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How to master the art of perfect picture hanging

Hanging art, pictures and photographs correctly can be a daunting task. Art and framing consultant Marcus Wells shares his expertise.

What do pictures do for a room?

A room without much colour or anything of interest on the walls can look pretty dull. Pictures bring personality, warmth and individuality to a space and should be chosen to reflect the character of the person who lives there. In my opinion, the more personality you can project onto the walls, the better.

How do you approach colour?

I think it’s a shame when people get hung up on whether the colour in the painting is a perfect match for the room scheme – I prefer to allow a painting to speak for itself and not worry about whether the blue in the picture is going to match the blue in the sofa.

picture hanging

A symmetrical arrangement of identically sized frames can look impressive.

Are there any rules on hanging?

The centre of the picture should be as near as possible to eye level or, if you have a gallery of pictures, then the middle of the group needs to be at eye level. In my own house, I removed the dado and picture rails and this has created much more freedom to hang what I like where I want. There are many classic conventions, such as hanging a picture above a fireplace or sofa, but it can often work just as well to hang one over a doorway.

Impact is important, as are balance and scale. Don’t hang a small picture on a big wall or it’ll just look lost. It’s much better to choose a big painting or to a hang a group of pictures. A random arrangement can look good, but a precise grid pattern can also have amazing impact.

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Alternatively, a symmetrical layout of lots of same-size framed prints or box frames with ephemera can look very striking (in the past, I’ve made them for collections of cricket bats, Lego figures, plaster sculptures and antique Bagatelle boards).

If you have one large painting, you might choose to balance it with a pair of smaller pictures on either side. I enjoy mixing classic and contemporary prints and paintings as well as frames of different styles – it pays to be brave and play with pieces to create a cohesive layout that works for you. In my view, mixing is best, because it creates interest and keeps the look fresh, rather than too regimented.

Plain or elaborate frames?

The absolute priority is to choose a frame that will complement the picture and bring out its beauty. Although a large painting could look ridiculous with a tiny frame, a tiny painting can be made to look a million dollars in a large frame, so it’s always worth playing with different mouldings until you’re satisfied with the result. You should then think about where the picture is going to hang and what your own style will be.

We make museum-quality traditional frames with hand-carved ornamentation, classic gesso finishes with red bole clay as the base for hand-gilding and burnishing using agate stones. The finishes are completed using washes and tones to complement the painting.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with a classic gilt frame for a traditional oil painting or watercolour, but, over the years, we’ve become well known for using quirky materials to make unusual designs.

Skips are useful sources of found objects that can look fantastic when made into frames and I’ve also used tree bark, fabric, leather, rusty iron with rivets, machine parts, old vinyl records and even a 1950s TV-set frame, complete with speaker and knobs, to frame a piece of Pop art.

To mount or not to mount?

It’s very important that a picture is given space to breathe and that’s where a mount comes in—it will give the art space to speak for itself.

Haviland Designs (020–8355 0504;

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