Decorating Your Walls

Framing, hanging and lighting artwork in your home.

If you appreciate food as much as art, then the analogy provided by Ray Cook, owner of Frame Masters Gallery in Orlando, will make perfect sense: Sitting on a couch and seeing a blank wall is like eating steak without salt. It doesn’t work. Just as the palate savors the flavor of the meat enhanced by salt, the eye enjoys gazing at a wall with beautiful artwork rather than at a blank space. But framing and displaying your favorite paintings isn’t always as simple. It takes a keen eye to make the art and frame work as a unit.

“If you bring in a piece of art to be framed, I’ll design a framing package,” Cook explains. The components include the frame, the liner, the mat and the artwork. Depending on the piece, Cook may start by picking out the undertones in the art—such as  the blue shades in the water of a landscape—to use as the color of the mat. Pointing to an antique piece of art with hand-colored leaves, he elaborates on how he selected a darker green mat so that the lighter green shades in the artwork would pop, appearing darker than they actually are.  

Another technique he uses is to draw a line, for example a thin silver line, on the edge of the mat close to the artwork; it’s a way of directing the eye to focus on the piece.  The line, which sits between the frame and the mat, serves two purposes: First, it sets the artwork off from the frame, and second, it prevents your eye from bleeding off of the art. In other words, it helps the eye connect with what’s important.  

The Frame

When it comes to choosing the style of frame, you want it to complement the artwork. A classic frame works well with a more traditional piece of art and a contemporary design enhances modern art. But Cook adds that creating a contrast can be quite interesting—possibly pairing an antique frame with an abstract painting. And even frames follow trends. A look at his wall of frame samples reveals that metallic silver is currently in vogue. 

Wall Space

 Cook advises that artwork should be hung at eye level when you are standing and looking at the space. “I’m tall, so I would hang it slightly lower,” he says. And, of course, if you are shorter than average height, you might want to hang it a bit higher than eye level.    

The shape of the artwork is another consideration. It’s important that the piece works with the wall’s size, or the available space in your home. The shape also dictates where and how to display it. One large piece of art should balance with other objects and furnishings in the room.  A horizontal piece, for example, is ideal when centered over a sofa, while a vertical painting would be more appropriate for a narrow wall space. And of course, a grouping of framed artwork displayed in steps creates a nice rhythm on a stairway wall.  

When you are considering grouping several works of art, think of them as a unit. “Group the artwork in the same amount of space on the floor in front of the wall,” Cook advises. Once you have a pleasing arrangement, then you can hang it.

However, he emphasizes: If the artwork is framed improperly—design wise—anywhere you put it, it won’t look good. “You first want to make the frame and art look good, then incorporate it into the setting,” he emphasizes. 


Cook also recommends consulting a lighting professional, so your favorite pieces are properly lit. Among lighting options is the picture light that attaches to the top of the frame or on the wall above the artwork; however, hiding the cord requires an outlet behind the piece of art or wiring inside the wall. To the rescue is the cordless picture light with its own remote control.  

Track lighting mounted on the ceiling is used in most galleries. It’s definitely worth installing in your home if you have several pieces of art on the walls that you want to showcase. You can adjust the position of the track lights to focus light on the artwork or to illuminate the walls.

A third option is recessed lights. Since they are built in flush against the ceiling, they are usually part of your home’s lighting design during the construction or renovating phase. So if you are an avid art collector and building a home, it’s worth giving some thought to installing recessed lights. +

Categories: Advice, Decorating