Hang art so it’s easy to view

DEAR GAIL: We bought a piece of artwork for our master bedroom and intended to hang it over the bed, but it’s too big. We can’t return it since we bought it at an out-of-town art fair. We hadn’t planned on buying anything, but just fell in love with it. We have a wall that we can hang it on in our bedroom. We’re wondering how high to hang it and if we have to put something underneath it. — Roger W.

DEAR ROGER: I know that I don’t have to tell this to you now, but, for the sake of other readers, always travel with measurements. Even though you hadn’t planned on buying anything, it’s just a good habit to get into if you are decorating your home.

Place a folder in your car with the following: pictures of your rooms; fabric, flooring and paint samples; and closeup shots of any area where you know you’ve been looking for something or considering decorating. Then, on those pictures mark your measurements, whether it’s artwork, area rugs, plants, lighting, window treatments, accessories or even bedding that you’re looking for.

For any art niches or those areas above your kitchen cabinets, make sure to measure the height, width and depth. If you’re looking for bedding, you should take exact measurements of your bed because it will make a difference if you have a pillowtop mattress, high-profile box spring, platform bed or headboard and footboard.

With that said, let’s talk more about your question.

First, I’d like to stress that no matter what the height of your ceiling, artwork is hung the same. Just because you have vaulted ceilings doesn’t mean that you hang it higher. We normally view artwork while sitting, except with pieces in the hall, right? So, if you were sitting, do you really want to be looking up with your neck at a 90-degree angle to see your artwork? No.

As with every rule, there are always exceptions. If you have a very large piece, let’s say a tapestry that is 90 inches long, of course the top of the piece will be higher on the wall. But, you still follow the same rule for height as if it was hung over a furniture piece. So what is that height?

When hanging artwork, I don’t like to hang anything more than 10-12 inches above the top of the piece it is being hung over. Sometimes I hang it even lower, but never less than about 4 inches above the top of the piece. Over a fireplace I will hang lower than the 10-12 inches since it will already be higher up on the wall.

So, let’s say your piece is 36 inches wide by 42 inches high and you’re going to hang it over a 31-inch-high console table. The top of the piece would be between 83-85 inches off the floor, which equals the height of the console, plus the 10-12 inches and the height of the piece. The console also should be as wide as the piece, if not wider. In this case, it should be at least 36 inches wide.

Now, should you have something under the piece? Yes, unless the piece is very large and will take up most of the wall from floor to ceiling. The reason is that we want to ground artwork to the floor so it’s not just floating on the wall.

There are a couple of exceptions: in a hallway unless it is very wide; in a small dining room since the table visually grounds the artwork; and, of course, up a staircase and on the landing since the stairs ground the artwork.

Let’s say you do have a large piece that has a large dark frame and/or the image is dark, so it’s visually heavy. And, you can’t hang it over a standard-height furniture piece, maybe because of your ceiling height. So, when you hang it, you’re left with maybe 27-30 inches below. If you are able to see this piece from a distance and there is nothing visually underneath it, like a dining table, you may need to ground it because of the weight of the piece. A couple of items you could use are benches, stacked floor pillows, low planters and floors plants that are placed close to the side of the frame. You eve could cut down the legs of a console table.

So Roger, there are some guidelines to follow when hanging artwork. But, never be afraid to buy that impulse piece because you can always find wall space for it — even if it means you switch pieces around each season.

Gail Mayhugh, owner of GMJ Interiors, is a professional interior designer and author of a book on the subject. Questions may be sent by e-mail to: Or, mail to: 7380 S. Eastern Ave., No. 124-272, Las Vegas, NV 89123. Her Web address is:


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