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Design Mistake #3

How to Hang Art Correctly

Design Mistakes_Art hung the wrong way_header pink

Art hung the wrong way on a wall is like a character in a movie wearing a really bad wig. It’s just kinda hard NOT to see it, and you wish so bad you could just rip it off, knowing that everything would be so much better without it. It doesn’t ruin your experience, but it’s just terribly distracting.

Whenever I walk into a persons home, whom I don’t know too well, they always ask me, nervously, ‘Do you instantly start analyzing the design and pick it apart?’ I typically say some sort of generic, ‘Oh no! I just shut it off – when I’m not at work I’m not at work!’ The truth is, yeah, I totally do. It’s like a chef noticing how food tastes at a neighborhood bbq, or a fashion designer noticing a good dress on a stranger. You just do whether you want to or not. Do I stare and judge and care? Not at all. But I am aware and often I see the same easy mistakes over and over and over again. So often that I’m just dying to give unsolicited advise to fix them – which is why we started this series.

Besides, The Generic Sofa Roundup | Rugs That Are Too Small | Painting a Small, Dark Room White | Generic ArtHow to Hang Curtains | Bad Wood Finishes | Anything “Antiqued” or “Faux Old”, I constantly notice art hung all wrong – mostly too high and too small.

Growing up our art was always crazy high – it always took up the top 1/4 of the wall and you practically had to crane your neck to see it. This trend is still happening. Here are some general tips:

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1. Yes, it should be ‘eye level’, but not if your ceilings are really low (typical is 8 – 9 feet) and not if you are really tall. If the wall were cut up vertically into four sections (going from bottom to top) then think of the art being in the third quadrant (counting from the floor).

2. If it’s a collection of art then you need to treat the whole collection as one piece, and start and stop it where it makes the most sense, as if it were one.

3. Engage as much as the wall as possible and orient the collection in the shape of the wall. The two photos above could be fine if you just tweaked them. The one one on the left just needs a piece added underneath it, and the one on the right needs those pieces to be in a grid that forms the shape of a square, properly proportioned to the wall. Those pieces are far too small to be hanging out on their own up there in a tiny little line.

Design Mistakes_Art too high for space 4

It hurts my soul to see these things. I mean, the room on the right doesn’t really have a chance, but the room on the left (above) could be fine/cute if they just moved that whole collection down 6″. Although they are suffering from the ‘rug too small‘ disease as well.

Speaking of too small, the second thing that I notice constantly is art that is just too small for the space.

Design Mistakes_Art too small for space 3

Both of these are cute photos with good art, but the space that the art is trying to fill is just way bigger than the pieces can handle. Generally the piece of art or the collection should be in the same shape and orientation of the wall that it is trying to fill. I get it, big art can be expensive, but you have more options these days – check out my epic online art roundup post here.

Design Mistakes_Art too small for space

You know these people. Now let’s save them from themselves.

While the situation is rather nuanced we tried to come up with some general rules for how high or how big the art should be. Remember, if your walls are really tall then you can go higher and if your piece of furniture is really low then consider going lower to help engage that whole space. But generally try to fill as much space on the wall as you can, allowing for a space around the pieces so they aren’t crammed towards the furniture, wall or moulding. How to properly hang your art_with blue text

I like art to be around 8″ above a piece of furniture, give or take. I’ve done it closer (like in Orlando’s place below/right), and that one did always look a bit crammed to me. You don’t want it to hit your head so typically 6 – 10″ gives you enough clearance to do that.

Everyone’s ‘eye level’ is different because we are all different heights, so that rule doesn’t really apply too much anymore. I’m sure that galleries have a rule about the middle of the piece being at eye level or something and often that does work, but if there is no piece of furniture below it then it might need to come down. Don’t be afraid of going lower. Consider the space you need to fill (from above a credenza to the ceiling) then place it 6 – 8″ above the piece of furniture (if its big enough) and see how it looks. The artwork and the piece of furniture should relate to each other and live near enough to each other that they collectively engage the whole wall together as a unit. Often, if there is a huge gap in between it will look disjointed.

