Amp up your home décor with perfectly placed frames.

Updated April 24, 2020
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Courtesy of Art.com

The process of hanging a new painting or a collection of family photos can seem like a puzzle. Although there are pieces to examine, there isn't just one correct way to put them together. As with every aspect of decorating, it helps to understand the basic principles first, then improvise—the most pleasing arrangement may be the one you least expect. First, set out the pictures you want to hang; prop them against the walls, and consider your options. Look at every reasonable possibility. Have someone hold a piece up to the wall while you stand back and appraise (just cover the hanging hardware with masking tape first to keep it from scratching the wall). If you are grouping several pieces together, arrange and rearrange them on the floor until you find a composition you like.

In most groupings, a common thread will tie the pieces together. Perhaps the pictures are part of a set or collection; if not, maybe the frames share the same style or the mats are all the same color. Sometimes, a grouping may not need a linking element; the only unifying theme may be its diversity. Such collections take a little more nerve and are best suited to a less formal room. As for precise positioning, conventional wisdom suggests that pictures be hung at eye level. This notion is a fine starting point, but hardly definitive. There are many good reasons to hang pieces above or below a standard height. In any setting, you will need to react to the architecture and the furniture; you will also need to follow your instincts. A few inches' shift in a hanging arrangement can affect the tone of an entire room: Move the pictures over a sofa or chair down a bit; the area will become more cohesive, cozy, and inviting. Add an element of surprise to a room by hanging a little picture above the door. Emphasize a chair rail by running a series of photos right above it. Hang several small pieces just over a desk—they'll provide a refreshing view when you look up from your work.

Learn to trust yourself. If it feels right, don't be afraid to do something a little different.

Measuring and Essential Supplies

Don't leave measurements to guesswork when you are hanging pictures; get out the tape measure and be exact. For most pictures, the only other tools you'll need are a hammer, a screwdriver, and a carpenter's level, preferably 24 inches long. When hanging something at an average eye level, position its center 57 to 60 inches from the floor. Use the following formula: Divide the height of the frame by two; from that number, subtract the distance from the top of the frame to the hanging hardware; add this number to 57, 58, 59, or 60. This final sum is the height (measured from the floor) at which the hangers should be put into the wall. If you're going by instinct as opposed to eye level, you don't need to be as rigorous in your measuring; if you are hanging a grid or a series of pieces, however, you will need to be precise to achieve even spacing.

When it's time to hang your art, use the method that provides the most stability. It's usually best to use two picture hangers, so pictures don't swing or tilt. Install two D rings on the back of a frame, directly opposite each other. Once you've decided where you want to hang a picture, make a mark on the wall in pencil (on pieces of masking tape, if you wish) for each hook; use the level to make sure the marks are at the same height. If a room has a slightly sloping floor or ceiling, start by hanging the pictures level; if they look crooked, cheat just a bit so they look straight, even if they're not. In a case like this, you may want to string picture wire between the D rings; still, hang it from two hooks, unless the picture is very small. Decorative picture-hanging hardware, such as vintage hooks or French rods, can add another design element to a single picture or grouping.

One more essential consideration is restraint. You'll want to leave some blank wall space in a room so the eye can rest; what's not there will allow you to appreciate what is.

How to Arrange an Eclectic Group

Mismatched elements are more of a challenge to hang than a set of identical prints in similar frames, but the results can be compelling and really make a room. Sketches, oil paintings, architectural renderings, a display of cameos, and a decorative wall bracket could be arranged in a free-form, asymmetrical grouping, giving the living room the look of a comfortable parlor. The frames are varied, but all share a somewhat formal feel. If the pieces were hung higher, they would appear to be floating away; the sofa, just a few inches below, anchors them gracefully.

Before putting a hole in the wall, establish the arrangement of pictures and pieces. Lay them out on the floor and up against a wall or piece of furniture; move them until the results suit you. For a grouping like this, the spacing doesn't need to be even but try to avoid unbroken "rivers" of space running horizontally or vertically between pictures. A carpenter's level is an indispensable tool. If you are using two D rings to hang a picture from two picture hangers, mark the spots for the hardware on the wall, and use the level to be sure they're even; adjust as necessary before putting hardware in the wall. If you are using one or two picture hangers and wire strung on the back of the frame, hang the picture, and then use the level to make it straight.

