Hanging art salon-style can add a new dimension to your home

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By Mitchell Chapman

One of the least expensive ways to change the look of your space is to rearrange the way you display art and wall decorations.

In general, when most people hang art, it remains that way until they move or add something new. It takes effort to make an attractive wall arrangement. Dragging ladders around, pre-drilling holes in the walls, measuring up and down, left and right, trying to get something centered — I can see why once something goes up, it never gets moved again.

In 2005 I moved to Seattle. A friend who is a prominent artist in San Francisco suggested that I visit the Frye Museum in Seattle (fryemuseum.org). They have a collection of Realist paintings on permanent display. Since I collect American Realism art, I went to check it out.

That visit fundamentally changed the way I hang art. The Frye Museum has an amazing collection that is hung “salon style.” Their salon is filled with artwork hung floor to ceiling with very little space between the frames. It is a visual delight, to say the least. The Frye salon has a magical effect upon me: My creative “batteries” feel recharged after each visit. I love going there, and admission is free!

The “salon style” of hanging art came about over 200 years ago, when the French Royal Academy displayed its students’ works like that. It was an efficient way to display numerous paintings. Artists jockeyed for positioning, with the least desirable location being up toward the ceiling and the most coveted being at eye-level.

Salon-style is as popular today as it has ever been. You can even use apps on your smartphone or tablet to help you hang your art. Here’s what I do:

• Find the center of your frame and make a small mark on the top of the frame using a pencil.

• Pull the hanging wire on the back of the frame up and measure the distance from that to the top of the frame. I call this the “wire to frame” measurement.

• Set your paintings on the floor below the spot where they will be hung. Figure out the most pleasing arrangement.

• I start from the lowest position and work my way up. Sometimes I start in a corner, and other times I work from the middle outward.

• Have someone hold the frame in the position where you want it. Find the center mark on the frame, and mark that spot on the wall. Then mark your wire-to-frame measurement below it. That is where your nail will go. If you use hanging hooks, place the hook at that spot or your measurements will be off.

• Position the next piece, allowing about 2 to 3 inches between frames, and build upward and outward from there.

I will say that a room crowded with paintings can feel unnerving. I have found that it is helpful to have a place for your eyes to rest. I usually only hang one wall in a room salon-style. The other walls will look more traditional, with only one or two paintings featured. Mixing a small mirror into the salon composition is fun, too, as it lets you glimpse yourself looking at the art.

If you have many family portraits or photos, consider having them custom-matted, using the same color matte for all of them. Then put them into inexpensive big-box retailer frames that are all the same size, and hang them in a grid pattern. If you use different size frames, use only one color of frame and still have the photos or portraits matted. You could even spray-paint the frames a color to best fit your decor for added interest.

The holidays are fast approaching. Reinvigorate your entertaining areas with a new art wall arrangement. Delight family and friends with a modern display of those old photos and portraits! Be creative, and remember: It is your home, make it pleasing for you!

Mitchell Chapman lives in Montesano and enjoys DIY renovations, interior design and home furnishings. He’s been an “armchair” interior designer for more than 25 years. He can be reached at GraysHarborHome@outlook.com.

(Photo by Mitchell Chapman) Serene landscapes painted by California, Colorado and Massachusetts artists, hung in the author’s home. Most purchased on eBay.

(Photo by Mitchell Chapman) Serene landscapes painted by California, Colorado and Massachusetts artists, hung in the author’s home. Most purchased on eBay.

(Photo by Mitchell Chapman) From the top, portraits painted by Elizabeth Curtis, Vicente Seritti, Alice Hulich Preston Lavallee and U.C. Tenney. All purchased on eBay; hung on a narrow strip of brick wall.

(Photo by Mitchell Chapman) From the top, portraits painted by Elizabeth Curtis, Vicente Seritti, Alice Hulich Preston Lavallee and U.C. Tenney. All purchased on eBay; hung on a narrow strip of brick wall.