Hanging Artwork and Mirrors

For a faster, more profitable home sale

Hanging artwork in a symmetrical living room.The textured mirror emphasizes the symmetry of this living room. Your eye goes straight to it. Photo by homescapes-sd.com.

There's a lot more to hanging artwork and mirrors then many people think. In fact, placing your pieces correctly can often be more important than the artwork itself. Improperly hung art can make a room feel askew.

Properly placed artwork and mirrors can be used to emphasize a focal point, such as an architectural detail like a fireplace. Placing art pieces at the right height can fool the eye into making ceilings seem higher, (or lower, if need be). 

You haven't finished your home staging until you have placed some artwork and mirrors in your home. Artwork just gives your home that finished look by making it look move-in ready.

One large piece of art can stand alone or be grouped with other pieces for greater impact. Artwork should harmonize with your interior design style, architecture and colors in your home.

If you're timid about pounding nails in your walls, or live in an apartment or dorm that doesn't allow nail holes in the walls, see leaning pictures and mirrors for decorating ideas on alternative ways to showcase your favorite pieces.

Do This Before Hanging Artwork and Mirrors!

Place all the elements of a room, (furniture, area rugs, lighting, draperies) before you hang any artwork or mirrors. Your furniture arrangement will guide you in the proper placement of your artwork. 

Hanging artwork and mirrors on a wall

As a rule, hang even numbered groupings in large rooms 4-6" apart.As a rule, hang even numbered groupings in large rooms 4-6" apart. Photo by ethanallen.com.

Before you pound a single nail, stop and consider what kind of walls you have. Do you have sheetrock, brick or plaster?

Follow this helpful link from Canvasvows.com for some great wall hanging tips.

Avoid these common mistakes when hanging artwork and mirrors: 

  1. Hanging pieces too high or too low;
  2. Hanging in the wrong place;
  3. Displaying artwork that is out of scale with the size of the room or furniture;
  4. Grouping pieces that have nothing in common;
  5. Hanging groupings too close or too far apart.

Spacing guideline for hanging groupings:

  • Small rooms: hang wall groupings 2-4" apart.
  • Large rooms: hang wall groupings 4-6" apart.
  • The width of your hand, fingers closed, can often serve as a spacing guide.
Pictures or mirrors above a fireplace should be about 2/3 the width of the fireplace for best proportion.Note how the mirror is about 2/3 the width of the fireplace. This is called the "Golden Section" rule, a perfect ratio.
  • The space between artwork and the top of a sofa can be about 6-10 inches. If the space is too wide, your eyes will be drawn to the gap instead of the picture.
  • The space between artwork and the top of a table can be about 10-12 inches, approximately two fists stacked atop each other.
  • Landscape art is a good choice for a small room. Landscapes have visual perspective, causing your eye to be drawn into them, like looking out a window.
  • Mirrors are also a great choice for a small room because they appear to visually enlarge a room by adding depth and light. 
  • Hang a large mirror opposite a window with natural lighting to infuse a room with a feeling of spaciousness.
  • Mirrors give the impression of extending space by duplicating it. 
  • When hanging artwork and mirrors over a fireplace, sofa, or table, the piece should be about 2/3 to 3/4 the width of the object below. This is called the "Golden Section" rule, developed by the ancient Greeks. 
  • We're often told to hang artwork at eye level, but this just won't work as we're all different heights.
  • As a rule, the middle of a piece should measure about 60 inches from the floor, whether you have high or low ceilings.
  • Stagger your artwork (one piece higher than another) on staircases, cathedral walls or where a wall has a lean-to pattern.

Watch the instructional video below that discusses how and where to hang art. Video by Susan Phillips.

Tips for choosing picture frames and matting

Unify pictures with like colors and/or matching frames.White matting, matching frames and color unify this picture collage.
  • Frame colors should complement, not compete with the colors in your artwork.
  • Matting is another option to use when framing pictures. 
  • Matting is made up of cardboard and placed between the glass and artwork. 
  • Matting can complement a particular color in the picture, or contrast with it.
  • Unify wall groupings by using the same color matting in each picture.
  • Select a matt color that contrasts with the wall-- this will make your artwork stand out. You can find matting in standard sizes at Amazon, Walmart, Target, or any arts and crafts supply store.

Use the Right Frame

Picture frames should be consistent with the style of art that you’re framing.

