Tips on choosing art

In addition to colour and wallpaper, art can take centre stage when decorating your walls. Renovate's interior design expert explains how.

Art hanging on a living room wall
COLUMN Donna White

In addition to colour and wallpaper, art can take centre stage when decorating your walls. Renovate’s interior design expert explains how.
Art can literally be a pain in the neck, because it is often hung too high. There is a simple general rule: Hang it so the centre of the painting is at eye level for a person of average height. This height is approximately 1.6 metres from the floor.
However, we all know that rules can be broken, and you can break the rule when hanging art in a dining room or on stairs. There are different heights for different locations. In a dining room, lower the height of your art a little, so that it is closer to the eye level from a seated position. On a stairway, place it below eye level as our perspective changes as we go up and down the staircase.
When hanging art not only should it be hung at the right level, it should also relate to other objects in a room. A picture hung in the centre of an otherwise empty wall will feel lost, almost as if it arrived there by accident. Instead, hang art above a table, sideboard, sofa or fireplace – any piece of furniture or architectural detail that will visually anchor it. Objects and architectural details are not always centred on a wall, so nor does art have to be. In fact, art that is hung off-centre is quirky and interesting.
When you have a large wall space to fill, hang a large-scale piece of art. Alternatively, a collection of smaller pieces arranged to act as one whole visual block can create the same impact. 
In a recent project, a client had spread a series of seven beautiful original drawings around all four walls in a guest bedroom. The art was scattered and ineffectual, because all they had satisfied was the goal of covering all the walls with ‘something’. When the drawings were re-hung into a collage on one wall, there was immediate impact, not only to the art, but also to the guest bedroom. The other three walls remained bare of art, so they did not compete with the focal point.
Of course, one has to have art to hang. So how do you start a collection? Given the range in artistic styles and genre, even the most pernickety buyers can find something to their liking and budget. Taste in art is so personal that I, as an interior designer, never tell a client what to buy. Instead, I urge them to buy and collect art that they want to live with.
You don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars, consult an art advisor or restrict yourself to highbrow art. You do, however, need to decide if you want to buy originals or reproductions. Original artworks are more expensive than reproductions, but only original art has serious re-sale value. I recommend that you buy the best original art you can afford. Alternatively, lease it or join an art co-op. Art doesn’t have to be expensive to be valuable; it just has to mean something to you. It can reflect your interests, personality and memories.
How high you hang art and the way you arrange it on a wall are important, but so too is how you frame it. The skill of display includes your choice of frame and matt. Matt is the plain-coloured bevelled-edged cardboard that surrounds the art. A matt highlights, contrasts or complements colours in the art. Its practical purpose is to protect it by raising the glass, so it does not touch or abrade it. A reputable art framing business will be able to guide you, but remember that the art is the star – the matt and the frame are the supporting players. 
Good art won’t match the sofa. In other words, frame your art to suit the art, not the room – or the sofa. Achieve this, and your art will enhance any wall in any room. The colour of the wall will not be important. Well-framed art will speak for itself against any background. If you move, redecorate or decide to hang the art piece in another location, it will always look appropriate.
The art we choose to display in our homes is the ultimate in self-expression. My best tip is hang only art that you love.

You might be interested in reading: Dress up a feature wall with wallpaper.

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This article by Donna White featured in Issue 004 of Renovate Magazine. Renovate Magazine is an easy to use resource providing fresh inspiration and motivation at every turn of the page.


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