Living With art for UGallery by Dean J. Birinyi

Well edited and meticulously hung paintings by artists Tami Cardnella and Kristine Kainer grace the wall of this San Francisco kitchen.  


Raise your hand if you and your partner have ever argued over how high to hang a picture. Raise your other hand if you have ever lazily hung a picture on a nail left by the last resident. Okay, now that we’ve created a nationwide wave, put your arms down. My friends, this is no way to go through life.

Although humans have been hanging art on walls since a caveman asked a cavewoman to please display, in a nice shadow box, the tooth of the woolly mammoth he’d slaughtered, we still often do this wrong, says Shaun O’Dwyer, who’s been hanging pictures professionally for 20 years.

To find out just how wrong I’ve been doing this, I invited O’Dwyer, of Winter Park, Fla., to my house. We start in the entryway, where a large oil painting is hanging — I just notice — crooked. I rush to straighten it, but he gets there first, and peeks behind the painting. “Uh-huh,” he says, with one cheek pressed to the wall, “just what I thought.”

“One nail,” he diagnoses. “Most paintings need two. I see this all the time.”

This is bad news. Hanging two nails exactly even, so artwork hangs level, requires the math skills of Pythagoras. “Every time I’ve tried this, the wall looks as if I’ve used it for archery practice,” I say.

“I’ll teach you,” he says. But first we walk the house. In the kitchen eating area, he calls out a painting hung too high. “It needs to come down,” he shows me, “three inches.” In the family room, he likes how I’d centered the art on the wall, but wants to move the sofa underneath it, so the art is centered over it as well.

In the hall, he wants to stack two, small, framed pieces that I’ve hung side by side, and put the larger piece on top. In the master, the matched pair of decorative mirrors that flank the bed need to go up six inches. Occasionally, based on the law of averages, I’d hung a few pieces right.

“A home doesn’t become a home until the art goes up,” he says, “but people freeze. I’ve been in homes where the owners are afraid to hang anything, so they live inside blank walls.”

O’Dwyer shares the following picture hanging advice:

• Get equipped. You’ll need a hammer, measuring tape, pencil, level, assorted picture hooks, eyehooks, picture wire, and a drill, he said.  

• Get the height right. Pictures hung too high is the most common problem O’Dwyer sees. Because eye level is relative, he uses an average unisex height of around 5’6.” You want the middle of the art to hit that person at the bridge of his or her nose.

• Factor in furniture. Break the eye-level rule to allow for furniture clearances. For instance, the bottom edge should fall 10-12 inches above a sofa back, to allow for head room. In dining rooms, where chairs are close to walls, you want to pull out chairs without hitting art.

• Keep sets close. When hanging a pair of pictures or a group, two-inch margins between all frames are ideal. As art gets larger, say over 24 inches, add an inch.

• Eliminate slips. Rubber-adhesive bumpers or sticky dots placed on lower back corners help keep art from sliding.

• Use two hooks. Hanging a picture with two hooks distributes the weight, and helps pictures stay straight and secure. “I can’t tell you how many homes I’ve seen where a 75-pound mirror dangles from a single nail just one door slam away from catastrophe,” he said. Use two hooks and check packaging for how much weight the hook system is designed to hold.  

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Marni Jameson is an author and syndicated columnist. Contact her at www.marnijameson.com.



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