The Art Of The Hang: Instructions For Hanging Art

It’s funny how movie titles stick in the impressionable side of my brain, becoming an exercise in conversion to design and decor dilemmas.  Hang ‘Em High is a 1968 western starring Clint Eastwood. It is not the standard rule of thumb for hanging art and decorative accents.

hang em high

What is it they say about rules being made to be broken?


Traditional Home

Many times in many cases and spaces there is an exception to a rule of design and decorating, and I’m all about the exception to the rule rule.

Patricia_Altschul_07Architectural Digest

I have hung my fair share of framed artwork, decorative antique plates, pediments, ironwork and sconces high, higher and at the highest point on a wall.

“Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”
Pablo Picasso

Not all spaces, personal style and tastes, and intended results are created equal, a thank goodness!  How boring a cookie-cutter world of design and decorating it would be to exist in.


How low can you go?  This placement is eye-catching to say the least.


Many homes ago we were blessed (or cursed depending on how you look at it) with sixteen foot ceilings.  A traditional rule of picture hanging did not apply in this case, and decorative interpretation as well as adjustment blurred all standard lines and rules of placement.  I honestly believe the concept of the gallery wall was born out of tall ceilings and the decorative pursuit to avoid a void of space.

gallery-wallTraditional Home

Hanging the artwork and decorative accouterments at eye level didn’t flow (there’s that word again) and would have been visually boring. The exception to the rule fit this scenario perfectly.

On Milwaukee

Back in the late 1970’s my family attended a starving artist sale.  My parents went on a buying spree that would have easily wiped out hunger among many an artist community.  Hammer, nails, hangers, and two sets of eyes signaled the hanging process was about to commence.  My parents are big on eyeballing measurements.  Measuring tape?  Don’t need it.  Yard stick?  No, we’ve got this.  I was fourteen at the time, and even I knew this wasn’t the way to go.  I learned that day the “art” of keeping my opinion to myself and the three T’s my design world revolves around – their house, their taste, their decor.

macgyverCBS Consumer Products

Dave the Builder is a MacGyver in the name of all things home.  In his apprenticeship years he mastered the skill of hanging pictures, mirrors, artwork, etc… in both a pleasing and appropriate manner. I am going to highlight in bold the formula we use.  Eye level varies from person to person. Let me suggest as a guide working off the average height of 5’6″.  If it doesn’t look right to you, raise or lower a few inches.  After deciding the desired height to hang the picture, measure from the ceiling the distance to one hanger on one side of the picture. Next, measure from the ceiling to the other side hanger to assure a level picture hanging.   If the frame has only one center hanger measure the back of the picture from the center of the bottom of the frame to the center of the top of the frame. Divide this number in half.  That is your centerline.  Mark spot or spots with a pencil.  Pull the picture wire tightly upward as if  hanging on the hook. Measure the distance from the centerline to the top point of the wire.  Add this distance to the eye level line measurement ( your pencil mark or marks on the wall).  This is where you put the picture hook.  Two hooks a couple of inches apart seem to work best for smaller pieces.  If the piece is larger, it is better to use two hooks spaced eight inches from each side.   

The lower the placement the better in most cases.  The frame should give the illusion it is connected to the piece it is hanging above. Design and decorating is a process.  Placing  furniture and deciding on what will be the focal point of the room begins the process.  With decisions reached and furniture placed, I step back and view the walls as the canvas of the room.  It might be that one stellar piece of artwork or favorite painting will carry the room.  Gallery groupings of different sizes and subjects work to capture the wow effect, deviate from the expected and create an off balance balance.  Entertain and embrace a different, out of the ordinary and expected way of decorating- it is rule number one in conversation pieces, placement and personal style.

Great examples via apartment therapy

The late Elizabeth Taylor remains one of Hollywood’s most revered actors.  Ms. Taylor epitomized the essence of a true movie star and a lady of impeccable taste. The July 2011 issue of Architectural Digest showcases exclusive photographs of Ms. Taylor’s Bel Air Estate.  The art of the hang is masterfully shown in Ms. Taylor’s artwork display.

Architectural Digest/Scott Frances

Consider hanging a grouping in a bedroom lower than standing eye level.  The result can surprisingly produce the focal point of the space.

Better Homes & Gardens

Note the pair of mirrors to the left- great choice of placement!  The art to hanging artwork, framed treasures, mirrors, sconces, etc…  is in the scale, placement and arrangement that best suits your tastes and optimally showcases your personal style.

Better Homes & Gardens

Love your style!




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