In our house, we believe the first rule for choosing art should be “Buy what you love”, but of course everything we buy has to live somewhere!
The living room is a great place for art, since it’s where most of us sit with any guests that visit. Artworks that are conversation pieces, artworks that are old friends and artworks that reflect your personality can all come together in the sitting room and help create the ambience you’re after. This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot, since currently my living room (which will also be my kitchen diner and studio) is under construction, and with months of building work behind me I’ve had a long time to think about how I want to display the art once we are finally (finally!) in our new space.
Popular places for art in the living room are over the mantlepiece, over the sofa and in alcoves, but you can get creative and use artworks to provide a backdrop for a favourite chair or stack prints along your skirting. The most important thing is that the work is hung safely in a place where you can enjoy it!
Before you get your drill out, check there are no plumbing pipes or electrical wires running behind where you want to hang your painting. Drilling near sockets and switches is an obvious no, but you need to think about how the wires might be running behind the walls too. Electric wires typically run vertically along the studs (the vertical beams which frame and support your home) so using a stud finder can help you identify where to avoid drilling.
Locating pipes is a bit trickier; one rule of thumb is to avoid drilling into any walls that connect to your bathroom or kitchen.
If you’re hanging work above the sofa, whether it’s a single large piece or a group of works, leave 8-10 inches headspace between the back of the sofa and the bottom of your art to avoid accidents. Those of us with kids might also want to use more than one picture hook, or opt for mirror plates, so that a stray handstand against the wall doesn’t dislodge our favourite painting on top of our favourite child.
Finally, don’t forget to look after yourself as well as the art! Framed works can be heavy, and broken glass is no joke.
Most lounges have a few dark spots – alcoves, beside curtains and behind doors all tend to be a bit gloomy. Most of us have central pendant lights in our sitting rooms, which tend to light floors and surfaces more than walls – not ideal for showcasing your wall hung art.
Lighting your art doesn’t have to be costly, moving table lamps to light pictures from below or angling floor lamps to brighten the wall space both work well.
Simple LED strips or fairy lights can be fixed inside the lower edge of frames or inside alcoves – choose warm light LED’s for a softer result. Even candles can be great for showcasing art, a mix of low tealights and high candlesticks works well, and flickering candlelight can draw attention to any sparkly or reflective elements in the work.
Blank wall space can be just as important as the pictures themselves, and artworks look best when they are placed with wall proportions in mind. When you hang a picture in the centre of your chimney breast for example, the picture creates a focal point that will really draw the eye. Choose a piece that’s too small and it can feel lost and unbalanced, swimming in a large space; choose a piece that’s too large and the space will feel crowded.
Ideally, you want a nice border of wall space around your artwork, pulling the eye to the centre of the piece. If you’re hanging multiple pieces for a “gallery wall” style look, try and keep an equal border of wall space around the frames to create a sense of balance.
Traditionally, framed wall art comes in two orientations – portrait and landscape. It can help to create a sense of harmony if the orientation of the wall art matches the proportions of the space, as below.
No drill options
If you have crumbly walls that don’t hold fixtures well, or you aren’t convinced that drilling into your walls would be popular with your landlord, there are other options. Frames can be stacked on free standing shelves and sideboards, on the floor and even on chairs – wherever there’s a safe, stable surface.
Easels can add a bohemian air to your space, and if you’re a maximalist like me you’ll find you can often stack two or more paintings on a single easel for extra impact (and a scarf, and a pot plant, and …)
Using pegs or bulldog clips is a fun, modern way to display prints and drawings, and can be achieved without drilling using sticky fixers or command hooks that aren’t suitable for heavier works. You could even suspend a “washing line” between pieces of free standing furniture to peg art onto. If you’re giving this a go, you might want to use a protective sleeve over the art to keep it looking fresh.
Choosing and displaying artworks is a wonderful process, and one that can really give you the chance to express yourself. I hope these tips have been helpful, please think of them as guidelines not rules, and enjoy your art finding adventure.!