For contemporary artwork, look for black, lacquered wood, or sleek metal frames. For traditional artwork, look for elaborate frames made of wood or brass. 

How to hang a wall grouping

Wall groupings should mimic the shape of furniture or a fireplace that they are hanging above for a cohesive look.Wall groupings placed above furniture or a fireplace will look more cohesive if they mimic the shape of the feature below, as shown here. Photo by Mountary.com

Wall groupings are typically smaller pieces of artwork related in some fashion by the frame, theme, style, color, size or material.

Treat a wall grouping as a single piece of art.

Groupings placed above furniture or a fireplace will look more cohesive if they mimic the shape of the feature below.

Likewise, artwork can be arranged horizontally over the rectangular length of a sofa. Follow the same proportional ratios with wall groupings as you do with single pieces of art; 2:3, 3:5.

How to Unify a Wall Grouping

When grouping pictures or mirrors, the pieces should have at least one thing in common for a unifying effect. The more they relate, the more cohesive the end result will look:

  • The same frame;
  • Different frames, but in the same color or style;
  • Unified colors; all black and white photos, for instance;
  • The same theme; floral, birds, maps, etc;
  • The same size;
  • The same color matting.

Symmetrical and asymmetrical wall groupings

How to arrange a wall grouping symmetrically

Symmetrical wall grouping can be united by color, matting, or frame styles.Symmetrical wall grouping is united by color, matting, and frames.

A symmetrical interior design style is typically used in formal room design, which is based on symmetry and vertical lines.

Symmetry is for those who prefer a sense of order, balance and calm.

Symmetrical wall groupings share certain similarities; shape, size, color or subject content.

Formal groupings work well over large furniture, like a sofa, table or a fireplace mantle.

Although each photograph is unique in the picture on the right, they have other elements in common to unite them; size, color, matts and frames.

The similarities unite the individual pieces into a cohesive unit, which can be calming for those who love a sense of order. 

Symmetrical wall groupings are easy to create, because you are simply trying to "match" each side of a room. 

Arrange your symmetrical wall arrangement within a square or rectangular shape.

How to arrange an asymmetrical wall grouping

Asymmetrical picture arrangements can be united by color, theme, or shape.This fun asymmetrical arrangement may seem casual, but it's carefully balanced using color, shapes, and all arranged within a white border, simulating a picture frame.

Asymmetrical design, or informal balance, is a casual and energetic decorating style, often using horizontal lines over vertical. 

Asymmetrical wall grouping.Color and theme tie this asymmetrical wall grouping together. Photo by bhg.com

Asymmetrical design styles are for those who prefer a bit more excitement, creativity and randomness in their home decorating.

You can combine artwork of different shapes and sizes to create an asymmetrical wall grouping, but each piece should have at least one characteristic in common; color, subject, or frame style. 

Keep asymmetrical arrangements from looking sloppy by avoiding random patterns; imagine your wall arrangement inside a square, circle or rectangle.

To create this tricky wall decorating style, start with the largest piece first and arrange smaller pieces around it until you achieve a balance you like. Work out the arrangement on the floor first.

If you have two large pictures in your arrangement, hang one higher than the other so they aren't too matchy. 

With asymmetrical wall groupings, both sides of the arrangement won't look the same, but balance and scale are still important. To avoid one side looking heavier than another, think about the "visual weight" of each picture. 

What is Visual Weight?

Everything that you place in a room has visual weight. Visual weight refers to how heavy an object APPEARS to be when you look at it, not how much it actually weighs.

Visual weight is determined by color, pattern, texture, design, and even the shape or structure of an object.

For instance, darker colors carry more visual weight than lighter ones. A black leather sofa will visually outweigh the same sofa in a white color.

How to arrange a wall grouping using paper methods

First paper method

Making a wall grouping by using the first paper method.First paper method. Photo by BHG.com

This is the easiest paper method for creating a successful asymmetrical arrangement.

  • First, lay a large piece of paper on the floor, then lay down your chosen pictures (or mirrors) and trace around them with a pencil. 
  • Cut each one out and tape to the wall, arranging and rearranging until you find a satisfactory shape you like.
  • In this method, you'll need to measure and mark for nail holes to make sure you get the spacings perfect between each picture. See the second paper method for instructions on how to do this.

