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Top Tips! Picture Perfect

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There’s an art to hanging artwork – here are some expert guidelines to follow when decorating your walls.
Imogen Clyde reports

The first thing to realise about ar t is never choose it to match your decor. Buy a canvas because you love it, not because it is the perfect size for a bedroom wall or because the colour scheme complements your newly decorated living room.

That said, ar twork must complement the surrounding decor: hang a large contemporar y Chinese canvas in an otherwise Western-style home and it will look out of place – regardless of how beautiful it is. So if there’s no place for a par ticular picture in your current home, bite the bullet and put it into storage. This can actually be a blessing in disguise: if you display the same piece year after year you will stop appreciating it – it’s a good idea to rotate pieces regularly.


Artwork should enhance rather than dominate a room and how you display it counts. The easiest way is to focus on each painting individually, using a large canvas to make a big statement on a large wall and keeping smaller works for smaller spaces.

Be sure to choose a wall space that is proportional in size and orientation to the art you want to display. For example, a very high, narrow wall in a bathroom may be a good place to hang a vertical arrangement of three framed pictures, but not a good place to hang an over-sized, panoramic painting. Use small pieces between windows and doors, and think about proportion. Hang small pictures in too large a space and they will look lost. With larger pieces, allow room for people to step back and admire the work.

If you have the space, for instance in the hallway, you can hang a miscellany of art – watercolours and maps, prints and oils – side by side. Work this type of gallery display out on the floor first, by laying pictures side by side like a jigsaw to see which fits best where. Pay special attention to how different sized pic tures relate to each other: large, predominant pieces should be balanced with smaller, minor pieces. And make sure there are equal amounts of space between each – a good rule of thumb is to space pictures 8 to 10 centimetres apart.

When creating a grouping, your safest bet is to choose an odd number of items. This way, there’s a picture in the middle and a mirror image on both sides, which ensures your arrangement looks balanced and complete. Position the most prominent piece in the centre and work outward.

Hanging artwork too high is one of the most common decorating mistakes: the centre of the image should be at eye level, between 150 centimetres and 165 centimetres up from the floor. When hanging multiple pictures around a room, where doorways and windows separate the pieces, don’t try to level the bottoms or tops of frames – level the middles. To display ar twork at eye level in a living or dining room, where people are usually sitting, hang the pieces at the eye level of the sitter. If you are displaying art in a group, then the centre-point of the group should be at eye level.

A common problem when hanging ar twork above a sofa or sideboard is that it’s not in proportion: having pieces that are too small or too large will make the whole arrangement look off. Make sure artwork is at least two-thirds the size of the sofa or sideboard. For example, a 275-centimetre-long sofa should have a 180-centimetre-wide expanse of art above it. If you are using artwork to frame an architectural element or a piece of furniture, you should hang pictures within 25 centimetres of the object.

While blank walls are a natural choice for displaying ar twork, there is another option. You can prop ar twork on the floor against a wall, on shelves or atop a piece of furniture for a casual display. This allows you the freedom to quickly change up the arrangement, without damaging your walls. Try layering pieces to add more dimension to the display: a house looks like a home when artwork and accessories are layered.


What you hang on your walls is of course up to you, but make sure each piece is professionally framed. Remember that the frame is the foil not the focal point (it shouldn’t overpower the artwork) and always spend that little bit extra on non-reflective, anti-ultraviolet glass.

Select a frame that complements not just the painting but also the surrounding decor. As a general rule, small pictures need to be displayed in a dark-coloured frame and with a generous mount – this will help bring them into focus. Large pieces require a large, wide frame but can look more sophisticated with a thin mount. Consider hanging canvases unframed on the stretcher – this allows the viewer to focus solely on the artwork.

When you’re hanging multiple disparate pictures together, whether in a grid or on a free-form gallery wall, make sure they are all framed differently or you will ruin the eclectic ef fect. With a collection of one type of art, say black and white prints, you can use matching frames. If you want a less permanent display, invest in wall-hung gallery rails.

For a professional look, you need dedicated gallerystyle lighting, for example a system of track lights or spots recessed into the ceiling. Alternatively, mount a spotlight atop each piece. The angle at which light hits a picture is crucial so experiment before you install a fixture permanently. Position target lamps obliquely for the best effect— an angle of 40 to 60 degrees to the perpendicular will cut down on glare. Low voltage tungsten bulbs work best but place them some distance from the artwork to avoid heat damage.

Just about anything looks good on the walls as long as it is well-framed and properly lit. For a five-minute masterpiece, all you need is a stretch canvas, brushes or rollers, a paint pan and either latex or acrylic paint. Or frame up a favourite fabric, vintage poster or photograph. Wall displays should never be predictable or static, they can be constantly changed, rearranged and improved.

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