Design Mistakes_Art hung the right height_credenza living room

I think these two photos (above) could have their collection or that piece of art start a bit higher, but scale-wise its awesome.

Design Mistakes_Art hung the right height_credenza living room 2 Design Mistakes_Art hung the right height_credenza living room 1

Slightly too big art is always better than too small. So if you have to choose, go bigger.

Here are a collection of spaces that I’ve styled with art – showing a variety of what works.

How to properly hang your art_roundup

Framebridge Gallery Wall | Mid-Century Credenza | Guest Bedroom Makeover | Family Circle Gallery Wall | Cup of Joe’s Bedroom | Cup of Joe’s Living Room

To see some of my favorite projects where we incorporated art, check out these different spaces: Oh Joy’s Studio, Mid-Century Eclectic Artist, LA Bungalow Makeover, Oprah Weekend Makeover. And if you are looking for good/affordable art check out my roundup of Best Online Art Resources. 

I know its kinda a complicated situation (for instance, I put the big photo of the face at least 12″ above the piece, breaking my own rule). Here’s a good trick I do ALL THE TIME: Put up the piece of art then stand back and take a photo of it. Pretend its not your house and that you have no emotional connection to it. Look at that photo and ask yourself ‘if I passed this picture in a magazine would I think that art it too low or high?’

This is a tricky one, so any questions?

In case you want to know what else we think everyone is doing wrong check out these design mistakes:  The Generic Sofa Roundup | Rugs That Are Too Small | Painting a Small, Dark Room White | How To Hang Art Correctly | How to Hang Curtains | Bad Wood Finishes | Anything “Antiqued” or “Faux Old”

  1. Hi Emily, very helpful! When you say 57″ from the floor do you mean the center or bottom around 57″ from the floor?

    1. Center.

  2. I love this advice, but I need more help! What to do if your ceilings are really, really tall (like, 14′ plus)? At a certain point do you just give up trying to engage the whole wall? Thanks!

    1. My question as well! We need to know! 🙂

    2. Then you just buy tons more art!

      (That’s probably not helpful… I’m just jealous because I have limited wall space and an addiction to art.)

  3. I love your tips! Question: is there a rule about collage frames? I’ve been collecting various pretty good picture frames for above my sofa. I hope that not a design No-No?

  4. I always LOVE how you style art, Emily! I have just about every one of your gallery walls on my Pinterest board. One thing I’ve struggled with is hanging art above a couch (or any climbable surface) when you’ve got a toddler around. My 2 year old likes to knock everything askew and pull frames off the wall. Any tips…besides teaching him some manners 😉 …???!

    1. Another blogger I read has the same 2yr old factor. She put those command picture hanging strips on the bottom of the frames, so if the child does try to move them, they won’t budge! Or, if they do, those strips are like velcro for your wall and easy to re-attatch.

      1. That’s what I did too for the big expensive art that my toddler always wanted to swing! I love those Command velcro strips. I use them to hang everything now!

      2. OOH that is smart. We don’t have that issue yet because nothing is above our sofa in the family room (because I have commitment issues) but that is smart.

    2. What if you pulled the couch away from the wall? Then if he’s standing on the couch and reaches back, he won’t be able to touch anything.

    3. So…*cough, cough*… I think two of the pictures (the one w the arrow on the wall, and the one next to it w the palm) look cool. I wouldn’t change a thing. Don’t you think there’s a sort of anti-fashion fashion … or anti-design design at work in those photos? It’s an aesthetic that is different from yours. I prefer this sorta “unfinished” look myself. But I’m always interested in what you have to say, dear Emily <3

      1. You expressed what I was thinking about those two photos! There’s a quirky edginess to them that I kind of admire although I don’t have the confidence to pull it off myself. I hope Emily comments too!

