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Wonder Walls: Install Artwork like a Pro

Photography by Stacey Brandford

Posted on Oct 24, 2016

Hanging art on the wall is one of my favourite ways to finish a room. As a designer, I work directly with all different types of professionals - from artisans and tradesmen to designers and architects who each bring their own unique set of talents to the job. So when it comes time to choose and install the right pieces, I always consult with the pros to make sure it gets done right! I can say my friends at Artstall are changing the game of art installation - and they're spilling some of their best secrets right here! Keep reading to learn how to become an at-home art installation pro!
Written by Chris Adair, Artsall Pro
Wonder Walls: Install Artwork like a Pro

1. Curating Artwork

In our world it’s the designer’s job to pick the artwork and decide where to hang it. But in this case, since you’re likely the one making the design decisions at home, art should be chosen accordingly: 
Buy what you love or what speaks to you and not necessarily just art that matches your rug! If you keep this in mind you will instinctively select pieces that will work well together because of the nature of your unique tastes in colour and style. On the other hand, if you’re redecorating and want to shift around your existing art, the best way to make your art feel like new is to bring those pieces to your local frame shop and have them reframed. It’s amazing what a new frame can do to a piece of art—you may not even recognize it when you pick it up! Even your grandmother’s old oil painting can look current if given the right treatment.

2. Keeping It In Proportion

There is no magical formula to calculate what size a piece of art should be, but there are some things that should be kept in mind. For starters, it’s a good idea to have an understanding of the space you wish to hang your art. Begin by estimating the size relationship the piece has with your chosen location. For example, you may want to put that perfect red painting on one of the walls in your 'red themed room', but if the painting is too small to fill a large wall or is too large to fit a small wall, you may want to reconsider.

Wonder Walls: Install Artwork like a Pro
Wonder Walls: Install Artwork like a Pro

3. Mapping Out Placement

When you’re not exactly sure where to place your art, ask for help! Have someone hold up the piece on the wall in front of you so that you can stand back and take a look from different vantage points. Mark any potential hanging spots with painters tape. Measuring out all the hardware locations on the wall and marking them with painters tape will help to keep unwanted pencil marks on the wall… and holes!

4. Choosing The Right Tools

Level, level, level! Everything you hang on the wall MUST be straight. A level is your best friend, but there’s a catch: be mindful that some of the surrounding architectural or decorative features (i.e. crown molding, wall sconces, air vents) may not be perfectly level and this might throw you off a little. My team and I all too often need to install a piece that’s technically crooked to match the sloping mantle or crooked door frame. Even when the level says it’s perfect, visually it looks off because it doesn’t line up with the room’s predominant features. We solve this problem by ‘cheating’ one side – moving it up or down a little to ensure the art appears to be level. It’s for this reason that it’s more important than ever to measure your placement three times to ensure you only make holes once.

Wonder Walls: Install Artwork like a Pro

5. Avoiding Mistakes

The most common problem that we encounter regularly is art that has been installed incorrectly with hardware that is not strong enough to support the weight of the item. There’s nothing worse than coming home to find that your art has crashed to the floor! Remember to always consult a professional if you are unsure about what wall hardware will support your pieces. The hardware that comes with art and mirrors from big box stores are not always the best hardware needed to get the job done properly. Larger items occasionally need custom cleats that will allow appropriate weight distribution.

It’s a common misconception to think that every piece being installed must 'hit a stud'. While securing hardware into a wood stud has its advantages, it can compromise the ideal location of where a piece should be hung, and it's more often than not quite unnecessary to do so based on the weight of the piece being hung. A typical picture frame if light enough to be carried by one person effortlessly will not require a stud for strength in a drywall or concrete surface. Large, heavy mirrors or large-scale paintings with heavier frames on the other hand, do often require support into studs and will likely need a cleat installed to ensure the security of the piece and the safety of those around it.

