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posted: 4/19/2014 12:01 AM

Go hang! Here's how

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  • A carefully composed wall arrangement is a key decorative element in a relaxed, inviting dining room.

    A carefully composed wall arrangement is a key decorative element in a relaxed, inviting dining room.
    Lizzie Himmel/Courtesy W.W. Norton

By Rose Bennet Gilbert

Q. I need help arranging pictures to hang on the wall. There are four the same size and a big one that has a different frame. Is it OK to hang them together anyway? And how high should I hang them? The arrangement is going over the dining room buffet.

A. Arranging an art wall is an art in itself, but one you can master if you keep a few guidelines in mind.

First, it is not just OK to mix sizes and frames in an arrangement; it's much more interesting. Even more interesting is working in a couple of other objects, such as a mirror or a narrow shelf holding a plate or small sculpture.

The eye craves both balance and variety. Look how deftly the wall arrangement in this dining room attracts your eye with its symmetry and its diversity: The four similar pictures neatly balance the large oil painting in the center. And what's this? An octagonal mirror above all? More to look at equals more visually interesting.

Of course, this room was designed by a master, the renowned Boston interior designer William Hodgins (the photo is from a handsome new book celebrating his career, "William Hodgins Interiors," written by Stephen M. Salny and published by W.W. Norton & Company).

Known for the serene, elegant and warmly traditional rooms he has created for generations of boldface names, Hodgins obviously practices what he preaches: This is the dining room in his own home.

He's a pro who could easily work things out by eye, but you might appreciate a couple of other tips on wall arrangements:

• Lay out your artworks on the floor first. Arrange the frames so they establish one straight vertical line and one straight horizontal line in the arrangement. Leave just an inch or two between the frames so the parts coalesce into a visual unit.

• Hang the arrangement low and close enough to your buffet that it, too, becomes part of the unit. Never hang art above eye-level when you're standing.

• A square of masking tape on the wall before you nail will help keep paint and plaster intact.

Q. What makes any home memorable?

A. Uber-designer Thom Filicia had a two-word answer -- "personal style" -- when he spoke at the Day of Design recently, which was sponsored by the Richmond, Va., chapter of the International Furnishings and Design Association.

"Have the confidence to express your own personal style," Filicia urged. "Your home is the backdrop for your life. Make it reflect you."

For Filicia himself, this calls for a mix of different elements -- the vintage and the new, the high and the low. "The mix keeps it from being static," he said. Such "democracy of design" takes confidence, Filicia agreed, "But if you're an open person, you're open to everything, including new ideas."

Not that his own parents were when he was a boy, Filicia confided. "They asked me what I wanted for Christmas, and I said skylights in my room. I was 9 years old!"

Other ideas from the designer (whom you may remember from the "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" TV series): "Paint your ceilings. White is out! A room is not about the furnishings; it's about the ambience you create. And when it comes to accessories and objects, the most important thing is editing!"

© 2014

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