A new design mistake coming at you, but it’s complicated so to really understand it we created a formula. Here’s what happens: you have this one piece of art and you put it on a wall, and you have this other piece and you put that on another wall. You continue until you deem the room ‘done’ and then you look around and wonder why the room doesn’t just sing.
I GOT YOU. There is a formula, a science in which we use to consider decorating pieces on ALL FOUR walls of a room. To speak in scientific terms, your eye wants to move around at a pace that is both exciting and relaxing. It has to do with variety, keeping it interesting and a bit unpredictable, yet giving it some negative space and simplicity to calm it down a bit.
After staring at years of my/EHD work I realized that we have a very intentional (yet organic) way of doing this. Here are the options (pick one for each wall):
- One large piece
- Gallery wall
- Medium piece
- Stacked pieces
- Something sculptural
- 3 Dimensional, (like a clock)
Vary the orientation and the medium/type of art of two pieces next to each other.
That’s right – every wall in a room is addressed with a different configuration of art/mirror or sculpture. Two of any of those things next to each other looks competitive and yet redundant. Imagine two gallery walls next to each other? Two large paintings? Two mirrors? Two grids or diptychs? It seems like of course, you wouldn’t do that, and yet I see it over and over mostly because all of us just use what we have and simply hang it on the walls in an attempt to not have it blank. I GET IT. We can help.
But since real-life examples and explanations are almost always better… Shall I demonstrate? Behold:
Let’s take the Portland living room for example (let’s call it Exhibit A). We have a grid on the fireplace wall, a single horizontal piece, a single vertical piece, and a peek into the open dining room that has a diptych.
Then on the other walls, we have a ‘leaning gallery’, a blank wall because then we have a large vertical leaning in the nook. No mirror or anything ‘sculpture’ but that’s because we have the sconces that help add that 3-dimension. See how your eye is never bored and continuously hopping around?
Exhibit B – Our bedroom in LA. We have for you one big ‘piece’ (the frame TV), a mirror and I added a ladder which also acts like a ‘sculpture’ or 3-dimensional piece.
On the other walls, we have one vertical, two stacked pieces that don’t match (a mini-gallery), and a triple stacked grid (pretty sure that is a sandwich Brian would like to eat), with a big vertical mirror by the closet (not shown). And YES you can have opposing mirrors in one room, just not next to each other.
Exhibit C – In the kid’s room we have a gallery wall, a big statement canopy with two smaller pieces that match (a diptych of sorts), a mirror, a kite (3 dimensional), and a sconce (another 3-dimensional piece but more graphic than the kite). Each wall has its own thing going on, but all working together.
Exhibit D – Our old bedroom. A diptych above the bed, a single vertical, oval mirror, 3-dimensional sconces, and a mixed stack (mini-gallery).
This is an example of multiple mirrors in one room that still works. They are close but not on the same wall:)
Exhibit E – The Portland Family Basement playroom. Here we have a large focal piece next to a large gallery wall, a clock (round to shake it up), and even the swing is the ‘art’ for that corner, adding dimension.
Exhibit F – Emily Bowser’s living room. Here we have a triptych (flanked by 3-dimensional sconces), a large round mirror (to break up the squares). And on the other side of the room…
Here you have a vertical mirror, a single horizontal piece, and in the background a sculptural art piece. All different shapes that make this room sing.
Exhibit G – Jess’ studio apartment living room. An incredible floor to ceiling gallery wall, with a single vertical piece next to a vertical stick sculpture, with a large mirror and those peg hooks act like another 3-dimensional sculpture.
Exhibit H – Julie’s Bedroom. Julie really nailed it with her array of awesome wall art. First, there’s that great gallery wall full of 3-D objects right next to the neutral stacked diptych (nice balance). Then she DIYed that single vertical piece between her windows followed by her ‘raised off the wall’ horizontal triptych. To finish off the space, that long pill mirror. basically something interesting and different at every turn.
I could go on but it feels right to end on ‘H’:)
BUT if you are a little overwhelmed here is a great EHD go-to:
Does this answer your burning questions on how to decorate your walls in a unique yet cohesive way? I hope so. I know it can feel really intimidating when you are staring at empty walls. But as long as you vary the configurations, scale, and orientation (while working within a decided color palette, of course) you are likely going to get exactly the room you’ve been wanting. xx
Opening Image Credit: Photo by Sara Ligorria-Tramp | From: Reveal: A Budget and Rental-Friendly Living and Dining Room (With 80% Thrifted Finds)
I have a question about blank walls. Do people ever place furniture, like a bench or credenza, to be able to scale art to something smaller than a giant wall? I like the unclutteredness of no random furniture – but, in this house, means large blank spaces in my living area.
I do. I have a carved, Balinese antique bench that accomodates a smallish 3D piece above it. Otheerwise, it would require som7LARGE and I don’t have something large that I love.
Gah! Numb fingers, sorry.
