How to create the perfect art wall: 3. How’s it hanging?

So you’re surrounded by old favorite and newly-acquired pictures, all resting comfortably in their shiny new frames.

Now what?

There are about a zillion “right ways” to create an art grouping. But my saying, “Just fiddle around with the layout until it looks right ” is supremely unhelpful.

So I’ve tried to break it down.


I find grid hanging to be extremely effective when you have a series of pictures. It’s both authoritative and restful, and it brings an order to a room.

Art hung in a grid

From i on Design through Elle Decor

Just yesterday I was at a client’s house talking with her about an art wall. She has many (MANY) art postcards that are meaningful to her, so we may buy 20 square frames with white mats, frame the postcards, and hang them in a grid in her dining room.

Postcards to be framed

Postcards to be framed. And of course we'll be reupholstering that chaise.


When in doubt, try this. As you’re laying the art out on the floor or a bed, create a big imaginary square: line up the left edges of the art on the left side of the square and the right edges on the right side. Same with top and bottom. And then you can fill in the rest however you like.

It works! Especially if you have, say, 9 or more pieces to hang.

(A few weeks ago, there was a snippet in the Financial Times or Wall Street Journal about this…it was an interesting article.  And naturally I can’t find it now.)

Art hung in a square

Art hung in a square, through musings of a night owl


This is the most difficult to describe, of course, because a grouping will look right or it won’t. I tend to (TEND TO) start with a piece in the center and add one picture at a time, alternating R and L, trying to balance the arrangement as I work.

This is how I did my own living room:

Laying out pictures for an art wall

Starting an art wall

Hanging an art wall

Hanging an art wall

Continuing the art wall

Finishing the art wall

Sorry – there’s quite a leap between the last two pictures. (I was anxious to finish!):

The 6th picture I hung was: the pastel over the Japanese guy

7th: oil painting in bottom left

8th: round wooden piece above it

Last: tiny colorful picture on the far right, which I think is critical to the whole grouping.

Here are a few rules of thumb for the random arrangement:

  • Use an odd number of pieces
  • Leave approximately the same number of inches between pieces – I tend to use from 2-1/2″ to 4″
  • Cheat by hanging hang everything against a boldly colored wall. It helps erase a multitude of hanging sins.
Art on blue wall

From sfgirlbybay

I hope this is helpful, Gentle Readers. Go forth, be bold, and remember that there’s always more than one right answer when you’re hanging art.

(By the way, Apartment Therapy has a very helpful article called, “How To: Hang Art in Groups (Like Kate Spade),”and this technical post from Artist, Emerging is excellent. As is this i on Design blog post, which provided many of the pictures for this series.)

Annie Elliott – aka bossy color – is an interior decorator and design blogger in Washington, D.C. Look for her advice about jewel tones in the November 2010 issue of Real Simple. Page 155. Not that we have it marked or anything.


  1. says

    Love your thoughts of an art wall. I personally like symetric hanging , the randon arrangement can be nice in a stairxase wall though!

    Come enter my new giveaway from Empress of the Eye!

    Art by Karena

  2. Mary says

    Hi Annie,
    I started to do a random arrangement in my kitchen last weekend. That is my favorite way to hang a varied assortment of things. But my brain wouldn’t let me. I ended up doing a square arrangment. For some reason I need order. But when I look at random arrangments done by other people, I love them. I guess I’m just hard-wired that way.
    Next…a post on the tools available that make picture hanging easier? There a quite a few out there.

  3. flyingcarrot says

    That was a great article! Not sure if this is helpful, but I find it a handy shortcut to hang largest –OR– item with biggest matte, in the center of the arrangement. Other pieces can be the “spokes” of a big wheel. Symmetry rules my brain so that little tip has allowed me to hang pairs on each side, or group colors, and do some random hanging around the center piece. It has lead me out of many hair-tearing art hanging sessions.

    When hanging for a client, I ask them to put their art in A, B and C piles so I can know what should be shown off and what might live in a more…ahem…private room in their home. Do we really need the signed Tiger Woods photo hung with your law school diploma?


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