Wall Art: The 'how' of the hanging


Often lost in the sea of nails, hooks, hammers, levels (and expletives) is the potential for glory that exists in the hanging of art on one's walls.

We're talking about the arrangement and composition -- the "how" of the hanging.

We're talking about thinking outside the frame and having the vision to deem as "art-worthy" a bunch of (inexpensive, store-bought) lily plates and then floating them across a wall, as if they were swimming in a pond at Giverny.

We're talking about turning formal (and dare we say, staid?) porcelain statues into quirky wall art by encasing them in shadow boxes painted a hip shade of blue-green.

We spied some creative hangings in and around Chicago in homes and stores. Have a look. And note that many involve the hanging of objects, not pictures.

Tray chic

The display folks at Jayson Home & Garden (1885 N. Clybourn Ave., ) made "art" for the wall behind the cash register by hanging a group of vintage Turkish trays in a giant corral.

"Any time you take something and you do a group of it and repeat it, it really becomes dynamic and dramatic," says Caroline Scheeler, Jayson's creative director.

This is successful because "you are repeating the shape" of the trays with the circular composition.

Tips: Lay out your arrangement on the floor first, Scheeler says. And measure. Groupings can be tricky. This one required a particularly large expanse of wall. The arrangement covers about 9 feet (in diameter) on a wall that measures 20 feet long and 14 feet hight -- that's because each tray measures about 19 1/2 inches in diameter.

Shadow boxing

What do you do with a collection of Staffordshire figurines that are too "antiquey" for your home and taste, but are of great sentimental value? Geneva-based interior designer Madeline Roth solved a client's dilemma by teasing a quirky side out of these otherwise staid statues.

She enshrined them in austere, but very green, wall boxes and hung them (rather tongue-in-cheekily) in a chic, black powder room.

Roth had the wall boxes custom-made by Geneva Wood Cabinets (630-232-0690; about $100 each) to her size specifications. But both and sell ready-made wall boxes/shadow boxes ($7.99 to $29.99) that could hold an object/figurine depending on its size.

They don't have backs to them. Roth suggests painting the wall that becomes the back of the box in the same color as the box.) Roth painted her custom boxes in Sherwin-Williams Kale Green. Walls are Benjamin Moore Black (eggshell finish), Number 2132-10.

More is more

Chicago art dealer Kate Hendrickson subscribes to the Salon style of hanging art in her vintage Gold Coast condo -- and so does actress Jennie Garth, for that matter, as seen in the February issue of InStyle magazine.

More is more in Salon style. Artwork (of different sizes and framing) covers walls up to the ceiling, almost like wallpaper. Hung this way, pictures become more than their own artfulness. They become part of a graphic pattern of images, frames and white space.

According to Hendrickson, hanging art this way can be traced back to the mid-18th century. But it was in France in the late 19th and early 20th centuries (at huge exhibitions or salons of art in which many artists needed to show their stuff and wall space was at a premium) that this dense style of hanging really took off.

Tips: Lay your arrangement out on the floor first, Hendrickson says. Start by considering your large pieces. Pick one to become your focal point.

"It doesn't need to be in the middle of the wall, but it will be your starting off point. And then everything else would be laid down to balance it off," Hendrickson says.

Consider these four things:
1. The artwork itself -- whether it's black-and-white or color. You want a pleasing pattern of color on the walls.

2. The frame -- whether it's silver, gold or black. Again, you want a visual flow. Too many same-color frames hung close together gives you a distracting clump of color.

3. The size of the piece/artwork has to fit into the puzzle

4. The composition of the artwork, whether the image itself is oriented left to right or vice versa. Generally speaking, you want images to be oriented toward the center of the arrangement. You wouldn't want a drawing of a woman whose face is turned outward to be anchoring the wrong corner of a grouping.

If you have only a few pieces of art collected but have salon-style ambitions (again, artwork in varying sizes and frames), don't be afraid to start hanging. Start at the center of a wall and add on around that grouping as you acquire pieces. Eventually, you might want to start over completely -- but that's once you have a whole load of artwork to play with.

Wallpaper -- sans paper

Geneva-based interior designer Madeline Roth improvised when the red-and-gold wallpaper her clients loved turned out to be too expensive. She delivered the stand-out bedroom the clients wanted by painting the walls a brilliant red. Then she "papered" the back wall with exhibition posters (which the clients already owned) and painted-on gold circles, which give the whole thing a semblance of bold pattern.

Tips: First came the red paint, Benjamin Moore Ladybug Red, No. 1322 (eggshell finish). Then came the positioning of the pictures -- they were hung, their positions marked on the wall and then taken down. In went the rows of circles. The painter sprayed them on using a stencil. The painter slid the stencil down/across the wall. The metallic paint was of no particular pedigree -- ordinary hardware store spray paint in gold metallic, says Roth.

Tiny baubles

"I found all these (porcelain intaglios) at the Paris Flea Market ... in a box," says Roth. She held onto them for a year before deciding that all 100 of them (give or take) belonged together, artfully hung as an elaborate composition (stretching nearly 4 feet wide) on the wall over the fireplace in her own living room. The effect is that of porcelain embroidery.

Tips: Roth worked with fellow interior designer Paul Peroutka to lay out her composition (and all those little intaglios) on the floor first. They eyeballed more than they measured when it came to the actual hanging, Roth says. She painted pink circles on the wall behind some of the groupings "to give it some variation."

Roth's big secret: double-sided tape. Peroutka came up with that simple mounting technique. In 15 years, only one intaglio has jumped ship, Roth says.

Ode to Monet

"We designed it so it would look like lily pads (floating) in a pond," says Gary Babcock, vice president of merchandising and design for Arhaus Furniture. Babcock, who is based at the company's Ohio headquarters, says he was inspired by Monet's famous waterlilies at Giverny. He had his display team hang this lily plate wall in the new Chicago store using plates sold at Arhaus.

Tips: Use a variety of plate sizes to get a richness of texture, says Adam Dunn, the assistant visual designer at Arhaus, 1980 N. Clybourn Ave., in Chicago. (Lily plates shown measure 8 1/2, 11 and 15 inches in diameter.)

Work from inside out -- compose mini-groupings inside the frame first, making sure some plates overlap and several spill out on to the frame itself. Think organic. Think floating. Drizzle more outside the frame onto the wall.

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