Love love love this! Thank you so much, this is really helpful 🙂
This is SO helpful! Thank you!!
I dunno. I have single pieces of art throughout my living/dining room and it works.
Me, too. I have quite a few full watercolor sheets framed (22X30” plus mat and frame) that are originals from favorite artists from whom I’ve taken workshops, plus we have a large oil painting over the fireplace. I would rather have art that I love than be constrained by rules of having to have variety of groupings. If I followed this advice to the letter, I would have to store and rotate some of my favorite art and would have to shop for smaller pieces to make diptychs, triptychs, or gallery walls. I decorate around what I want to see daily, which is fine art. I use art as decor, but the art takes precedence.
Off topic, but there’s a few of us who feel like the EHD team is MIA in the community lately. Is that because of the transition or is that intentional? We miss you!
Echoing this. No one from the team seems to be posting/or interacting and there are some of us that want to give feedback/explain some things that aren’t working on the app and no one seems to be listening. All this said with love. We miss you and the team!
This is such a great post. I have two large horizontal pieces in my living room on facing walls that have never felt right. Especially with the tv in there too.
Also I have to mention my three year old was in my lap while I scrolled through this post. When I got to the kids’ room with the double beds and tapestry, she said that was going to be her room. We could get rid of our house so she could have that one. She did add that it needed some toys, like a doll house or something. Lol
I have about 30 plus pieces of art in each of my bedrooms. I also have a ton in my living room. I love art. I’ve bought a lot from local artists plus random stuff I’ve collected on travels through out my life. To be honest, I have no problem having multiple gallery walls in every room. I like the look of a house with just a teeny bit on the walls, but then again I love to be surrounded by my colorful paintings, photography, and funky 3d stuff. I can’t imagine putting the kibosh on how much stuff goes on my walls. Surround your self with things you love and you will love your place, regardless of whether it meets all design “rules”.
Love this and agree!
Um, 100% this. I love art and am always hanging more and more. I like to have art everywhere! Then sometimes I’ll take it all down and rearrange it to feel new! Always on the hunt for something new/fun/affordable at the thrift stores!
I absolutely agree with this. I’d like to add that to me, decorating one’s walls is different from collecting, hanging, displaying, and living with art. One mindset leads me to think color-coordination, theme, size, materials, point-counterpoint etc., and involves haunting stores and websites that carry “decor.” The other is a more organic process of living with what I have until a piece of artwork speaks to me. And then sometimes a lot of shifting goes on! Don’t get me wrong. I think both are good. We recently purchased a lakeside condo to which we will retire in a couple of years, and, in contrast to our home which is full of eclectic pieces of art, I decorated it over a period of 6 months. (What fun to get just about everything new!). As a result, colors are coordinated, with a base of dark floors, light wood and furniture, and silvers, blues and aquas as accents. (Why fight a color scheme that we see out our windows every day?) I searched diligently for artwork that would complement or contrast well, including a large fish vase, a wire Great Blue Heron, some inexpensive prints reminiscent of the patterns of water or boats,… Read more »
I agree, but I don’t think this post was intended to confine us with rules as much as to help those who don’t know where to get started. Some people naturally have an eye for “art” and others need help decorating. I think it can take years to make your space feel curated instead of decorated, but it can be hard to live with blank walls for years.
I’ve been thinking of spicing up my bedroom wall and hadn’t considered a 3D piece. Obsessed with the dangly vertical one!
I made a 3D wall for our new home by folding bright blue cardstock into origami triangles and hanging them pieced together just like a 3D time. We all have some anxiety, downtime or a need to unwind I think. Folding paper was therapeutic and now our (SUPER INEXPENSIVE!!) wall looks rad, interesting and expensive. You can’t btell it’s paper because of the,heavy cardstock. Lots of 3D, and ANY, decorating styles, frankly I’m a MORE IS MORE gal myself. I can’t just get a set of matching frames, a mirror and call it a day. You do you!!
Such a helpful post!!!
This is super helpful! Do you have any advice on how to mix and match frames within a room?
This is super helpful – but what about rooms with huge openings? Windows seem to take up 45% of my living room walls and openings (doors, windows, cased openings) take up 60% of my dining room…
Lucky you! My living room is ALL walls & it’s like living in a cave!
My living room is all windows, built-ins, and a fireplace. I have 1 starburst clock and the TV takes up the other wall. I have so much busy stuff on the shelf that I have no art on the walls in my living room. Just depends….
Emily, this was like a mini-course wrapped up into bite-sized pieces. Thank you.
I’m edging towards revamping my entire house (okay, it’s only a little, original nearly 100 year old house) and this is helpful and refreshing.
I studied Art at uni, so the ‘balancing’ and rezting places via white space isn’t new to me, but in as far as iterior design, rather than the artpiece itself, it’s super helpful, so, I read your post twice! (As one does when every morsel is key!)
