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How To Correctly Hang a Picture

You may think this is a basic question, but there’s a lot to correctly hanging a picture from choosing the right hanging hardware to correct wall placement. 

Rectangular white floral picture frame above bed with blue pillows & coverlet; round tray with floral arrangement and coffee mug nearby.

Determine the Type of Frame

When it comes to the act of hanging a picture on the wall so that it is secure and level, you have a few options.

First, take note of the hanging attachment on the back of the frame. Is it a sawtooth hanger or is it hooks that need wire strung through? Generally, larger heavier frames will have the wire option.

Mark the Spot Where You Want to Hang

Once you’ve determined where you want your frame to hang, mark the spot lightly with a pencil. I almost always hang my pictures with picture hanging hooks. I only discovered these little guys a few years ago and they have changed my life – seriously! Before, if I used to bang these huge nails into the wall. Half the time the pictures would fall off or if I decided to remove the frame at some point in time, I was left with a large hole in the wall that needed to be patched.

Close-up of floral frame - 3 large pink and white flowers in a white wooden frame

These picture hanging hooks use tiny little nails, are less than 2 inches long but can support up to 50lbs of weight (depending on which type you purchase) due to the fact that the nail goes in at an angle. Genius! Now my pictures hang securely, the nails come out easily and leave only the tiniest hole and I don’t have to worry about drilling massive anchors into my wall, either!

Three wooden frames in natural finish with family portraits above an off-white sofa

How to Arrange Pictures on a Wall

  • For most homes, you can hang art at eye level. Unless you’re really tall, your ceilings are only 7 ft OR your ceilings are vaulted. Then you can break the rules! 
  • One of the things I often see is too-small art. If you have tiny piece of artwork that you are dying to display, you may need to display it as part of a gallery wall.
  • Orient your art with the furniture over which it is displayed. If you are hanging a frame over a dresser then your frame should be at least three-quarters as wide as the piece of furniture and about 6 – 12 inches over the furniture. 
  • If you are hanging a gallery wall, lay the artwork out on the floor first,  measure the total groupings height and width and make sure it follows the same guidelines above for filling up your space. 

Examples:

One idea of how to place frames in clusters above a living room sofa but the arrangement is too far above the sofa, leaving awkward empty space

Judging this gallery wall based solely on height, you can see that a whole extra row needs to be hung closer to the couch. There’s too much space between the artwork and the piece of furniture.

A drawing of a couch with grid artwork over it

Do you see how much better the artwork looks hung lower to the couch? Also notice how the art extends the majority of the width of the couch, but just slightly narrower.

Working with Tall Ceilings

Embrace the space and hang larger pieces of art. There’s nothing worse than beautiful elegant tall ceilings but tiny artwork on the walls!

A living room with a tall ceiling; wall in between tall windows features a vertical-hung piece of art

Don’t be afraid to stack art vertically. You need to visually fill some of the space. With tall ceilings it’s better to go up then go out.

Sofa in living room with narrow stone wall in background, decorated vertically with frames of various sizes

What height are the other elements in your room?  Pay attention to – and take a cue from – the height of your windows.  What you hang on the wall can be as tall as they are:

Living room with white sofas with beige carpet; over-size paintings stacked on top of each other between tall windows

Take a look at this living room (image provided by a reader) – notice how vast the walls seem and how dinky the fireplace looks in contrast?

Small room with 2 sofas opposite a fireplace; vaulted ceilings with low-hung pictures, leaving too much empty space above

When you have vaulted ceilings like this, you definitely don’t want to hang a few pieces at eye level. This will leave way too much bare spare above the pieces and make your room feel completely disproportional.

There’s a myriad of ways to correctly fill up this space. Personally, I need symmetry in my life so I would opt to balance both sides of the fireplace similarly. 

This could be done with shelves that hold frames and other decorative items, with a large mirror or piece of art directly over the fireplace. 

Same living room as above but there are two sets of shelves aligned to the height of the wall on the left, with a round picture in the center.

Notice how the shelves go as high up as the adjoining wall on the left. This wall provides a natural visual line across the top of the wall so it makes sense to work with it.  

On the other hand, you could group pictures on each side with a larger piece centered over the fireplace:

A living room filled with furniture and a fire place

Finally, go vertical in the center then balance out the sides with single, larger pieces. 

A living room filled with furniture and a fire place

Of course, builtins would also look amazing to flank a fireplace like this – but those are not in most people’s budgets!

Gallery walls are a visual balancing act. This infographic should help you get started:

Various shapes and layouts for arranging artwork

Looking for more tips? Martha Stewart has some great ideas on how to arrange an eclectic group of prints.

Now that you know exactly how to hang a picture, I know you’ll get it right each and every time! 

Other Home Decorating Tips You’ll Enjoy

A drawing of a couch with grid artwork over it

How to Correctly Hang a Picture

Skip the guesswork - plan your layout and use the right tools to hang the perfect picture arrangement.

Materials

  • Picture hanging hooks or small nails

Tools

  • A sketch of how you want to arrange the photos
  • Various photos to hang

Instructions

  1. Hang at eye level (except if you have very tall or vaulted ceilings)
  2. If art is tiny, include as a group with others
  3. Orient your art with the furniture over which it is displayed; e.g. your frame should be at least three-quarters as wide as the piece of furniture and about 6 - 12 inches over the furniture. 
  4. Lay the artwork out on the floor first,  measure the total groupings height and width and make sure it follows the same guidelines above for filling up your space. 
  5. For tall ceilings, arrange frames vertically to fill the space proportionately
  6. Note other elements in the room and coordinate - place frames as tall as nearby windows
  7. For fireplaces, hang shelves or frames to either side of fireplace, with a single piece in center; OR a single piece on either side with a stack of frames above fireplace

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