      2. I wonder what Emily thinks about it, but I feel like any time you want to break a rule, you have to be VERY careful about everything else.
        I’m all for “unfinished” look, but then the balance with colors/negative space/light/arrangement of objects on the side table/what-have-you must be perfect. When done well, it looks edgy and cool, but most times it just looks awkward-bad. And if awkward-bad is your aesthetic (which sounds super-judgy, but I don’t know how better to phrase it, so my apologies) then great, but I learned in my job that anything effortless actually takes longer to do.
        My team can spend almost an hour arranging confetti to look effortlessly thrown for a photo shoot, and don’t even get me started on making a toss pattern to look good.

        1. Keep in mind that while those photos do look cool, they are images shot from very specific angles showing just a fraction of the space. What works in a tiny vignette image may look ridiculous if viewed in the context of the whole room. Design “rules” can absolutely be broken but I think Emily’s are good general guidelines that speak to balance and proportion in a space.

  5. Helpful! My husband and I are tal and we sort of like our art higher, so I’ve been wondering if we were secretly breaking that rule all this time. But none of our high art is as egregious as your examples, yay!

    Based on your influence I’ve started going bigger and bigger with art around our home; now *I* secretly judge spaces with too-small art. Way too common. Thanks Em!

  6. My husband is very tall and insists on hanging the art at his eye level no matter how much I protest. When he goes on business trips I rehang everything 6 inches lower. He has never noticed!

    But I do have the same issue as one of your other readers. We have vaulted ceilings up to 16 feet tall. Do I need to engage the entire space above a sofa? Also any tips for how to arrange collages of art on walls that are angled ceilings? We have very few walls in our house with a completely horizontal ceiling at the top of a wall.

    Thanks!

  7. Hi Emily! How would you deal with hanging art on a curved wall? I’m struggling with this one. I have art on it (nice art), but it’s a row of small, releated pieces. I’d like to break it up and have a group that varies in size, but the curve of the wall makes hanging large art (which is what the space really demands) impossible, because it would “bridge the curve,” so to speak. Advice would be welcome.

    1. maybe your large art needs to be flexible so it can follow the curve, but still have an art like presence–such as a beautiful tapestry or quilt. You might have to customize a way to hang it, but it wouldn’t bridge your curve.

  8. You said “unless you have really low ceilings.” so, what would you suggest for low ceilings? my ceilings are an unfortunate, cavelike 7.5 feet. and due to lack of picture windows we have 4 distinct wall spaces in the living room that need art (probably 4″ high by anywhere from 8-12″ long), but without much height to work with, anything vertical looks disproportionate.

    1. I am in the same situation you are. A little bit taller- 8′ ceilings, but NO windows. It’s like a cave.

      Emily, help!

      Thedandyliar.com

  9. Emily, I love this post! This may be a dumb question… but do the same rules go for mirrors?

  10. How about blank walls? We have a few weird wall spaces anywhere from 2 to 5 feet wide (between a window and a wall, between a door and a wall, etc.) where there isn’t really room for a furniture piece, but art always seems sort of oddly placed. I’ve thought about a gallery wall on the wider spaces–are there “rules” for such a thing?!

  11. I loved all these tips! We’re in the process of redecorating our living room, and there are a few things I need to change after reading this that I think will really help the room out!

    Paige
    http://thehappyflammily.com

  12. Love this! You really do share the secrets Emily. And I luv ya for it!

  13. Any tips on art above dining tables? We have a small dining room, so the long, largest wall has no furniture except for the dining table floating 2 feet in front of it. Right now I have floating shelves with frames leaning on them starting about 1 foot above the tops of the chairs, so people don’t hit their heads on them when they scoot their chairs back.
    Too high? Do I need to ditch the floating shelves in there? Just buy a bigger house? 🙂

  14. I’ve always had a pretty good eye for hanging things, even if I never do it, but these guidelines definitely take out a lot of the guess work.

    And can we talk about how lust worthy all these rooms are? Especially that grid wall with the art above the bed, #swoon.

    Josh | The Kentucky Gent
    http://thekentuckygent.com

  15. This post came just in time for me. I just purchased a framed diptych (24 x 38 ea) at auction (so no returns!) for a 6 foot wide wall. I’ve been a little nervous that they will arrive and be too big. But now I am 100% confident that it will be perfect.

