I’m by no means an expert on this, but I wanted to write down what I know. Some of it instinctively and other bits i’ve learned by analysing images of rooms for hours on end, working out why something does and doesn’t work.
I’m asked to find art for people all the time and it’s such a difficult thing to make a decision on, on behalf of someone else. But there are certain, more practical things to bear in mind that does help hone down the search.
What wall is it going on and what space is there for it?
Is that space portrait or landscape? Because you really want your artwork to echo the shape of the wall behind it. Here’s an example for you:
This is a pic of a living room, our living room in fact, before we bought it.
See how the mirror above the fire is landscape on a portrait wall? Well it doesn’t really work. It’s the wrong orientation but also the wrong scale. Scale is something we’ll get to shortly.
This is the room you’ll no doubt recognise as being ours. I posted this last week on and Instagram and it was the lovely Evie Kemp‘s comment that prompted me to write this post.
“Really shows how much difference it makes to use art of the right proportions and orientation for the space too.”
Evie is spot on. Ironically, I used the previous homeowner’s old picture hooks to hang my three pieces of art within an hour of moving in and they were in the perfect position. Each new piece large enough to fill the space, but also leaving enough negative space around it without it feeling overwhelming.
Something else that add to the cohesive feel is the format. They’re all prints, they’re all mounted and they’re all in oak frames. I’m not saying you can’t mix and match your formats and frames, but for this wall, which is already chopped up into three smaller walls, the frames help tie the three spaces together.
Let’s look at the other side of the same room.
This is what it looks like now, and i’m finally happy. I always wanted either a LARGE landscape piece of art on this wall, or a gallery wall. But I tell you what’s not easy to find… good, affordable, BIG art in landscape format. It’s a tough one. As soon as you set your search option to landscape, you’re instantly bombarded with “seascapes, skylines, the great outdoors….” nothing wrong with that, if that’s your bag, but it’s not really mine.
So what do you do when a wall really needs a landscape piece but all you can do is find portrait, or square images? Form and hang a landscape gallery wall, that’s what. I widened the wall visually by adding the hanging planter top left and the wall light over on the right.
If you’re looking for artwork to hang above your sofa, 99% of the time, the space above that sofa is going to be landscape. So, hang something landscape or form the illusion of something landscape using multiple pieces of artwork. Simples.
Now we come onto scale.
This was a before picture taken of a project I finished about a year ago. The Masonic Villas project. The scale of artwork above the fireplace here was the right orientation, but this time, too small. If you place a piece of artwork in the middle of a room, slap bang on the chimney breast, it’s just begging to be looked at. It’s a real focal point.
Did I add a larger, portrait piece of art to this room?
Nope. I left it completely bare.
I want your eye to be drawn up towards the beautiful Victorian frieze, cornicing and ceiling light. The bare chimney breast is a space for the eye to rest in between all of the beautiful books, artwork and decorative items on the shelves either side. I hung a small, framed picture to the left of the fire to bring your eye ever so slightly left.
Erm, yeah I spotted that.. why d’ya do that then?
What did you see last in the picture? I’m hoping it was the TV in the bottom right alcove. Nobody wants to see them. They’re ‘orrible. A bit of interior design trickery for you.
Now we’ll look at colour.
If you’re the kind of person that needs everything to match in a room (i’m not) then you can always buy your artwork first. I bought this print for our new bedroom design. I loved the colour of the lady’s face so much, I colour matched the paint and painted our whole bedroom with it.
And it really worked in this room. So much so, I can’t ever imagine another piece of art hanging here. That’s when you know you’ve made the right choice. Taking your favourite piece of art is always a great way to hone down a colour scheme for a room design. It makes sense to surrounding yourself with colours you’re drawn to and familiar with.
Hang on a minute… that piece of art is portrait and the space above the bed is landscape? You said….?
Oh I know. I intentionally hung her off centre, towards the window. That’s the bit of wall where the light hits and I didn’t want her in the shade. But I balanced out the wall with the wall light again and another framed print above the bedside.
The best way to buy art though, is using the tried and tested way of;
Buy what you like and work out where it’s going afterwards.
This is my favourite way. I much prefer just picking up pieces that resonate and then discovering a place for them in due course. This is exactly what happened in this project.
The homeowners had already ordered these prints before my initial consultation. They were at the framers and I didn’t get to see them in the flesh until they were on the wall at the very end of the project, but I had to keep them in mind when I was choosing furniture and furnishings.
If i’m honest I would never have chosen them myself when designing this room. They were the right orientation, the right scale, same format and in co-ordinating frames, but I was a little concerned the colours and style would be too busy with the wallpaper. But as with all the best projects, we just ran with it. What’s the worst that would happen? They wouldn’t look right and we’d hang them in another room.
But as soon as they went up, they were just what the room needed. They reflected the homeowners personality perfectly and added a real pop of colour, some fun and curves to this dark blue, geometric room. And that’s the beauty of art. The right piece can really make a room, but equally you can kill a room design by choosing the wrong piece or hanging it in the wrong place.
So what to remember?
- But ultimately – choose art that you love
I hope this has helped some of you out there struggling to choose something to put on your walls. Have you been staring at a blank wall, struggling to find that elusive piece? Or are you like me, where you’ve got too many pieces of art for your own good? Would love to hear your thoughts.