaller pieces. Grouped together a gallery wall visually becomes one large focal point in a space. I'm sorry to say that there are no hard and fast rules about gallery walls however if you are struggling I often suggest that people pick one unifying feature to tie things together - maybe none of the frames match but all the photographs are black and white. Or maybe all the frames are black and gold. Or maybe there is a common theme (for example, vintage ship paintings) that marries everything together. I always start a gallery wall by laying art out on the floor. It makes it easy to visualize what it will look like when it is hanging and also makes it easy to manipulate and move around.

A client's happy art laid out before we hung it.

The bottom line? Display what you love and it will work.

A wonderful gallery wall I helped a client layout with all of their sentimental treasures.


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