How to Frame Your Space with Art

Abstract art painting in a dining room. There’s nothing like art, artfully displayed, to tie a room together. Photo by Stephen Allen Photography courtesy of audreyphillipsart.

If I were independently wealthy, I’d be a bona fide art collector. (Oh, and shoes. I’d  totally collect shoes. They’re like works of art, too, right?) I bought my first piece of original art 16 years ago, adding a few pieces since as the budget allowed — and even when it didn’t. Because that’s the thing about art. It truly is in the eye of the beholder. And if it speaks to me, I listen … and buy (American Express loves me).

Loves Illusion painting

The first piece of original art I bought was “Love’s Illusion,” painted in 2002 by my close friend Audrey Phillips, who is a Professional Abstract Painter now. Her work can be found in the homes of private collectors and in galleries throughout the U.S.

When I invest in art — and I do consider it an investment — it has to express some part of who I am, how I feel, or what I think. So it means a lot when  people visit my home and seeing my “gallery” say, “It’s so you.” Living in a roughly 800-sf apartment, that means pretty much the entire space is devoted to displaying original (and commercial; I’m not a total snob.  Or independently wealthy yet.) pieces I’ve acquired. I love sharing the stories behind my little collection. Each work reflects a time in my life, evokes an emotional connection, and above all, just makes me happy when I look at it.

Picasso decorative plate

One of my favorite pieces (although obviously not an “original”) is a Picasso plate that hangs on a kitchen wall. No framing required, but that might’ve been a mistake. I used to have two, but the other one was literally blown off the wall in a dust storm. Note to self: See tip about Plexiglas below. 🙁

Used as unique accents or a foundational focal point in a space, I’m also a firm believer in showcasing art for art’s sake. Over the years, I’ve discovered that my art has taken on a life of its own, frequently dictating my decor so it, instead of say my furniture or wall color, defines a space. So if you’re afraid a work’s colors, subject, or media won’t mesh with your decor, don’t be. Take a tip from a pro like New York City’s Picture Room gallery owner and art consultant Sandeep Saltar.

“Always frame an artwork for the artwork, not for its surrounding environment. The artwork will fit into an interior much better if it’s not trying to match it, but reflects something about the space or its inhabitants,” she says.

Sandeep Saltar picture art wall

Picture wall in the apartment of Sandeep Saltar. Photo by Jonathan Pilkington.

Saltar adds, “It’s absolutely OK to mix frame styles, but when in doubt, go with a raw or unfinished maple frame—rather than black or white. It’s neutral, contemporary, and doesn’t hide its materiality.”

I picked up some other tips in a great article on Remodelista, where Janet Bishop, curator of painting and sculpture at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, shared her expert advice on how to display your art at home. Here are just a few of her suggestions:

Stay centered. As a rule of thumb, hanging art on a center line of 58 to 60 inches above the floor works well. When stacking or clustering works, take into account the total height of your wall, including the space you envision between the frames, and center that.

Art gallery wall

Mix it up.  Not all art is created equal, so feel free to mix small works — things you need to get up close to in order to fully appreciate — and larger ones that anchor or offer focal points in a room. For works that are too tall to hang on a center line, try placing them about 15 inches off the floor. Keeping individual pieces at eye level is another common practice, but depending on your furnishings, sometimes going a little off kilter can add intrigue to low hanging fruit.

Portrait of Corinne Gilbert by Dan McCarthy

Consider hanging low. Photograph by Matthew Williams for Remodelista, from Expert Advice: How to Decorate Like a Frenchwoman. Portrait of Corinne Gilbert by Dan McCarthy.

Let the art breathe. When framing, make sure there’s a little space between the glazing and the surface of the artwork, so it “floats,” to create more dimension and depth.  This is especially true for paper works and photographs.

Pay for UV Plexiglas. If your rooms get a lot of bright, direct sunlight, it pays to protect your investment with UV-resistant Plexiglas to prevent fading and damage.

Waste no space. Art can brighten and bring intrigue and interest to any space. Get creative with displays along hallways, in entry ways, or any “dead” spots you want to bring to life.

So your art doesn’t look like it should be in the Louvre? No worries. Whether your collection includes a real Rembrandt, or is a mix of popular commercial prints produced for the masses, use the tips above to own it and display your pieces with pride!