In an art gallery everything is designed to enhance the enjoyment of the art on display. In the home, however, we have more than just artwork to consider. The ideal is to create a room in which the fabrics, pictures, furniture and other objects have a sense of harmony and belonging, but where individual pictures can be properly appreciated.
There are some basic considerations that apply to how to displaying artwork and paintings in your home regardless of the style and mood of the room or picture.
Advice for displaying artwork and paintings
The design principles of proportion and balance are crucial.
Is the work to be hung in a large or small area? The sort of frame appropriate for a high ceilinged town house would look very much out of place in a small cottage. Scale is not just a matter between the image, the mount and the frame but it must also take account of wall surfaces, furniture, nearby windows and many other factors.
The size and type of room will also affect the way you hang the picture. On the whole if you have a small room with low ceilings, it is a mistake to hang several very large pictures closely together. Conversely in a large room it is hard to make a group of small rather insignificant pictures look good unless you reinforce their impact by perhaps hanging them over a piece of furniture or by dedicating a space such as a corner alcove to them.
Height is another critical issue. Wherever a picture is to be hung, the focus should generally be at eye level. Eye level varies according to the layout and function of the room. A group hung in a hallway will have a different level of focus from the same pictures hung opposite a sofa. The focal point will be influenced by other objects placed near a picture, perhaps a sculpture placed either side of the painting, a pair of lamps or even with a pair of high backed chairs set to each side.
Creating a well-balanced grouping of pictures requires planning and a good eye, taking colour, subject, style and scale into account. To give extra weight to one element of a composition, you might choose a darker or broader frame or one with a heavier appearance. Similar adjustments can be made by careful choice of a mount. For example, two light coloured watercolours hung vertically next to a large strong toned print could seem out of balance, but you could adjust this by giving the watercolours more prominent frames or mounts than the larger print alongside.
Do not be afraid to display a mixture of media, periods, shapes and colours. It is all too easy to attach too much importance to rigid consistency; in the right setting, a casual, mixed display that evolves over a period of time is just as valid as a formal arrangement in which the images, frames and mounts are all planned together to give a particular effect. If you do choose a formal rather than an organic arrangement, remember that any future additions to the group may necessitate a total or partial re-think to accommodate them.
Consider practical aspects as well as aesthetic concerns. Ideally you wouldn’t hang a picture opposite a window, or at least not in direct sunlight. Not only can direct sun harm the pigment but also, if the picture is glazed, the reflection of the window in the glass, the varnish of an oil painting, or even the metallic finishes currently very popular can render the image obscure.
Assess the atmosphere of the room is one of warmth and cosiness or bright modernity and choose pictures whose style and subject will suit the mood you have created. Finding harmonising colours is usually the main consideration when choosing pictures for a plain or faintly patterned background, but more strongly patterned papers may present a greater challenge. Wall treatments are of obvious importance in contributing to the impact a picture will make in the overall context of a room. A painted wall suits most pictures and frames. A dark wall provides a strong and dramatic setting but pictures hung on a dark wall have to be inherently strong images, confidently framed. Dark walls are especially good backdrops for monochrome works, pen and ink drawings or strong linear architectural prints as well as the traditional oils and acrylics.
Correctly used, wallpaper can enhance the pictures on show, for example you can use an elaborate gold frame in the Victorian style to offset rich floral wallpaper.
A light coloured wall is the best background for delicate watercolours, pastels and other fragile paintings that would be too easily absorbed into a wall with any depth of colour. A very gentle pastel or watercolour may be reduced to an insignificant interruption in a highly decorative or floral pattern. Wood panelling provides a distinctive background for pictures and the shape of the panels can act as a guide for arrangement. You don’t need to hang a square picture inside a square panel; a small round or oval can be just as effective and will introduce a pleasing contrast of shapes. It is also very popular to hang pictures over mirrored walls and even in front of shelves full of books, which creates a busy and dynamic display of objects.
Consider ways of tying pictures and wall covering together, for instance choose a picture that compliments the period feel of a room, or echo the background by introducing one of its colours in the mount or frame.
Lighting is a crucial detail. The most common form of lighting in the home casts a warm and pleasant general light which is not suitable for highlighting individual pictures. However not all pictures warrant the emphasis that special lighting provides, while others do not lend themselves to being strongly lit. The classic method of lighting a specific picture is with the traditional picture light that can be attached to the top or bottom of the picture or on the wall just above the frame. If you have a group of pictures or a collection, you needn’t necessarily light them all; you may decide to light only the central work or the largest. Alternatively you may wish to highlight one or two of the smaller works that might otherwise be overlooked. Low voltage down-lighters have become increasingly popular either inset in the ceiling or on track. Many of these can be tilted to cast light on a painting or sculpture, pooling light with dramatic effect at night that can entirely change the feel of the room and its pictures.
In an interior design scheme pictures should work with the furniture to create an effect of harmony. This can be achieved by relating them through tone, style, medium, or period. Even if there is no obvious link, you could align the pictures with the furniture in a symmetrical arrangement that suggests balance and unity. A balance between the relative weights of pictures and furniture is important when arranging a group. The display needs to have balance between the pictures themselves as well as the furniture so that they are close enough to stand together as a group without seeming overcrowded. The group of pictures should not extend beyond the perimeters of the furniture beneath or the eye will no longer make the connection. A way in which to unite furniture and pictures as part of a whole decorative design is to display objects and ornaments placed on the furniture below the pictures and which then sit either side of the display. Table lamps, candlesticks and vases all provide vertical links between pictures and furniture, leading the eye from one group to another and introducing variations of shape and scale.
Pictures and paintings allow you to add your personality in a highly individual way, so enjoy taking your time in choosing the right artwork for you. Ask to view your picture in situ before you make that investment or plan it carefully as part of your overall interior design scheme. Have fun visiting your local art galleries, talk to the staff who will be able to order pictures that you can’t see in the gallery for you to review. It is these finishing touches that will complete your interior design scheme.
Thanks to Deborah Heath of Design by Deborah, who shared the hints and tips for displaying artwork and paintings in your home in this guest post.
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