Understanding Picture Walls

black and white art that looks like a picture wallArranging a picture wall is a  challenge, especially when starting from scratch.

I’ve been thinking about two separate spaces in my house, which prompted me to begin collecting these idea shots. For me, picture walls are less about specific images than the way they are arranged in the space. Their  success depends a lot on the architecture of the wall and on scale – the relative size of the space to be filled versus the size of the images. Is it more effective, for example,  to use three large images in a small space than a dozen small images?

To my mind, there are no real rules. The success of a wall is a function of a series of choices and good planning plus understanding a few basics.

* Images: should they be similar or different, set or a collection?

* Frames: same size, style and color or a variety? Matching or not?

* Composition: How much of the wall surface will be filled? How will the background function? Will the arrangement be symmetrical (in set rows?) or a random assemblage?

I’ve found it most effective to draw the walls and images to scale – scale pencil drawings can be done on graph paper (I tape two sheets together) using ½-inch to equal 1 foot. Digital photos of the art, printed out in small sizes, also to scale, are then easy to move around on the sketch.

picture wall on a stairwell landing

Leona Mozes Photography

Each of the photos here illustrates a point. I’ll share my thoughts on them and if you collect picture-wall photos you’d like to share, let me know. The black and white picture wall arrangement [top] is actually a piece of art — note the blank centers. I took this photo at The Museum of Modern Art.
Some time later, I came across this oddly similar photo wall on the landing of a home done by Canadian designer Scott Yetman.  I feel it proves one point: the arrangement can overshadow the content.
dining room picture wall of botanical printsThis dining room inspired the table and flooring choices in my sunroom/dining room, which also has a blank wall flanked by a doorway on each side. While the wall behind the botanical prints is paneled, the prints are larger than the recessed areas and sit on the vertical sections. Hanging them above the top of the adjacent door frames pushes up the ceiling visually. The black frames are narrow but create a distinct architectural pattern – in effect replacing the actual paneling. The scale is large, too: notice how the bottom row of prints extends below the top of the table, nearly covering the wall from top to bottom as well as from side to side. Since the botanical images are not solid, they don’t create any spots that draw the eye to one place and colors echo the tones of the furniture, floor and plants. animal prints on wall in Bunny Williams' home
Design pros Bunny Williams and John Roselli built a stucco vacation home at Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic. In the library the “natural world theme” includes a suite of well-known Swedish bird prints – in a variety of sizes with matching frames – hung over a ten-foot long sofa in an airy array of large images across the wall. picture wall of art hung behind a bed

A wall with a diverse collection of small artwork rests serenely behind a floating platform bed dressed in neutral colors. By my count there are nearly 40 pieces here, expertly hung by New York designer David Mann, for his client, an art expert and advisor. The bedside lampshade is copper; headboard fabric is Casablanca by the Italian firm of Rubelli. picture wall in a fuschia living room by Marjorie Skouras

As if a pow red living room was not hot enough, LA designer Marjorie Skouras hung a symmetrical arrangement of nine equally colorful pieces of art, in matching frames, over a fairly traditional marble fireplace to focus color-on-color attention in a room that might otherwise cause some visual confusion. suite of prints on a purple wall by Jamie Drake

For a high intensity approach to this wall the placement starts low and ends below the top of the window on the adjacent wall — scaling the wall down to the level of the table and benches. Because all the images are variations on a theme with identical frames, the arrangement reads like one huge painting even though there are even number of prints that create a slight indentation in the top row. Swedish picture wall with fabric and antique portraits
A pair of English portraits set over pieces of old damask in narrow wall frames function as  huge patterned stripes at Hildasholm, the country manor house in Dalarna, Sweden, — built in 1911 by Swedish royal physician Axel Munthre and his wife, Hilda. But there’s always an idea or two to steal in a historic home: the portraits are framed from behind by the damask which makes them seem more important than the third one  hung higher in the center. Think about updating this by replacing the fabric with 2-foot wide contrasting paint stripes behind any type of artwork – 100% DIY brilliance with some blue tape and a bucket of acrylic.
picture wall with arrangement around a pair of sconcesThe stunning study of Robert Passal’s New York Gramercy Park home is done in ultra-chic drab colors. Art – punctuated by sconces — hangs from a picture rail at various levels over fabric-covered walls. The monochromatic artwork boasts a variety of frame and picture mat colors shapes and sizes that all blend in.

(Source: Scott Yetman, Country Home ,  WOI, Town & Country, Jamie Drake, Robert Passal, Marjorie Skouras)

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