Katharine Earnhardt from art advisory firm Mason Lane helps us navigate all the choices that come with dressing up your walls.
Wall Décor: ART or MIRROR?
A big blank wall can prompt the question: Art or Mirror? Art is perceived to be more expensive, and mirrors often seem like the cheaper quick fix. But is this actually true? And what else should you consider in this non-life-threatening-but-moderately-annoying debate?
Misplaced mirrors are actually a pet peeve of mine, so I do have strong opinions on the topic. First of all, a lot of art can cost less than a lot of mirrors, and vice versa. Obviously art is overall pricier, as no one will pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for a mirror (I don’t think), but if we’re talking about the decorative and emerging art world, art and mirror pricing can be comparable. Here are some examples (see below). The point here is that there’s no need to slap a mirror on the wall to avoid getting art. You have options!
Here’s my view on placement: mirrors are generally functional; art is generally decorative (for the purpose of this debate). There are exceptions to this, but I’ll get into those. Considering this, here’s when to hang a mirror:
- When it serves a function of reflecting something, whether it’s you or a cool design element in the room.
Here’s when NOT to hang a mirror:
- Over a mantel when it only reflects another blank wall.
- High over a couch where no one can see the reflection anyway.
- On a gallery wall when its sole purpose is to fill a space.
If the mirror’s sole purpose is so you can check yourself out before leaving the house, hang it at a height that lets you accomplish that goal.
As promised, there are exceptions to the rule:
There are mirrors that are not totally functional in showing the reflection of a person or space. Accordingly, these shouldn’t be hung when you require function; rather, they can be hung where you’d like something decorative. Here are two examples of mirrors, both of which I love, but you can see they’re not your average piece of flat reflective glass (see examples below).
Examples of mirrors that are not functional and can be hung like art:
This wall or that one?
Art can finish a wall quite nicely (in my biased opinion), but putting something on every wall leaves a space feeling cluttered and overworked. Another common misstep is hanging your art in the wrong place on the right wall.
Here’s a little tutorial:
- Pick 1-2 “signature walls” in a room.
- These are open walls with minimal architectural details (like windows, doors, panels, etc.) or fixtures (like sconces).
- The walls should have at least 36 inches of space in front of them (i.e., a “signature wall” is not one in a cramped corner or tight hall).
Placing art only on signature walls and leaving the others blank typically helps a space feel balanced; the art you do place will look far better than it would if art was on every wall, which makes a space feel crowded.
Now let’s talk about placement on those signature walls. The general rule in museums and galleries is to hang art so that the center is 57-60 inches from the floor. There are many exceptions to this, especially in a furnished home, but it’s a good place to start. Now, check to see if that placement looks high or low in a given location, and adjust accordingly. I recommend leaving a margin of approximately 8 inches between the edge of the art and any furniture (like a couch or headboard).
If you’re hanging a collection of pieces together in a gallery wall format, consider the collection to all be one piece, and hang the center at or around 57-60 inches from the floor, adjusting up or down when appropriate. And finally, if the edges of the art are almost aligning with any proximate architectural details, like the top of a door, then move the art so the edge is aligned. This helps a space look coherent.
Finishing a space doesn’t mean occupying every inch of it; leaving some room to breathe — in this case, blank walls — makes the items you do place/hang appear more important and helps create a complete and balanced look.
Abstract or Representational?
Abstract and Representational are two different types of art. Which one is right for your space?
First, let’s define each:
Representational: represents an object or event that occurs in nature. This can include a person, place, or thing. Paintings of people? Representational. Landscape? Still lives? All representational.
Abstract: NOT representational. The subject of the piece is unclear, as its appearance has been broadly interpreted and recreated by the artist. Your two-year-old’s artistic creations “of the family” are almost definitely abstract.
Before the late 1800s, abstract art was not even acknowledged as “fine art” as the skill of a fine artist was determined by how closely he/she could replicate a real life object. Then photography came along, allowing for accurate documentation of real life, and painters had an identity crisis. The result? Abstraction became widely accepted, and today, it’s commonplace. Not better or worse, just accepted.
Importantly, you don’t need to choose one type to fit your style, and artists today are frequently creating work that is part-representational and part abstract. Balance is the key. When you hang all abstract work, it can begin to look boring, and the same is true for representational. Keeping a diverse range of art types in your space is visually refreshing and helps you appreciate each individual piece more than if they were all alike.
Color or no color?
You have a big blank wall, and you want to put art on it. What does that art look like? Considering the color palette is a helpful way to guide your search.
Here’s a little secret about color: the more color, the more energy. This goes for the range of colors (think ROYGBIV) and the saturation (i.e., color intensity). Clothes can serve as a great example: an all-white outfit is relatively serene, while pattern on pattern is more dynamic.
So, if you have a peaceful space like a master bedroom, source art that doesn’t introduce new colors to the space. A playroom or kitchen tend to be more energetic, so art that includes colors different from the corresponding design helps you achieve that vibe. Living rooms can be a hybrid space: formal but welcoming, comfortable, and livable. Accordingly, art that picks up some of the design color palette and introduces new hues may be the right fit.
Above: LEE CRUM Agave Plants
Who is Mason Lane?
Mason Lane Art Advisory is a Brooklyn-based firm that styles walls nationwide. Its specialty is art, crafty finds, and creative solutions.