Photo Finish: Hanging Family Pictures

Q: I have dozens of family photographs in various sizes and frames. I’ve seen pictures in magazines of photos grouped on stairway walls and I’d like to do that with mine. So far, my efforts look like a mishmash and the pictures don’t stay straight. Before I bang another hole in the wall, is there anyone who can help me pull it together? — Snap-Happy Sue, Croton-on-Hudson

A: It seemed a gallery owner might be just the person to offer advice about hanging pictures (right?), so I called Ray Endreny, who owns Tappan Z Gallery in Tarrytown. Endreny was helpful with general tips—“Hang pictures slightly below the average person’s eye height” was one example; “Take into consideration other elements in the room, so that frames won’t clash with something nearby” was another—but neither are useful for this project, as he was the first to admit.

“A mix of frames could be a fun, playful thing,” he notes, although I gather you don’t think so, given your description of a “mishmash.” Endreny suggests putting everything in a simple black frame to give your pictures a more cohesive look. “But she needs somebody with a good eye to hang them,” he adds. “She needs an interior decorator.”

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Next stop, Julie Owen, an interior designer and the new owner of Cocobolo Interiors in Armonk, who says yours is a question that comes up all the time. “People have family photographs all over their house and it looks disorganized,” she says. As for your failed attempt at organization: “Different frames could certainly be part of the problem.”

Owen’s advice: Step one: Edit (the hard part). “Look at all the photos and come up with a story — you have to think about it,” she says. “People tend to want to put every great photo out, but just choose the best ones — get it down to a certain number.”

Step two:: Unify. “Have copies made of the photographs in just one or two sizes, and then put them all in the same, or similar, frames,” she says. The type of frames—and mats, if you’re using them—is your choice, but consider the wall color. “You’d want to have contrast, so if you have an ivory wall, for example, you wouldn’t pick a light gold frame.”

Finally: “Don’t just hang randomly,” Owen advises. “We typically arrange groupings pretty symmetrically. Not necessarily lined up in a row, but in some kind of pattern. And use two hooks for each picture, otherwise they’ll tilt all over the place and drive you insane,” she happily notes.

Owen or another designer at her company can organize this project for you, but if you want to tackle it yourself, here’s a tip from someone who’s made far too many holes in her plaster walls (me). After you’ve done step two (unifying), make same-size paper copies, frames included, and lightly tape everything to the wall to figure out the best pattern, and to make sure you’ll like the result before you get the hammer out.

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