How To Hang Art in a Group That Can Grow

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We own a lot of art — specifically a lot of small to medium sized art — and when we moved in together last year, our individual collections collided. While struggling over what to do with all this art, we were also brainstorming about how to use the room-sized foyer which separates the living and dining rooms. It didn't take long before we had this idea — a large grouping of art that could grow as we collected more and/or decided to change the function of the foyer space…
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Draft a Rough Composition
Since this was going to be a silly, function-less room (to give you a sense of scale, the previous tenant used it as a full office), we decided to create a furniture vignette from which our organic grouping of art would "emerge." The low-stance of our LCM Eames chair was the inspiration. Our art cluster would appear to float up from the chair, beginning small and slowly gaining in size and color. We also knew we would jump over the corner of the wall to imply that the collage was not bound in on any side.

This asymmetrical composition would give us a balanced look while still allowing us to add to the collage on a variety of sides. The same would be much more difficult with a composition like a square or rectangle which is what we see in magazines most often.

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Arrange, Take Pictures, Re-arrange, Repeat
Once we had the idea for our composition, we brought out everything we owned and began grouping on the floor, looking for interesting relationships — complementary colors, shapes, variety of scale and density (how light or dark a piece is). Find a focal point (the largest, or brightest, or most colorful, etc.) and work outward from there. It's all about finding good neighbors. For example, our focal point is the "aeronautique espace" poster which has a rich blue background that looked the best when surrounded by pieces with a lot of white in them. Generally you want a mix of solid color and whiteness throughout your grouping to create a nice optical rhythm.

A word of advice: once you find something you sort of like, take a picture before rearranging it. It'll save you from a huge headache when you try to remember things you've already tried. Don't lose patience. Walk away for a few minutes if you need to see it fresh again. You'll know when you find a sweet spot.

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Hanging: If It Looks Right, It Is Right
Once you've settled on a layout, photograph it for reference while you hang. Begin by hanging the piece which is the focal point of your design and work outward from there. Three guidelines for measuring: 1. Establish one standard distance between all pieces (ours was 3.5"); 2. Try to anchor each piece to an edge that has already been defined — we began by hanging the two little illustrations on the left of our blue poster so that they aligned with the top of the poster; and 3. Don't be afraid to break the rules.

Remember, if it looks right, it is right. Those same two little illustrations that align to the top of the blue poster happen to be closer together than any other two things in our grouping because we wanted them to hang within the width of the green poster they sit on top of. But you probably didn't notice that, you just thought it looked "right."

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Completion is Relative
This is what our collage looked like after we were "finished." We think it's a pretty accurate representation of our initial sketch and we enjoyed it just like this for a few months. But, just as we knew would happen, we began to desire more function from our silly space and replaced the chair with a bench for putting shoes on and off. We also painted the walls a soft white, hung a light and rearranged a few pieces on the walls...

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This is what our foyer looks like now and we're still open to the idea that things will shift and change as we continue to change, ourselves. The wonderful thing is that our asymmetrical, growing composition allows us the freedom to add to and take away whenever we want!

MORE GREAT PICTURE-GROUPING HOW TOS

Originally Published 2.9.2009 - AA


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