Seven tips for a wonderful 'salon wall'

  • Use an eclectic blend of art, from professional pieces to family photos to kid-produced work, to craft a personal yet polished salon wall.

    Use an eclectic blend of art, from professional pieces to family photos to kid-produced work, to craft a personal yet polished salon wall. Chas Metivier/Sarah Barnard Design

  • Keep the wall balanced by maintaining consistent spacing between frames -- even for pictures of different sizes and shape.

    Keep the wall balanced by maintaining consistent spacing between frames -- even for pictures of different sizes and shape.

By Dawn Klingensmith
CTW Features

Certain works of art stand alone. An Old Master painting deserves a wall of its own or an exalted space above the mantel. But other works of art increase their impact as part of a crowd.

That's why floor-to-ceiling artwork installations -- called salon walls -- are popular among collectors. However, because salon walls consist of all sizes and styles of art crammed closely together, they can be tricky to arrange.

Here are seven pro tips on creating a salon wall without a constellation of misjudged nail holes.

1. No room for space fillers

Don't go out and buy everything all at once or make impulse purchases to fill up more space. An engaging salon wall "either takes a lot of money" for a shopping spree or "a lot of time scouring and collecting," writes celebrity designer and blogger Emily Henderson, based in Los Angeles.

Salon wall art needn't have anything in common except for one thing -- every piece should be special.

2. Motley view

Gather the artwork you wish to display. "It can be an eclectic collection, from Art with a capital A to family photographs to dorm posters and even objects" like gilded mirrors or vintage clocks, says David Kassel, owner of ILevel, a picture-hanging and art-installation business in New York.

While salon walls typically bring together disparate pieces, they sometimes have a unifying element such as subject matter (a grouping of botanicals, for example), artistic medium (all pen-and-ink drawings), similar coloring or matching frames.

3. The anchor's the way

Measure your soon-to-be salon wall and use painter's tape to mark those dimensions on the floor. Lay out all your pieces in this space and start arranging and rearranging. Start from the center with a larger piece that will anchor the arrangement, and work your way out. "Starting with a horizontal midline at eye level is a good, safe place to begin," says Santa Monica, California-based interior designer Sarah Barnard.

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Line the tops and bottoms of the frames above and below this axis. You can carry the line through the collage or extend it only so far before intersecting it with other wall hangings.

4. All for one and one for all

The composition should look balanced -- not just its overall configuration but also its colors and finishes. You don't want all the antique wooden frames on one side and the shiny contemporary frames on the other. If the same coloring appears in several of the paintings, make sure those pieces aren't all clumped together.

"One way to keep a balanced feeling is to keep consistent space between images even though the images are different sizes," says Barnard, adding that 2 to 3 inches typically works.

"There's no science to it. You just move things around until you get a sparkly feeling," Barnard says. "The images should relate together in a pleasing way, with none of the images overpowering the others. Each of them should have its unique value and voice preserved even though it's part of a collaboration"


5. No trace of doubt

It's difficult to get high enough above the floor to take in your entire arrangement and to snap a photo for reference as you hang. Another method is to trace all the pieces onto paper, cut them out and arrange them right on the wall with painters tape. Or, you can measure the wall, create an elevation sketch and "shuffle little cutout images around" until the layout looks right, Barnard says.

6. Getting the hang of things

When it comes time to hang your artwork, remember, "It's a two-person job," Kassel says. You'll need two sets of hands for the tools and ladder safety and "two sets of eyes so you can step back and see the relation of things as you go along" and adjust as necessary, he adds.

Don't make the common mistake of hanging the artwork too high. The middle of the composition as a whole, or the middle of its focal point should be about eye level -- roughly 58 inches above the floor.

"Use weight-rated picture hooks," Kassel advises, "and always use two hooks instead of one to keep everything straight and stable."


Picture frame bumpers also help prevent wall hangings from shifting.

7. Get over your hang-ups

"People get so nervous about putting holes in the wall, but any hole put in with picture hooks can be spackled and touched up easily," says Kassel, adding that salon walls, by design, tend to look as if they'd been "eyeballed" and that's part of their charm.

However, if you want to play it safe and have the ability to easily rearrange or add to your salon wall, there are hanging systems available with a track and suspended cables or rods from which your pieces can be hung nail-free.

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