    Right now the art in this space is 36″ wide, but only about 24″ tall. Although the color is perfect, the span is pretty good, and it is hung at the right level, it still feels just a tad anemic. Now I understand that it feels like it’s floating because are no furnishings to anchor it, i.e., it is in fact too small for the space.

  16. Hi there – I live in a condo with one very long wall. Is it ok to break up the wall into 2 halves, with a gallery wall on the left and a large scale piece of art next to it?

    thanks!
    Lisa

  17. Hi Emily!

    I would love to know how you go about hanging art in rooms that serve multiple functions. For ex. I live in NYC, and along one wall we have (from left to right), a small desk, a couch, and a bar cart. I have a painting above the couch and a 3 small pieces of art above the bar cart. Individually they look good but as a collective wall, I don’t think it’s ideal. How do you figure out how to style an entire wall, taking into account all the different “areas” of the space?

  18. Hi Emily!

    I would love to know how you go about hanging art in rooms that serve multiple functions. For example, I live in NYC in a small apartment, and along one wall we have (from left to right), a small desk, a couch, and a bar cart. I have a painting above the couch and a 3 small pieces of art above the bar cart. Individually they look good but as a collective wall, I don’t think it’s ideal. How do you figure out how to style an entire wall, taking into account all the different “areas” of the space? I already have a gallery wall on the opposite wall so I realize that this side shouldn’t be too overdone. Still, without the art above the bar cart the wall looks a bit empty. Would you recommend one very large piece of art above the sofa?

    1. Sorry for the double (now triple) post!

  19. Thank you so much! Perfect timing as I’m about to change out photos on wall shelves to a gallery wall. Your samples of what works are amazing.

  20. love this post, thank you! i have come to terms tho, some folks’ spaces are just a lost cause haha

  21. Emily, what are your thoughts on a quirky wall FULL of pictures and photos? As we added on to our entry gallery wall, we thought it would be neat to fill the wall from floor to ceiling with different framed prints, photos and artwork, but paint all thrifted frames the same exact color. Interested on your take!

    Thanks in advance!

  22. Again, can’t say enough how great this advice is. Any suggestions for stairway artwork?

  23. any advice on how to present to real oil on canvas work? We have about 15-20 pieces. Should we frame them? Hang them all together? I kind of like the unframed look so you can see the paint on the edges and see it’s a real painting- but I don’t want it to look like we left it that way bc we couldn’t afford to have it framed or bc it was unplanned. Should we mix and match them on a gallery wall with other kinds of artwork? Help!

  24. I have a large, long (14′), blank wall in my living room that I want to make a gallery wall. The ceilings are about 7.5′. There is no furniture on the wall. I have a mixture of art in terms of size and shape, including a small quilt (about 2.5’x3′) that I’m in the process of creating. My plan is (once it’s finished) to put the quilt slightly off-center and then place everything else on either side of the quilt. Since there is no furniture on the wall to engage, how close to the floor can things go without looking odd?

  25. Great post. It takes a steady eye to discern the correct placement for art. I have this problem at my home. The prints are too high (I’m over 6 feet tall).

    My wife and our friends are always craning their necks to see the pieces; I’ll share this with her and give her a free “I told you so!”

    Great blog, Emily.

  26. Agreed. Thank you, it’s one of those things I want to give unsolicited advice about too. So I’ll add another, to prevent gallery walls from jarring the senses, make either the top along the ceiling or bottom row of the different pictures line up. The distances between artwork should be balanced but doesn’t need to be even or matching. But when the bottom row of mismatched sized pictures goes along a line about 6-8 inches above the sofa, ahhhh so much better…

  27. Hey Emily! Love your blog. I think this is actually design mistake #4! Design mistake #3 was painting a dark room white (loved that post by the way!).

