Art in the home is a very personal thing. It can include paintings, prints, family photos, drawings, vintage magazine covers, advertisements, textiles, and all manner of other materials.
This diversity is one reason why your selection of home art makes such an individual statement and has such a profound effect on the look and feel of your rooms.
At the same time, home art displays often face a number of challenges. Wall space is often scarce and fragmented and viewing angles can be constrained by room size and shape, furniture, and other factors. You also have to make sure the works you choose fit the context of your home’s colors and mood, and take care to protect artworks from direct sun, which is damaging to pigments and materials.
Choosing “Anchor Pieces” for Your Home
Fortunately, the basic approaches to planning and hanging described in our free e-book Everyone’s Guide to Art Hanging are just as valid in a home setting as in a gallery. Upfront consideration of your space, and of what story you’re trying to tell, about yourself, your family, your experiences, or whatever else is important to you, will help the decision-making process immensely.
As Christine O’Donnell, founder and director of Boston’s Beacon Gallery, notes, it’s most important that pieces in your home appeal to you. “Don’t worry about what others think. You are going to be living with the artwork day after day. Choose your favorite pieces, find others that go with them, and hang all those things together in a way that inspires you.” (Christine offers additional advice on the planning process in this video.)
These beloved items will be good candidates to star in your home and serve as the “anchor pieces” of your displays.
Figure 1 shows how a short dividing wall in a California Victorian house provides a comfortable setting for a big, bold painting that’s set off well by the overall neutral color scheme — a great example of an anchor piece for that room. Note that there is adequate clear space around the light switches at the painting’s right, so that they do not seem jammed in.
In Figure 2, the large painting serves as the anchor of a simple but evocative display of African art, which tells a story about the homeowner’s upbringing in, and ongoing connection with, South Africa. Note how, even in a relatively small and constrained section of wall, the three pieces work together to catch the eye and reward a longer look.
Creating Effective Gallery Walls
Another way of anchoring a room is with a gallery wall, which features an array of pieces in multiple rows and columns. These are a hot trend in interior design these days, and a descendant of the salon-style approach to hanging art.
With a bit of planning your gallery wall can come across as a cohesive whole and not a random collection. Again, surrounding an anchor piece with strong supporting players can be a wise strategy.
An excellent example is seen in Figure 3, where a striking image of a seaside rock formation anchors the center of the bottom row, while supporting photos of other far-flung locations (natural and manmade) make the collection visually engaging while also providing a story line about photographer Guy Ivie’s travels and interests. His use of an art hanging system simplifies the arrangement process and makes later changes easier.
Don’t neglect the potential to tell a story. If you’re hanging family photos, for example, consider having some sort of logical organization that gives the viewer a visual route. You could go chronologically from top to bottom or side to side, cluster groups of relatives or friends together, or find some other organizing principle that speaks to you.
When arranging multiple works, it’s essential to experiment before committing to final positions. Try laying out your arrangement on the floor or a tabletop and trying different combinations until you find one that feels logical or unified. (An art-hanging system is especially useful in this situation, as it allows you to easily evaluate different arrangements right on the wall.)
Most often you’ll have diversely sized and shaped pieces in your gallery wall, so you’ll need to find a combination that holds together both from a distance and up close. Having some sense of a grid is usually a good strategy, but don’t feel that you have to force things into perfect rows and spaces – and remember, if a display is TOO orderly, viewers can lose sight of the pieces’ individual character.
Note: This article draws on material from the “Art in the Home” chapter of Gallery System’s Everyone’s Guide to Art Hanging, a richly illustrated 50-page e-book. Get the full story and helpful expert advice. Request your free copy today!