How to Make the Most of Your Wall Space

Saint Patty’s Day was yesterday, and the weather could not have been better. The recently dreariness skulked off to ruin someone else’s day, and a welcome breeze graced the shop’s open doors. I did however, banish any and all snakes looking to get something framed. Sorry, snakes.

While the shop currently runs a bit short on inebriated festivities and snakes, we have a surplus of paintings in the gallery. For roughly 33 feet of wall space we need to hang roughly 50 feet of canvas. Prevailing methods of displaying artwork tell us we are desperately short on wall space.

I’d like to elaborate a bit on how to handle this puzzle because customers often request narrow frames with the explanation “We just don’t have enough space on our walls.” Considering that in most cases a wider frame might add an inch or two on each side, something about that does not add up. The customer is of course always right, but nothing says the customer does not occasionally worry a little too much about some imagined predicaments.

In honor of March Madness, I offer this basketball analogy to guide your framing choices. Call it March “Tadness.” In the annual NBA draft, pro teams select college and international players to join and hopefully strengthen their team. The question with the NBA draft is always, do you pick to fill a hole on your team (for example, you need a point guard, so you draft a point guard), or do you pick according to the best available player (maybe you already have a good point guard, but you can draft a potential superstar point guard). Always -ALWAYS-  take the best player on the board.

And so it goes with framing. Always pick the frame that looks the best, not necessarily the frame that slides most easily into that empty slot in your living room.

When I know I have more paintings than space would apparently allow, I resolve to hang them “Salon-style.” It occurred to me I probably substitute “Salon-style” for “crowded” because it implies some time-tested, stuffy European taste, and thus allows me to pretend I have taste. Also, it sounds less like a compromise and more like a deliberate decision.

The Salon used to be nearly the only way to make a name for yourself as an artist in France, thus the overwhelmingly crowded walls. They made use of nearly every available inch to hang as much as possible. At the time it was simply out of necessity, but now any time pictures are tightly stacked on a wall, it demonstrates a tip of the hat to old European flavor.

The Salon gradually fell out of favor because the Academy collected a little too much dust and consequently became a favorite target of the avant-garde, going back to Courbet rejecting the whole affair and staging his own exhibition adjacent to the Exposition Universelle.

Even up through contemporary art the Salon proves an ample punchline, as Martin Kippenberger had some fun with the concept.

People likely resist hanging their photos and artwork in clusters at home because they go to art galleries, or especially museums, where artwork is most often presented with several feet between pieces. Certainly, one of the best ways to view and “read” a piece is to isolate it and give it sufficient space. On a functional level, curators also space paintings out that much because of the considerable foot traffic in museums and the tendency of people to queue up around particular pieces. For instance, Van Gogh’s Starry Night is going to need a lot more wall space than an emerging artist simply because a lot of people are going to huddle around the Van Gogh, potentially enough to start crowding out other pieces.

So, arranging photos and art in your home in an austere, gallery-type way isn’t altogether sensible primarily because you do not have the foot traffic of a public space.

Also, a legitimate concern exists that with everything meshing together so closely, some, if not all the pieces will get lost in the mix. It can happen, but it isn’t always so. For example, I used to live near the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, and the room I always spent the most time in was the one presented like a 17th century chamber stuffed with natural oddities (lots of taxidermy) and some fantastic old paintings tightly arranged. One of the paintings supplies a kind of chamber within a chamber, which I have no sophisticated opinion on, just that I thought it was kind of cool.

Lastly, I want to link to a nice blog post of some very well decorated walls. I think I’ve been listening to too much Martha Stewart radio these days, because I don’t think I’ve ever been so preoccupied with wall decoration until now.

Don’t tell me you don’t have enough wall space. Make it work.