Merry Dougherty from Merridian Home Furnishings has an eye for art, and she should after buying and displaying art at her business for almost 20 years. We enlisted her expertise to help us learn some easy ways to display art to showcase it in its best light.
Merry contends that all of us are curators, whether we recognize that or not. Her perspective is that, “By definition, a curator is ‘the keeper or custodian of a collection in a museum, library, etc. … ‘ So each one of us is the curator of our home, the ‘collector’ of furniture, books, linens, dishes and everything in it. But best of all, we are the curators of our personal art collections. We have made the decisions about what adorns our walls. If one is not pleased with past curatorial decisions, it is never too late to give some attention to the areas in our homes that command much of our visual attention! Wouldn’t you rather look at a beautiful painting or porcelain plate strategically placed in your kitchen to draw the eye away from that sink full of dirty dishes? Where we hang art or display objects is a critical decision and should be approached with much thought.”
So, if our goal here is to be more intentional about the display of our personal collections, we need to really love what we are displaying. “We don’t just ‘inhabit’ a space, we participate in it,” says Merry. “We move, see, hear, smell, and we feel — physically and emotionally — every minute of every day. Unfortunately, most of us are just too busy to recognize it.”
Art is completely subjective. What one person loves, another might hate. So, what someone decides to display needs to have meaning; you should be inspired by it, and it should add value to your life. “People are inspired and moved in different ways,” says Merry, “and this is a wonderfully human trait. Most people can easily figure out what they like and don’t like, so that’s a good first step.”
Once you have decided what you would like to display, you need to achieve visual balance, which is key to art display because it adequately and intentionally shows the art that you love in a proper perspective. We asked Merry to share a few tricks of visual balance and scale in regards to our art collections. Here’s what she suggests:
Three Ways to Hang Art
“It makes sense that small pieces should be hung in small spaces, and large pieces in larger spaces, but the inverse can also be true,” says Merry. “When grouped together, small pieces can create grand impact on a large wall and a large piece can have a very dramatic impact in a small space as long as it maintains balance with the rest of the room.”
Case in point below. There are two very large panels on either side of a bed, with a smaller but substantial mirror in the middle. With large pieces, it is important to strike a perfect balance. They need to be shown for what they are and not compete with any surrounding art pieces.
Look at the first picture, and then at the second. Do you notice anything different?
The mirror is hung too high in this display. A straight across line is a “No,” especially if it requires the eye to follow with different shapes and sizes of art. The straight line of art takes away from the impact of the large pieces and detracts from the mirror.
Look in the pictures below at the difference a couple of inches makes. It’s hardly noticeable in the unmarked pictures above, but it is definitely noticeable in person. By varying the heights of the pieces, it makes the area more interesting. The large paintings need to be hung on the same line, symmetrical with the space. The mirror is smaller and needs to be lowered, to maximize its potential within its own space.
To repeat, small groupings can make a big impact on a wall. This grouping is symmetrical, but all the pieces are of varying shapes and sizes. When doing a grouping, it is important to do the heavier pieces on the left-hand side because people read art left to right, just like reading a book. This specific grouping is centered on the couch, which dominates the wall in this room.
When doing a grouping, this is a great way to showcase the things you love. They don’t have to match or be a pair of anything; they just need to be in the same vein or have something in common, such as shape or size. What is most important here is to showcase things that have meaning to you.
Your eye reads left to right. The circled pieces on the left are slightly bigger and heavier than the paintings on the right (they are not a perfect match). Make sure to stack these on the left-hand side, letting your eye trail off to the right. Also, the center of the central piece needs to always be 57 to 60 inches from the floor; that is standard eye-level.
So, it’s not a big piece, and it’s not a grouping of lots of smaller objects. It’s a space that you would like to add something more, something non-traditional. Here, in the negative space between two drawings, Merry added a three dimensional piece. The drawings are hung on the same line and the eye is drawn upward as the horns move upward along the wall.
This is also a great example of intentionally displaying what you love. These works of art do not go together in the traditional sense of the word; they are different mediums and different subjects. But placed together, they work.
While the negative space is utilized between the drawings, it is emphasized in its emptiness above the horns. The horns draw the eye up — challenging the viewer to notice how high they go — and then returns lower to the next drawing. This adds to the visual drama while still remaining cohesive in the scale of the area.
Your ultimate goal, when you decide which painting or decorative object you would like to display, is to enhance your space, which needs to bring you joy. Do not simply fill walls with meaningless pieces of art and decor. Pick the ones you love (you might even find that these pieces pick you), and showcase them in the most impactful way.
Thank you to Merry Dougherty for her great tips and advice. We are all feeling inspired to curate our own homes now!
Photography in today’s article by Christine Mueller Photography
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