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H&G It Yourself: How to Properly Hang Pictures and Add Colour to Your Walls

Take some time to consider how best to display your burgeoning visual art collection

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By House & Garden | March 29, 2024 | Diy

While what we have on our walls is important, the key to art looking good is more about how to hang pictures than what we choose. A cluster of affordable prints can look equally good as a masterpiece by Picasso or Matisse, as long as you know how to arrange art on a wall (we’re also fond of using books of prints as sources; you can see a beautiful example of this in one of our favourite decoration shoots).

Nicky Haslam did the same in his famous Hunting Lodge. “Behind the bust of Marie Antoinette is a group of sepia engravings of Old Master drawings,” he says. “The whole lot cost about a fiver, but I framed them up ‘grand’ in rubbed gilt.” And if it’s good enough for Nicky... So, once you’ve finished trawling your flea markets, auction houses and galleries of choice, take some time to consider how best to display your burgeoning collection. We’ve canvassed the professionals to get all the tips and tricks you need to know how to hang art, no matter your budget or knowledge.

Consider what will surround the artwork and how the light will fall in the room during the day. Do you want the art to be the focal point, or would you prefer it to be placed more subtly? Photography by Simon Brown.

How to hang pictures: using the space

Think about the practicalities of the room. A small picture can be lost on a large wall, while a more substantial artwork could dominate a room. Freddie de Rougemont, a specialist in the Old Masters Group at Christie’s London, advises, “The impact of an artwork, however grand, can be greatly reduced if it is unsuited to the space.”

Consider what will surround the artwork and how the light will fall in the room during the day. Do you want the art to be the focal point, or would you prefer it to be placed more subtly? Bear in mind sight lines and what you want to see first when you enter the room.

Don’t be afraid to hang a picture somewhere surprising. As David Macdonald, head of Sotheby’s UK single-owner sales, notes, “The relationship you have with a piece should be central: the decoration around it secondary.” Contemporary pieces can look brilliant in traditionally decorated rooms, and vice versa.

How to arrange pictures on a wall

Image via Unsplash.

As a rule of thumb, hanging pictures at eye level is a safe option. This generally means positioning the picture so its midpoint is 57-60 inches from the floor, depending on the ceiling height of the room – and your height, of course.

Obviously, as with any rule, some flexibility is necessary – you may have other artworks to manoeuvre around, or an inconveniently placed mantelpiece. If the picture’s midpoint is not exactly at eye level, don’t panic: go with your instincts and hang it where it feels natural. In fact, Freddie advises against using tape measures at all and suggests “trusting your eye”.

What if you are hanging several pictures? “It’s generally sensible to hang your largest picture first and work around it,” recommends Freddie. Visualise how you want the completed wall to look and play around with a few arrangements laid out on the floor before you start to make any holes in the wall.

Things to avoid

Never position a picture in direct sunlight, as this will damage it irreversibly. This is particularly important for works on paper, but applies to all artwork. The interior designer Martin Brudnizki suggests using picture lights, such as those by Hogarth Lighting or TM Lighting, to illuminate key pieces. Spotlights and angled ceiling lights work well, too.

Image: Supplied.

Art advisor Arianne Piper says, “No glass will safeguard from direct sunlight, but consider UV-protected glass for art in frames.” Museum glass is preferable but expensive.

Think about the conditions of the room. Due to their humid and hot environments, kitchens and bathrooms are not always ideal places to hang art. Similarly, above a radiator or fireplace might not be the best spot.

To DIY or enlist a professional?

Using the services of a professional picture hanger is a worthwhile investment. They can hang a huge number in a day and you can be sure that each and every one will be hung perfectly, with no unwanted holes or markings on the wall.

However, if you are itching to get the hammer and nails out, be sure to have a spirit level to hand, or a laser spirit level, which will allow for extra precision. Luke Duncan, associate director at Cristea Roberts Gallery, SW1, says, “Don’t hang your picture on string or wire. It’s better to work a bit harder at the start with a spirit level and then install your picture directly on two hooks or screws.” String or wire will not fully support the picture and, as the picture can move around, it will rarely sit perfectly straight.

Consider what will surround the artwork and how the light will fall in the room during the day. Do you want the art to be the focal point, or would you prefer it to be placed more subtly?

Luke also points out that, “heavy works should always be hung by a professional. If you can’t carry it yourself, don’t try and hang it yourself.”

Creating a salon wall

Originating in 17th-century Paris, the salon wall – a wall on which a number of pictures of varying mediums and sizes are hung next to each other – has had something of a renaissance in recent years. You need only look to the Royal Academy of Arts' Summer Exhibition for a lesson in brilliant salon-style hanging.

When planning a salon wall, lay out all your pictures on the floor first, to see how they work together and get an idea of spacing. Remember, you will need to break the line of the wall, so avoid hanging pictures in neat rows as this looks dull.

The selection of art should not be too carefully considered but feel as though it has been collected over many years. As John Swarbrooke, specialist in Impressionist and Modern Art at Simon Dickinson gallery, SW1, notes, “Balance is key – combine monochromatic and colourful pictures, abstract and figurative works, older and contemporary pieces.” This helps the hanging to feel natural. Make sure the frames look good together, otherwise this can distract from the artwork.

How to hang a picture – tricks of the trade

If you have bespoke walls or precious wallpaper, Arianne recommends installing an invisible hanging system. These nifty railings mean you avoid drilling into the wall and causing damage. Peak Rock has a good, affordable range; the J Rail system is ideal for heavy works.

When it comes to DIY hanging, Chloe Ballin of Sims Reed Gallery, SW1, says, “Rules are made to be broken. We love the hanging at Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge, where there are pictures hanging at all sorts of heights, including footstool height and eye level for children. Why not rehang every once in a while to create new space and refresh the room.”

For a mark-free wall, John advises using Post-it notes rather than pencil to mark out the edges of the picture frame and where you plan to place your hooks.

This story originally appeared on House & Garden UK