Plan the Perfect Art Arrangement

Whip a blank wall into shape with an artful arrangement of prints, paintings, plates, or photographs.

Empty walls are all too common in our homes. Why? Perhaps hanging art is too much of a commitment. After all, what happens when you grow tired of the piece? Then again, maybe you're just too timid to pick up a hammer, or you fear putting holes in the walls.

Whatever the reason, enough is enough! Now's the time to take the plunge and enliven those barren barriers with an arsenal of artful arrangements.

Lesson One: Think It Through

Carefully determine your arrangement before you start banging holes in the wall. Trace the outline of each frame onto Kraft paper and cut it out. Then tape the outlines to the wall using blue painter's tape.

Move your paper frames around until you arrive at an arrangement you like, then gather your supplies (picture hooks, hammer, level, and tape measure) and start hanging. This same Kraft paper trick also works for tracing and placing mirrors, plates, wall clocks, and sconces.

Lesson Two: Stay in Line

Displaying a collection of pictures requires a careful eye. As a rule, a precise grid gives a graphic, formal look. But that's not the only option. An arrangement that's hung within the confines of a square or rectangle but aligned along only one axis (center, top, or bottom) will also appear orderly -- just a tad more relaxed. Placing a sofa or other piece of furniture under the arrangement will help anchor the artwork.

Lesson Three: Stagger the Look

Sometimes an uneven pattern can be more interesting than a precise lineup. The key to a successful stair-stepped grouping: Vary the spacing between frames. Use your eye to gauge the distance. And because stairways are a high-traffic area, use small pieces of adhesive hook-and-loop tape to hold frame corners to the wall.

Lesson Four: Add an Element of Surprise

Try something unexpected. Here, instead of hanging a single piece of art over the bed, we created a sculptural grouping of plates and varied the shape, size, and design for interest. The plates are in perfect contrast to the headboard's boxy figure, so they attract attention and draw you into the space. The adjacent wall sports framed fabric cuttings. Bottom line: Trust your instincts. If it feels right, it will work.

Lesson Five: There's Safety in Symmetry

When all else fails, go for the grid -- and the grid doesn't have to be a perfect square. Though this notion is a good starting point, centering artwork horizontally and vertically over a prominent architectural element (in this case the mantel) while maintaining even spacing will do the trick. Add interest by mixing sizes, styles, and art mediums.

Make art out of collectibles or photos of favorite items. Here, $1 vintage equestrian book plates from a flea market pair with photos of the jockeys outside the legendary 21 Club in New York City.

From this print, we cut out the bird, the leaves below the bird, and the blue flowers on the top right.

If you find an inexpensive poster, print, or canvas you like but don't have a spot large enough to hang it or want to give it a new twist, don't be afraid to use its parts. We cut blooms, leaves, and a bird from one large piece, then popped them into two sizes of matted frames from a discount store.

The three smaller pieces of art are the framed sections of the poster seen above.

In our grouping, they nicely offset two larger horizontal pieces. Use the tactic on cast-off posters you relegated to the basement -- frame parts you still love and then hang them in a grid or series.


Hanging art is even less painful if you have everything you need on hand. Check out our mini-guide to make sure you've covered all your bases.

Material Matters

Always use acid-free matting that helps preserve art and photos.

Mat board can be a plain-color (smooth or textured) or covered in fabric, leather, or other natural materials, such as grass cloth. Mats are used to highlight the personality of the artwork and can either grab attention or fade into the background.

Frames come in a variety of colors and styles, including finishes that mimic precious metals and exotic wood species. When selecting a frame, use the style and setting of the room as a guide.

You'll need a hammer, tape measure, and level. Avoid using nails to hang art, since picture hooks can be sized to hold the weight of a particular piece of art. For lightweight art, try hanging with hook-and-loop tabs. Look for special adhesive discs or spring hangers used to hang plates.

Like what you see in this story? As of 2006, the items featured in this story were available from these manufacturers.

Sofa, Jamie Sofa, tan wingback chair, Carter Wingback, blue leather chair, Perry - Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams; 800-789-5401; Rug, Chocolate Ticking - Dash and Albert; 800-557-2035; Artwork in upper right corner over sofa, Morning Pond by Andrea Cobb; artwork in lower left corner over sofa, Swan Garden by Andrea Cobb; artwork divided, matted, and framed, Spring Jazz Panoramic by Gale Kaseguma - Oopsy Daisy, San Diego; 619-640-6649; Pillows, no longer available -- look for similar items at Target Stores; 800-800-8800; (product line varies).

Frames, Mats, Framing - Larson-Juhl; 800-886-6126; Striped wallpaper, Block Printed Stripes #739, floral wallpaper, Uppark #549 - Farrow & Ball; 888-511-1121; Green rug, blue rug - Capel, Inc.; 800-334-3711; Bed, Painter's Shed full/queen with full-panel headboard and footboard - Broyhill Furniture Industries, Inc.; 800-327-6944;

SUPPLY LIST: Mats, top to bottom: Moorman fabric Matboard, White Core Linen in medium blue - Crescent Cardboard Co., LLC; 800-323-1055; Textured mat, #4702 in Gold Coin - Nielsen & Bainbridge; 800-342-0124; Artique conservation matboard #A4988 in Kilim Red - available through Larson-Juhl; see above. Moorman fabric matboard, White Core Linen in Vink Tweed - Crescent Cardboard Co., LLC; see above. Artique conservation matboard, #A4987 in Tagine - available through Larson-Juhl; see above. Textured mat, #4703 in Lancelot - Nielsen & Bainbridge; see above. Moorman fabric matboard, White Core Suede in Rattan - Crescent Cardboard Co., LLC; see above.


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