How to Create Symmetry Among Prints

The arrangement of pictures on a wall has as much impact as the pictures themselves. A precise grid gives a graphic, formal look; a group of pictures hung within a set square or rectangle has order to it, but is instantly more casual, ideal for a family room or kitchen. Rows of pictures can be aligned at their centers, tops, or bottoms with very different results. Whether you're working with a grouping of pictures or just one, artwork should generally be centered horizontally between two points, which makes a room feel balanced.

A strong center line ties together contemporary photographs in frames of different sizes, left. Jagged lines on the top and bottom accentuate the arrangement. Two pieces of string stretched taut between pushpins provide a guide for even spacing. This technique is also useful for hanging pictures along a staircase: Mark a spot on the wall the same distance from the top step and the bottom step, and run the string between these points. Use a D ring on each side of a frame for secure picture hanging. But don't estimate measurements; always use a tape measure. Here, the space from the top of the frame to the D ring matches the space from the string guide to the picture hanger.

Comments (9)

Anonymous
February 5, 2020
Hello Martha, I would like to let you know that I am very fond of your work. i came across your page as I was looking for ideas to hang my two identical pictures in my small kitchen. When I saw your name I was very exited because I knew that you wouldn’t let me down. I knew that you would help me figure out what I should do. Thank You For being you Martha
Anonymous
February 5, 2020
Hello Martha, I would like to let you know that I am very fond of your work. i came across your page as I was looking for ideas to hang my two identical pictures in my small kitchen. When I saw your name I was very exited because I knew that you wouldn’t let me down. I knew that you would help me figure out what I should do. Thank You For being you Martha
Anonymous
June 24, 2019
Thank you for this information but Martha I am desperate I had a brain tumor resected 20 years ago in a spatial area of my brain And others think it’s funny that I can’t decorate an apartment I choose beautiful furniture but none of it matches it’s all the wrong sizes and I don’t know where to put anything I can’t hang pictures on the wall they’re sitting on the floor for years and I shop and shop for window dressings I can’t tell you how many decorators I’ve hired and all they want to do is sell me $2000 chairs and do nothing with what I have here aren’t there any decorators that work a little different. I had a friend in Texas who is a fabulous decorator who had courses on how to work with what people had because everyone can’t afford to redo their entire place I’m not overly attached to anything so I’m not a hoarder but it kind a looks like it because stuff is everywhere do you know anyone that can help me I’m a retired veterinarian and nurse and do lots of work for well folks not like you do a lot of pro bono work and just make sure that people get the healthcare they need I had a friend in Texas who is a fabulous decorator who had courses on how to work with what people had because everyone can’t afford to redo their entire place I’m not overly attached to anything so I’m not a hoarder but it kind of looks like it because the stuff is everywhere do you know anyone that can help me I’m a retired veterinarian and nurse and do lots of work for well folks not like you but you do a lot of pro bono work and just make sure that people get the healthcare they need But no one seems to get that I have the decorating care I need I’m in California do you know of anyone that can help thank you very much
Anonymous
January 6, 2019
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Anonymous
December 29, 2008
Hosta 16: Put less recent 8 X 10's in coffee table album. ebjrota
Anonymous
December 29, 2008
Hosta16: Cut plywood piece to fit over the sofa; cover it with wallpaper, solid textured fabric, put 8 X10's in all the same frame
Anonymous
May 15, 2008
I would go ahead and take some down. Dedicate a certain space in your house for your children's pictures. Use the kind of frames that allow you to easily change the pictures out (rotate) as new ones, that you or they love and want to display are made. Save the ones you take down, by scanning or taking a photo of them.
Anonymous
April 28, 2008
I HAVE THREE KIDS AND SO MANY BEAUTIFUL 8 BY 10 PICTURES~! MY PROBLEM IS THERE THROUGHOUT THE HOUSE~! I HAVE NO DECORATIONS? WHAT TO DO TO WITH ONES I MAY TAKE DOWN OR DO I? HOW MUCH IS TO MUCH?
Anonymous
December 3, 2007
I have a fall leaf collection of prints above my sofa. I laid the leaves out on 8.5 x 11 paper and color copied onto card stock. That way the leaves have not aged, broken or faded over time.