Why art in your home must hang at the right height to work

PUBLISHED : Friday, 12 June, 2015, 6:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 13 June, 2016, 12:45pm

As a decorator, I can't expect my clients to agree with everything I recommend. Sometimes, I just need to humbly agree to disagree.

Take, for example, my recent experience with my client Jodi Dady, a New York art adviser, who lives in a post-war apartment on Manhattan's Upper East Side with her husband and two teenage children. I admire her dislike of clutter and respect her acute fear of pattern and most colours; however, when it comes to hanging - and living with - art, we have divergent opinions. Dady is in the art business and collects works by contemporary and emerging artists. She has always viewed her art as the most important element in the room and believes it should be treated as such. Her perspective is that of a gallerist: art should be hung on white walls with nothing to impede the full visibility of the entire work as, she says, "the artist intended it".

My task as her decorator was to upgrade the furnishings to complement - but never overshadow - her collection of paintings, prints and drawings. This was challenging for me. I like to integrate art with other objects; I don't mind when a lampshade overlaps the corner of a photograph or if a painting hangs below the horizontal line of a dining table. I use art and objects to fill out rooms and to create an interesting, layered tableau.

In Dady's apartment I was not able to use any tall pieces of furniture (usually, I like to have one tall piece per room, not only to provide storage, but also to guide your eye up). All of her walls needed to be saved for art.

Dady was also rigid about how the art was hung. Like a curator, she is conscious of the mix and flow of the art, but she is strict about giving each piece its own space. I tend to be more daring with where I hang art and how I group pieces together.

Despite our aesthetic differences, we agree on one thing: no matter how you hang it, display art that you love.

More often than not, people hang art too high or too spaced apart, or they stress about putting holes in their walls. Art ties a room together, adds interest and drama and fills empty space. Hung properly, art draws your eye up, down and around a room. So you don't make the mistakes of others, follow this advice and hammer on.

Get the height right. Pictures should be hung so that the centre of a picture is at eye level; for most people that means the middle of the picture should be about 1.5 metres to 1.7 metres from the floor. I say "most people" because one of my dearest friends is 1.8 metres tall, and every time she is at my house, she complains that the art is hung too low. I point out it is hung too low for her, not for 1.57-metre me. In general, hang art about 8cm to 15cm above a piece of furniture.

But don't worry too much about maths. In general, I rely more on my eye than I do on a tape measure to figure out where to hang a picture. But I suggest using a tape measure and level to get started. Hanging art is often a two-person job, so make sure you have someone there to help you.

The Washington Post