Wall Street Journal

Justyna Stasik

Justyna Stasik

Hang ’em High—Actually, Don’t

Expert installers on getting the most out of your art, be it an impressive collection or priceless family photos


Even the most DIY-challenged can manage the basic hook, nail and wire combo that costs less than a latte. But art placement presents a bigger challenge — how to best show your collection. You want your walls to invite reflection, not vertigo. “Ninetynine percent of people can physically hang art,” said Adam Shultz, an artist, contractor and professional picture hanger in Yonkers,N.Y., “but that doesn’t mean they know how to hang it properly.”

A local frame shop or gallery will recommend an expert with a good eye. Or Google “professional picture hangers.” They typically charge $120 and up per hour. But in case you want to be the one with the hammer, we asked a few experts for
their best advice.

Don’t Look Up

You wouldn’t position your television so high that viewing it felt like watching from a hospital bed. But the most common error homeowners make is placing the middle of their images above the line of sight. “Art should be hung roughly at eye level,” said Mr. Shultz. In a room with standard 10- to 12-foot ceilings, populated by neither Lilliputians nor giants, the sweet spot is 57 to 60 inches from the floor to the center of the artwork. That middle line should be consistent throughout the room, said Kathryn McCarver Root, a professional picture hanger and owner of KMR Arts, a gallery in Washington Depot, Conn. The tops and bottoms of your paintings may not line up, but their waistlines will.

Consciously Cluster

To avoid the cacophony that a slew of small, unrelated pictures—especially family photos—can create, Ms. Root suggested telling a story. “Perhaps school photos can go in one section and vacation photos in another.” Other groupable themes: paintings of the same era or genre, like portraits of pets, suggests Richmond, Va., interior designer Janie Molster.

Richard Ouellette, partner at Montreal’s Les Ensembliers, cautions that a wall of framed pieces can appear flat. “Add elements of 3-D interest,” he said, citing a collection of turtle shells a client used. Ms. Molstor relies on vintage textiles to add texture. In these groupings, the center line of the middle picture or object should be at eye level.

Make Strangers Feel at Home

Never worry that a piece of art you’ve fallen in love with will be the orphan child of a design scheme. Make it work by finding a commonality between the artwork and your décor, “the way a traditional chandelier against a contemporary table can be fantastic with linked elements,” said Mr. Ouellette. His example: a vintage painting in a gilded rococo frame in an otherwise contemporary space. “Bring in an 18th century bergère-style chair and upholster it with modern fabric.”

Watch the Scale

You want art to visually relate to the other furnishings in the room, said Ms. Root. This is where scale comes in. If when you place a small painting at eye level, for example, it looks like it’s floating away from the sofa beneath it, the space needs a bigger piece. At the same time, that larger art should be high enough that no one knocks it with their head. A diminutive piece on an otherwise bare wall will go unadmired. Your intentions may be good, but no one will notice it. “Be purposeful when finding a spot for a small work,” said Ms. Root. “Hang it offcenter, over the end table rather than the sofa, or in an unexpected spot where it will draw attention.” A trick of the trade from LuAnn Thompson, owner of Bellport Arts & Framing Studio in Bellport, N.Y.: “Put a smaller piece between two larger ones.”

Hilary Adorno