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Decorating your walls with art: How much is too much?

Joan Fieldstone

October 22, 2015

By: Joan Fieldstone, Home Improv Advocate

In: Interior Design

I love attending the annual Harvest of Homes in my city each year. I get a chance to not only hear the docents talk about the history of these homes but also see some inspiring renovations and decor. Truth be told, it also satisfies some deep voyeuristic tendency many of us have to want to see how others live. Not surprisingly, these older homes, either restored to some semblance of their early grandeur or cleverly modernized, elicit many favorable comments.

Occasionally, however, I've heard some grumbling. This year someone mentioned that a house they'd just come from viewing had stairs too narrow for two people to pass going up and down. Perhaps it was a deficit for home tour-goers, but most households, I'm willing to bet, don't require double-wide passage under normal circumstances. It made me curious whether they expected a Gone with the Wind staircase in each of these homes.

Home or art gallery?

Of the six houses on this year's tour, three truly impressed me. I was caught by surprise when an attendee remarked in one of those homes that there was "no art on the walls." Certainly, she had to be kidding. A piece of art hung on nearly every wall of the house. Then she said, "I like a lot more art on my walls."

Her comment has had me thinking all week about how much is too much or too little art and whether one or the other can make or break a home's decor. I've seen homes with walls two stories high covered floor to ceiling with the homeowners' collection of various artists' original work. Impressive, and not the least overdone in that large home overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. I've never forgotten it -- often wishing I could afford to do the same with my 20 foot high living room wall -- but I did not find the sparing use of wall art in the home on the tour lacking. Not everyone wants to slap things up on the walls just to fill empty space. Some of us prefer to acquire and hang art in our homes only when we come across something we consider very special.

But whether you own lots of original wall art, just a few cherished pieces, or have amassed an astounding number of bargain prints from Ross, how you display your collection can sometimes emphasize or detract from its appeal. A friend of mine fills her home with the latter, but she changes it up frequently and her place always looks incredibly inviting to me, even though I'm a minimalist.

Is there a right way to decorate your walls with art?

The rule of thumb for height varies depending on current trends -- or who you ask. Hang a functional mirror with its center at eye level. According to one source, that's about 5'4" for the average person. (I stand 5'0", so I want it about six inches lower.) I was told long ago to hang framed art no more than six inches above a piece of furniture. Today, I'm advised that's far too low. Raising it up gives the illusion of higher ceilings. As with the art itself, what looks best may be purely subjective.

Unless you're doing a tightly spaced grouping, which can include mirrors, shadow boxes, prints, small shelves holding sculpture, vases, framed artwork leaned against the wall or even books - leave some "breathing room" between each and you should be good to go. Plan your grouping on the floor, or make templates of each item in the group and attach them to the wall with painter's tape before hanging anything permanently.

In case you still harbor doubts about how much is too much art (or too little) and whether you're positioning it appropriately, stop worrying. A new book called Artists Living with Art shows how 30 distinguished contemporary artists display their personal collections. View this slideshow for a peek.

Whether you like the minimalist look dominated by a few large pieces, or prefer busy, eclectic walls full of random art, your only concern should be whether you continually enjoy what you see. If anyone tells you different, you can tell them they are missing the point. Love of art, as well as how you "artfully" display it, is largely a matter of personal taste.

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