Wonder Walls: Install Artwork like a Pro
Wonder Walls: Install Artwork like a Pro

6. Installing A Gallery Wall

Successful gallery walls or groupings often look like they were effortlessly hung on the wall, but in reality a lot of thought has gone into just the right placement. To make your gallery wall look effortless, begin by gathering a selection of frames - and don’t be afraid to include artifacts if you have them. We have incorporated items such as mirrors, antlers, antique hardware, sculptures and recently a woman's purse. To each is definitely own! Start by finding an open area on the floor that is at least the size of the wall in which you want to cover. Play around with the items like a puzzle. Remember there is no right answer, but avoid grouping pieces that are too similar in size. Instead try to break up any pairs to different areas of the grouping. A single larger item may be a good focal point in the centre. Make sure to finalize the grouping on the floor before you start hanging. Sometimes taking a picture with your phone and reviewing your grouping can help also. If you’re using special objects or artifacts among standard frames, you may need to be creative with the way you hang them if traditional hanging methods are not possible. A professional installer will have a variety of tools and hardware to choose from, but when installing things on your own, you may need to visit your local hardware store to see what options are available to you.

Wonder Walls: Install Artwork like a Pro
Wonder Walls: Install Artwork like a Pro
Wonder Walls: Install Artwork like a Pro

7. Hanging In Hard-To-Reach Areas

This may be a job for the pros! Getting those pieces above the stairs or up high in the entryway requires special equipment and often nerves of steel. There are special ladders on the market that are suited to reach areas like stairs. If using special equipment, ensure you have a spotter who will provide additional stabilization support to the ladder and pass you tools as you need them. Remember to check the weight limit on the ladder. This means your weight plus the art that you’re installing! If you’re not confident you can safely install the artwork, always consult the professionals. Better safe than sorry!

8. Deciding On Height

There is no right answer here. Everyone has an opinion, but I always say if it’s in the range of 'normal' then it’s good.  Some people like to hang artwork lower, closer to 56” to the centre and some like it higher, closer to 62” on centre. More importantly if you are choosing heights it’s best to keep this consistent throughout the entire space. If some are higher and some are lower then the space may not flow. When installing for clients we often take a look around to see just what they like and choose heights with that in mind. 

In general, avoid any inclination to perfectly line up the tops or the bottoms of your art pieces throughout your space. This is a common go-to strategy that never looks right. You should feel comfortable with the center heights about eye level. Keeping the centers consistent is optimal for viewing and enjoying artwork in your home.

Wonder Walls: Install Artwork like a Pro
Wonder Walls: Install Artwork like a Pro

Hallway with two chairs

Wonder Walls: Install Artwork like a Pro

9. Hanging Over Paneling

We are seeing more and more paneling these days in our client’s homes. It’s beautiful and adds loads of character, but it can create problems when choosing and installing art. Despite this, it will look better with art, so get over your fear of making holes in that perfectly paneled wall and put up some colour! There are two ways of going about this; you can work within the panels or you can ignore the panels. Either way works, depending on the look you are going for. If you need impact then hanging a large piece over the paneling is the way to go. 

With paneling comes variation in wall relief. This makes it tricky to hang art over the panels since the wall surface is not flat. Doing so is best achieved by carefully building up the wall to meet the frame or the back of the frame to meet the wall. If the panels are wide enough to fit smaller pieces within the openings, you may choose this method instead. We’ve done it all, but with this method it’s most important to consider the number of panels you’re working with. For example, do you want to fill every panel, just centre the panel or every other panel? It’s up to you!

10. Storing Artwork

Correctly storing artwork is often overlooked, but it’s very important to lean or store your paintings properly when they are not hung. It’s best to lean paintings front-to-front or back-to-back so that the piece on top doesn't leave any dents and the picture hardware doesn't scratch the surface of the frame or canvas underneath. As a precaution, always use bubble wrap or cardboard between each piece if leaning and storing multiple pieces. The heavier pieces should always be closest to the wall so its weight doesn't affect the others in the pile.

Hire the pros! Visit www.artstall.ca for details.