Second paper method

  • In the same manner as the first method, start by laying down a large piece of paper on the floor, the exact size of your final arrangement. This will be your template.
  • Arrange artwork on top of the paper. Place a large shape in the middle, like a square or rectangle. Add more pieces and rearrange until you're pleased with the layout.
  • You can arrange your artwork freestyle or in formal shapes like squares, rectangles and circles. 
  • When you're satisfied with the arrangement, outline around each piece with a dark marking pen.
  • To get nail holes right, measure the distance between the top of the frame and wire (pulled taut!) on the back of each piece. Mark the spot on the paper with a circle, making sure it’s in the center of the frame. If a picture has a saw-tooth hanger instead of a wire, mark that in the same manner.
  • Tape the template to the wall in the desired location. Stand back and assess the arrangement. If you like it, hammer nails in the marked spots on the template, making sure to hang appropriately sized hooks for the size and weight of each piece.
  • Gently tear the paper template away from the nails and the wall-- hang the pictures in their designated locations.

Easy picture hanging system

Make a professional looking wall grouping with the use of Perfect Picture Wall.

This method is affordable and the end result is flawless. The product comes with matching picture frames, matting, botanical prints, templates and hardware.

Perfect Picture Wall matts are available in standard sizes and can be swapped out with your personal photos when you move to your new home. 

Perfect Picture Wall comes with all the hanging tools you need, except a hammer. See the video demonstration below to learn more about this product.

How to hang a picture

You will need:

  • pencil
  • picture hooks (buy the right hooks for the size and weight of the artwork)
  • ruler
  • hammer

Select the spot where you want to hang your picture or mirror. Hold it against the wall, (the middle should be around 60" high) and draw a tiny pencil line along the top of the frame.

  • Next, measure the distance from the wire (held taut) on back of the picture to the top of the frame.
  • Take this number and measure down from the pencil mark on the wall. Mark this spot-- this is where your hook will go.
  • Nail the picture hanging hook on the spot. Hang and adjust the picture to straighten.
  • For large or heavy pictures, consider using two hooks for extra support. For small pictures, place the hooks a couple inches apart. For large pictures, space hooks farther apart.

Where to hang a mirror

A triplet of mirrors hanging above a headboard can serve as a focal point.A trio of mirrors above this bed brings added depth and light into this bedroom. Photo by homebnc.com.

The best place to hang a mirror is where it will reflect light from a window or a light fixture. This will scatter more light around a room creating the illusion of more space. 

Be aware of what a mirror reflects; you don't want to reflect an undesirable view.

Mirrors are the perfect answer for a windowless room. A mirror can create the illusion of a window, especially if you capture the sparkle from a light fixture.

A mirror above a fireplace usually reflects the ceiling-- not very interesting. If you create an arrangement on the fireplace mantle in front of the mirror, your mirror will reflect the back of that. Be sure the mantle arrangement looks good on both sides.

Mirrors can be hung alone or in wall groupings, just like artwork. The same rule of scale and balance for hanging artwork also applies to mirrors. 

A mirror can add depth to a room by appearing to extend the room through the glass. 

Just like artwork, the distance between a mirror and the top of a sofa should be 6-12 inches. The distance between a mirror and a tabletop should be about 10-12 inches.

How to hang heavy pictures and mirrors

Hanging oversized and heavy art is more complicated than putting up smaller pieces. Follow the advice in this instructional video by Pottery Barn.

Avoid these common picture hanging mistakes

Hanging a triptych fairly close together. Too much space between the canvases will focus attention on the gaps rather than the overall picture.The spacing in this triptych is perfect. Too much space between canvases would focus attention on the gaps instead of the picture.
  • When hanging triptychs (a panel or picture divided into three individual parts) don't space them too far apart. Hang each panel 1/2" to 3" apart, no more or you will lose sight of the overall picture, focusing instead on the gaps in between.
Don't hang pictures hung too high or too far apart.Pictures are hung too high and too far apart in this dated living room.
  • The picture above is a good example of what not to do. The pictures are hung too high and too far apart, confusing the eye and bringing down the ceiling height.
  • Another common problem is hanging pictures too high or too far apart. The middle of a picture should measure at least 60 inches from the floor.
  • Don't hang artwork on every single wall in a room. Leave at least one wall free of artwork for breathing space. 
  • In really small spaces, one large picture (preferably without an overly ornate frame) over a sofa or bed is all you need.

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Updated 9-29-2022