  28. Where is that plaid rug in the first photo from? So pretty! ????

  29. That’s why you are the designer/stylist and get paid the big bucks. You just know how to do it right. The others are just off. (Some obviously WAY off…..)

  30. Hi Emily,

    I don’t have a question, this is just a comment of appreciation. Your posts are always very well written and substantial and I just want to thank you for taking your time in writing this blog. I would much rather read fewer posts that really have something to say, rather than the daily grind posters that just try to spit something out because they have to. So thank you.

    Robin

  31. Just an FYI, I believe the “eye level” gallery standard is to hang artwork 60″ on center. A small museum in Sun City (no longer open) used to hang art at 56″ on center to be more “bi-focal friendly.” Thanks for the great blog post– I am bothered by a lot of the same things … scale and how the piece/pieces relate to the rest of the wall and surrounding furnishings are so important!

  32. Too-small art drives me nuts. I love art and have so much of it I have to store it under my bed and rotate it, but… None of it is BIG enough. I dunno if it’s just that the young silkscreen artists whose work I buy can’t afford to make bigger prints, but they never sell it in sizes that are appropriate for hanging over a sofa or a mantel. So my whole house is a series of gallery walls…

  33. Yes, I have a question/ dilemma:
    I have a painting by a well known artist that I inherited . Its probably the most expensive thing I own, and I love it. The problem is that its really tiny, about 6×10 inches. Because its so special I don’t want it to get lost as part of a gallery wall, but it just looks properly silly by itself. So… What would Emily do?

    1. Could you maybe frame the piece with a nice, wide mat so that it has more of a presence? Then maybe it wouldn’t look weird on it’s own!

  34. Awesome tips! I’ll have to use these ideas next time I buy pictures for my home.
    http://www.lovelysharice.com

  35. Thank you so much for posting this. I just moved into my new home that we’ve been building for the last year and we’re finally getting into the interior and exterior decorating, so this is juts perfect timing! Very helpful.

    http://www.lioninthewild.com

  36. What do you do when you are 4’11” and your husband is 6’5″?

    And don’t say get a new husband lol!

  37. i shared this on my facebook because i see PLENTY of people sharing their tacky rooms with pictures jammed right up there at the crown molding. what are you going to do? paint some giant mural that spans the length on your walls or hang some epically huge piece of art? what are you saving all that space for? so bad.

    i’m truly lovely the series! 🙂

  38. Such great tips! It seems like you almost always can do bigger art work than you might think at first. I love all your examples, too… stunning rooms.

  39. Ha! I’m 5’4″ and my husband is 6’1.” Eye level is definitely subjective!

  40. What about big walls that go on forever and vaulted ceilings?! Most of the photos I see with great art collections are, at the most 10′ ceilings. I have yet to see an designer to a piece on walls that are 14′ plus…..

  41. Great tips! I just need a good handyman now!

    http://www.bazaarliving.com

  42. When I walked into the recently remodeled teacher’s lounge at my school, the first thing I noticed was the single (too small) piece of artwork hung too high. Of course, I blurted out, “that picture is hung too high!” and everyone looked at me like I was crazy. I can’t help it; it offends my sense of aesthetics. It’s still hung that way two years later, and it bugs me every time. Love your blog, Emily!

  43. When hanging art above a credenza, dresser, etc. should you take into consideration the placement of lamps or other tall accessories? Currently, we have two large scale botanicals hanging above our dresser, but they’re shifted a bit to the right in order to accommodate the lamp we have sitting on the left side of the piece. Should we have just centered the art and had the lamp covering up a portion of it?

  44. Thanks for posting the article. There’s a hole science behind this =P

  45. What do you do when you mess it up and there are a bunch of holes now showing above your art? Do you just suck it up and patch and paint it? Any good tips for avoiding this–I’ve tried measuring but I still screw it up. Thanks!

  46. Great tips! Personally I think that artwork on your walls should somehow match the rug, which many call “art for the floor”. And there is a lot to choose from, especially Swedish rugs are really artistic: http://dorisleslieblau.com/vintage-rugs/scandinavian-rugs

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