Following are a dozen tips to creating a picture perfect home. These were compiled and tested over the past decade by interior designers, professional installers and everyday people gathering ideas to make this task easier.
First, there are no hard and fast rules to hanging pictures. They should be hung where they are easiest to see and appreciate, lower in a dining room or family room where people are usually seated and higher in a hallway where people usually stand. Below are a few tips...they work about 75% of the time. You should experiment to find out what works best in your home or office and then trust your instincts.
1. Hang Art At Eye Level. The most common mistake people make is hanging their pictures way too high. Hang your artwork so the center of the picture is at eye level. But of course, “eye level” means different things to different people. As a rule of thumb, position the center of the picture about 5’ 6” above the floor. This is the most common eye level position but if it doesn’t seem quite right, raise or lower it a few inches. Follow these steps which look complex but are really very easy:
a. Measure the distance from the floor to an imaginary line on the wall that is around 5’ 6” (or the point you’ve chosen) high. This eye level line will be where the center point of the picture will go. Mark an X lightly on the wall with a pencil.
b. Measure the back of the picture from the center of the bottom of the frame to the center of the top of the frame. Divide this number in half. This determines the center point of the picture and it is called the centerline. Mark it with an X.
c. Pull the picture wire tightly upward, as if it were already hanging on the hook. Measure the distance from the centerline to the top point of the wire.
d. Add this distance to the eye level line measurement (where you put the X on the wall) that you marked earlier. Mark it XX. This is where you put the picture hook. Note: To keep smaller pictures straight, use two hooks a couple of inches apart. Any more than that tends to make the picture tilt. When hanging a large, heavy work, its better to use two hooks hung 6” to 8” inches from each side.
2. Hang Art At Seated Eye Level. If a picture is usually seen while viewers are seated, as in offices or dining areas, hang it at seated eye level. Try bringing a picture over a desk, a chest of drawers, or next to a comfortable chair down a few inches so that the elements feel connected.
3. The Trick To Hanging Groups of Pictures. Think of your group of pictures as one unit. Divide them into two or more rows. Align the tops of the top row and the bottoms of the bottom row---and the sides as well---to set a variety of shapes within a compact “box”. With same-sized pictures keep spacing consistent. Or, for a “mosaic” look with varying sizes of art works, try for some balance by aligning the bottoms of some frames with the tops of others or centering some of the pictures on top of each other. This works well when round or oval frames are in the mix. Be sure to place larger pictures at the bottom to give to grouping balance. Up a staircase, pictures should be hung to duplicate the rising levels of the stairs. It looks best to keep throughout a uniform distance between the center of the edge of a step next to the wall and the center point of the picture directly above. As for how high to hang, start off with the center point of the art about 5’ from the center point of the step. Super-Duper Tip: Trace your pictures onto large pieces of paper and cut out the shapes. Use a low-tack tape, like painter’s tape, to place and arrange the paper templates on the wall until you have a layout you like. Affix nails or picture hooks into the wall through your paper template and then remove it. Remember to account for the distance each nail should be up from the center point of each picture.
4. Create Drama! To properly display a larger work of art or a cluster of pictures, allow the right amount of space. This is usually 3’ to 5’ on each side, or perhaps a whole wall. Even in the Louvre, the Mona Lisa seems somewhat insignificant when shown on a wall filled with masterpieces. How dramatic it was in the National Gallery in our nation’s capitol when it was placed on a stage against velvet curtains, with special lighting and armed guards on either side. Now that’s drama!
A group of pictures framed alike and hung close together can have big impact! You can give a small room with low ceilings or a large room with high ceilings desired drama by hanging pictures a little lower or higher accordingly.
5. Get Rid of Visual Clutter. Instead of displaying every piece of art you own, ask yourself if each piece still holds the magic it once did. People grow and their tastes in music, books and art change. Upgrade your collection to fewer but better works or rotate your art.
6. Relate Art to Furniture. In general, when hanging art over furniture it should no wider than the furniture because then it will look top heavy. The space between the top of a mantel and the bottom of the picture is most pleasing in a range from 3” to 7”. Over a table or sofa from 4” to 8” is a good range.
7. High and Wide. Pictures hung in a horizontal line tend to elongate, widen and emphasize a casual decorating scheme. This is a perfect pattern for smallerareas and family rooms. Pictures hung vertically tend to give a more formal or zen ambiance and add to the illusion of height.
8. Odd Numbers Are Even Better. For greater visual interest, show only odd numbers of pictures on a wall or in a given room...one, three, five, etc. Also, consider framing an odd number of smaller art works together....you’ll save a bit on framing and a larger piece may be a better proportion for the wall.
9. What Color Mat? Museums mostly use white or light mats since they are the most traditional and help emphasize the importance of the art. Light mats are classic and do not make pictures and frames look outdated as quickly as colored mats. However, some art just looks a lot better with a colored mat though how colorful is really up to you. Darker mats tend to look better against lighter walls and lighter mat better against darker color walls. Use color mats sparingly. Instead you may become great fans of filets (that little colored line around the inside of the mat) or colored bevels (the deep cut mat edge next to the picture). These can add style and help make art look as important as it is!
10. One + One = One. The most exciting way to treat different sized art works in a lengthwise display is to alternate large and small pictures. Smaller pictures should be about one-half to two-thirds the size of a their larger counterpart. In other words, the surface area of two smaller pictures should equal that of one large picture.
11. Protect Your Art From It’s Worst Enemies. Always request that acid-free conservation materials and uv plexiglass or glass be used when having works on paper framed. Otherwise, know sooner or later acid burn and foxing will affect the picture (and it’s value!). Where you hang your artwork is a compromise between the best viewing spot and suitable lighting, temperature, humidity and physical protection. Regardless of where you would most like to see a picture, it must never be hung in direct sunlight, fine art’s greatest enemy.
12. Use Picture Hooks Not Nails. It is better to use picture hooks rather than nails because hooks are designed to redistribute the weight suspended from them. Hooks push the weight of pictures into the wall and then down, rather than just down as with nails. Nails tend to give way; and it takes a larger nail to support the same weight that a smaller picture hook will. Hooks usually come in packages that list the weight its hooks will hold. Always use the right size.
The mechanics of placing art where you want it
Now for the nitty gritty. There are a variety of techniques for getting your artwork to hang precisely on the wall where you want it without whacking six holes in wall until you get it right.
Use two picture hooks to secure your artwork especially when the piece is heavy. It's also helpful to prevent shifting or tilting.
Figure 1. provides an example of a poster about 24" x 36".
1. Measure from the floor up 66" to find the ideal eye height. (This is subjective--so adjust for your preference.) Mark it lightly with a pencil.
2. Measure the length and width of your picture. Mark the center point on the backing as a reference.
3. Plan to space the picture hangers half to two-thirds the width of the picture apart. In the example, the distance between hangers would be 16".
4. With your third arm, measure from the center point on the back vertically to the wire. With your mythical poster, let's say that measurement is 6 inches. (You may find having a helper useful.)
5. On the wall measure 6 inches up from your original mark.
6. Use a level to mark a light line 72" off the floor [that is, (66+6=72)].
7. Measure 8" on either side of the new center mark on the level line
to find the exact point to drive your picture hangers.
8. Erase the marks.
9. Hang picture.