Now…I’m just waiting on the final word on whether I get to keep this house, or if it has to bd sold and I need to find, buy, renovate anddecorate a whole ‘nother house. Y i k e s!
I have a large gallery wall of blown up photos surrounding & disguising my tv, but I’ve wanted to put my collection of fine art up in a corner gallery wall opposite/diagonal from the large gallery- plenty of white space in-between. Is that just way too cluttered?
This is freaking genius! I will reference this ALL. THE. TIME. The only thing I’d add – PLANTS!! They can totally be your sculptural bits and they just bring so much life and warmth into a space.
I was thinking the same thing!
I thought of more to add to the list! A leaning gallery wall (which you do reference in the post, just not in the list), and a an art ledge, which is basically a leaning gallery, just on a ledge instead of furniture 🙂
This was great! Now can we get a roundup of sculptural objects? That is the one I struggle with the most.
I second the roundup of sculptural objects!
Goes with my idea for design… “A good joke should only be told once.” I’ve seen so many people using the same effects in every room throughout a house because they looked really good in one room and then they keep doing it. While it may work in each room, it may not work in an entire house where rooms are combined together and you basically have nothing wowing because it’s all the same. Every room should have it’s own unique effect…. a brick wall, plaster, lighting, etc should only be used once. The options are endless, so never repeat the same thing everywhere.
I found this very helpful! I notice the hot tip though of considering the scale of your walls. I’ve got two 18ft walls that have been causing me decision paralysis for years. This has definitely been helpful but I’m still unsure whether I should focus my attention on the ‘ground’ level, or follow the slope of the stairs or hang some high or a combination of all. Good large scale art is expensive and I’m afraid of making the wrong choice!
I think if you have the vertical space, use it! We have two story tall walls in our living room as well and have filled the niche above the fireplace to use the vertical. I want to hang some other large artwork up high on the other walls, but I haven’t yet convinced my husband to break out the extension ladder. We also have our family photo gallery along our staircase following the slope up. (I’m an artist though, so I can make my own large scale art. I totally understand your apprehension due to cost.)
Love this! It would be SO helpful if you could do a roundup of sculptural wall art. I always see great pieces in your posts and have been having a hard time tracking them down. Thank you!
This is an amazing tutorial, thank you!! I’ve been struggling with placing art in a few spots and now I know why, plus I know what should or shouldn’t go there.
Love all this advice. So helpful. What about the ever troublesome long and narrow living/dining room combo. I have two very long walls with no architectural detail and three zones of activity. Just not sure how to place art in the division of these zones, when they are all on the same big blank, boring wall!
This honestly is the first post in years that I think is whacked out as it doesn’t really take into account the wall-sizes or the other furnishings. As far as it being a science? Just lol.
My late mother was a decorator and she always touted having one blank wall in a room. I can’t remember what she called it; a quiet wall or a dead space or something. She would say that the eye needs somewhere to rest while taking in the room and if all 4 walls have stuff on them it can’t do that. And consider that doors and windows constitute “something”‘ on those walls.
Thanks for sharing! Could a wall behind a TV be considered a blank wall?
This is so useful. It’s like a step-by-step manual for design/decor-challenged people like me. Thank you!
I have to mention my three year old was in my lap while I scrolled through this post. When I got to the kids’ room with the double beds and tapestry, she said that was going to be her room. We could get rid of our house so she could have that one
I love this article! Totally bookmarking it. Question though – At the beginning you mention negative space to let the eye rest, which I totally get, but are there any specific rules/tips to achieve this? Like, does it ever make sense to leave a wall BLANK? I’m sure it depends on the space and maybe it’s something you just feel out, but thought I’d ask 🙂 (OR maybe by “negative space” you mean leaving an appropriate distance between art arrangements, not necessarily a totally blank wall. In that case, disregard my question! haha.)
My comments about collecting artwork vs decor notwithstanding, I think this is a great article. Lots of visual examples are really helpful. Thank you so much for including those, and for showing variety that will appeal to many tastes. I think that training the eye to what is personally pleasing is key to creating personal spaces that will be comfortable, beautiful, and loved. There were some photos I didn’t care for, and these were as important—maybe more important!—to analyze than the ones I loved.
Sculptural art examples: masks, birds or any animal, bowls,vases( yes there are wall vases, or tall ones on furniture, baskets, trays, plates, hats, plants, stacks of books,jewelry racks,( I put my bracelets on standing hand towel racks )some shelf brackets, handbags,( I have a wall of my moms pocketbooks, ditto gloves. Old toys, boxes( stacked or not) art models,( hands, bodies,) I find things at garage sales, thrift stores,ebay, and it’s a good way to add age interest . I hang (vintage) pillow covers, filling them w foam core.
Great article! Love this type of post!
Thank you, Emily! You are a super talented designer, whose style speaks to my soul!! Thank you for sharing articles like this one, they truly transform a house into a home. Your tips are beyond basic and are most appreciated. May you and your family continued to be blessed with happiness, health and success. Best, Allison