If you’ve got walls that surround you but manage to confound you, you’re not alone. Hanging art or otherwise decorating your walls can be daunting, but done wisely, it can also make a house feel more like home.
Before beginning the process of adorning a room, consider its ceiling height, window and furniture placement and general proportions, says Lindsey Runyon, a Seattle-based interior designer and owner of Lindsey Runyon Design.
She recommends addressing your window situation first — in particular, any window treatments or draperies. We sometimes forget that these elements take up a large share of available wall space, and you don’t want your wall hangings and curtains fighting for real estate (and attention).
Designer Emily Ruff, the owner of Seattle-based Cohesively Curated, starts by putting standout art on walls that are seen as you enter or exit a room. This can be one large piece of art or a combination of smaller elements.
If you have an oversized wall but don’t have a big piece of artwork to match, try adding rows of framed works or other gallery-style arrangements, Ruff suggests. (More about that gallery wall in a moment.)
Get the hang of it
We asked Runyon and Ruff to share their tips for choosing artwork for your walls, as well as their advice for hanging it to get the most impact.
Don’t limit the types of art. Both designers encourage mixing photography, paintings, sculptures and maps. Ruff likes to add photos of families or special celebrations, and will often ask clients about locations or landscapes that they find meaningful — for example, their wedding venue.
Go for a mirror — or two. “You can use mirrors more often than you think,” Runyon says. Wherever you use art, you can use mirrors. The home of one client featured a Space Needle view, so Runyon hung a mirror in the exact spot to reflect the iconic landmark.
Add texture to your wall. Ruff has hung small, richly colored vintage rugs and other textiles, either in a deep frame or sandwiched between acrylic panels that are made for that purpose.
Create gallery walls. An organized gallery uses the same pieces, sizes or styles of art, hung in a grid format. Runyon says a less-formal design, or “wild gallery,” might use eclectic frames, a range of artwork and frames turned in different orientations. “It doesn’t have to look perfect,” Runyon says. For a hybrid approach, choose one element that will repeat to create a sense of unity. An example would be all black-and-white photos, with frames of various sizes, that are arranged horizontally and vertically.
Be selective. If you decorate your wall using a large gallery, it shouldn’t compete with other room elements — for example, a funky pattern on a lounge chair or bold wallpaper. “You can’t have everything in the room be the star,” Runyon says.
Put it on a shelf. Floor-to-ceiling shelving can be an attractive alternative to an art-heavy wall. For many clients, Ruff has recommended CB2’s wall-mounted bookcase, on which framed photos can be placed beside books, baskets and other decorative objects.
Stay low. Most people hang their art too high, Runyon says. In most cases, it should be at eye level. An exception might be with a collection, in which some pieces will be above eye level and others below. In one house, Runyon helped a giant art piece fit in by leaning it against a dining room wall — it was still at eye level, despite its enormous size.
Leave blank spots. “Often, people put too much [wall art] around a room,” Ruff says. “Blank spaces give your eye room to rest, and they allow you to look around the room without being overwhelmed.” Avoid covering more than two-thirds of your wall space with art, she says.
Art that works for your room
When considering what type of art to hang, Sarah Takahashi, owner of SB Art Consulting in Seattle, recommends seeking out original work at local galleries and studios.
“We are exceptionally blessed with very talented artists in this area, and the prices are so affordable compared to the East Coast or even other larger U.S. cities,” she says. Local art fairs also offer attractive pieces for different budgets.
There’s been a surge recently in the availability of high-quality prints and reproductions, Takahashi says, including interesting and unusual artwork at accessible prices. Larger decor companies are also printing artwork from lesser-known artists.
Sara Mahlin, manager of Annie’s Art and Frame, in Ballard, says you may find just the right piece in an unlikely place: your own closet.
“While cleaning out closets and reorganizing, customers have found old concert posters, artwork, their maps from backpacking through foreign countries, kids’ art, political posters,” she says. If they’re still in good shape — and with the right frame — they can add a personal and visually striking touch to a room.
At her shop, Mahlin has seen an uptick in paint-by-number canvases created as family activities during the pandemic that customers want to frame and hang.
Whether your favorite piece was found online or was stored away at home, Runyon suggests using the work’s color palette as a springboard for decorating the rest of the room where it hangs.
Match new furnishings to the art’s exact colors. “Some people think, ‘Oh, this painting has red in it, so red works.’ [But] pay attention to the tone. Red isn’t just red — it’s ‘brick red’ or ‘bright cherry red.’ ”
Takahashi says more of her clients are choosing antique and gilded frames for their artwork.
“Antique frames are a special love of mine, but I saw them mostly in the homes of only very wealthy collectors,” she says. Now, more people are collecting the frames and using them to display modern works, she says.
Black and wood frames add a pop of contrast on white walls, Ruff says, which will make your art stand out. On walls painted other colors, consider choosing artwork that complements the paint hues, or try neutral-colored pieces.
Takahashi says that the way to truly love the look of your walls is to purchase artwork that you like.
“You’ll probably keep the art longer than the furniture,” she says, so it should be something you’ll want to admire for years to come.