If These Walls Could Talk | Wall Art & Interior Design
Given that walls take up to 66% of all interior spaces, surprisingly little thought is often given to wall art as a component of a room. We may regularly sit on and interact with the furniture and other functional pieces of decor, but our eyes are always directed at the walls. As such, wall art heavily influences the mood and impression a space creates. More than any other area of interior design, wall art has the power to tie together and create harmony in a room, and knowing how to choose and deploy wall art can make a huge difference in your day-to-day life.
What Is Wall Art?
In the simplest sense, wall art is any art which is in some way mounted or attached to your walls. Among the most common forms of wall art are paintings, posters, and photography. However, wall art need not be completely two-dimensional; sculpture, lighting fixtures, shelves, and other more topographically complex objects can also be used as wall decor and fit in just as seamlessly with the rest of your space.
For the purposes of this article, we’ll limit our scope and examples to photography because of its diverse subject matter and wide availability in different sizes. Nonetheless, the rules and suggestions mentioned here will apply to virtually all forms of wall decor and should be kept in mind no matter what your tastes are.
As with the paint you choose for each room, your wall decoration must also take part in the overall color scheme of each interior space. Choosing and harmonizing the colors of your furniture, rugs, fixtures, wall art, and other interior design artwork is one of the most important aspects of creating a room which is both welcoming and cohesive.
Selecting the right color palette can seem daunting at first, especially given the endless aisles of paint chips and cans you’ll find at any home improvement store. Color coordination doesn’t need to be seamless, however and can be as simple as duos like blue and black or color families like warm colors or cool colors. The most important part of choosing and creating the right balance of hues is making sure each piece of chosen decor fits in—especially wall art.
If your combo is black and blue, you might have a black sectional, a woven blue rug, and a large framed photo of the ocean hanging on one wall. For a room arranged according to warm colors, you could combine a yellow loveseat and chairs, a varnished wood coffee table, soft/dim lighting, and a large panorama of an autumnal forest.
Wall art is one of the most effective cues for your interior color scheme, and is also one of the easiest ways to maintain the chromatic balance. If your scheme called for dark green, finding a piece of art in that color would be vastly quicker and cheaper than obtaining a major piece of furniture.
Spacing and Placing
For wall art to reach its full potential, however, it has to be placed in the right location based on the social dynamics of the room and the spatial arrangement of the other items of decor present.
Every room can use a bit of art, but some places are better suited to viewing and display than others. No one can appreciate a large piece of beautiful art in a hallway, and proper discussion and engagement with an artwork isn’t possible in a transitory location like an entryway or a private place like a bathroom. Art deserves to be seen and talked about, and so the best places to put it are in inherently social spaces like living rooms, foyers, and dining rooms.
Placement within these rooms is equally important. For maximum effect, art should be hung at the focal point of a room either while entering it or using it for its primary purpose. For the former, the most common location is above the couch or seating area; for the latter, it’s above the television or fireplace.
Because art is meant to be seen and appreciated, it shouldn’t be blocked by any lighting fixtures or pieces of furniture. It also shouldn’t throw off the natural spacing of the room. Art should usually be hung at about average eye-level (5’7” - 5’9”) and it’s bottom edge should begin around 6-12” above any piece of furniture.
These rules might seem nuanced and complex, but in the end it’s really just common sense: place art where people can look at and enjoy it, but don’t let it intrude on the function or freedom of the space.
Large Art or Small?
Once you’ve found the right space, how then to fill it? As another general rule, artwork should take up about 60-75% of the wall space it’s placed in. What you do to get there, however, is up to you.
Selecting a collection of smaller pieces—a “gallery wall” arrangement—is a popular choice for those who want to hang family photos or who already have a large collection of art pieces they want to display. Finding and framing a dozen or so artworks can be expensive, but a gallery wall allows for greater artistic diversity and can work to make a space feel warm and inviting.
On the other side of the scale, one can decide to fill a space with one large monolithic piece—a colorful landscape, a dazzling cityscape, an emotive portrait, or a provoking abstract composition. Singular oversized pieces send a bold and unambiguous aesthetic and emotional message about your space, revealing key aspects about the life and character of those who inhabit it. It’s pieces like these which make a space memorable and draw people back to them again and again.
Of course, these are just two extremes on a fluid spectrum, and you can choose however many or few artworks you want to fill a space, finding the perfect balance between eclecticism and simplicity; intimacy and impact.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, you have to decide what your wall art is actually going to look like. Location, spacing, and sizing will come together to determine the cohesion and comfort of a space, but the specific feel of a room will depend heavily on what you actually display.
The kinds of messages you can send and the varieties of ambience which can be achieved with different kinds of wall art are virtually limitless. Nature photography can open up a space, making it feel brighter, more spacious, and calming. A city skyline can embody a sense of metropolitan refinement and socialite mentality, presenting you and your space as the nexus of hip society. Abstract photography can call upon associations of minimalist aestheticism and zen, but depending on the composition can also draw out responses from passion to melancholy and nostalgia. Different kinds of scenery and wildlife, different locations in the world, and different shapes, lines, and textures can all fine tune these sensations and impacts, allowing you to perfectly tweak the aesthetics of your space to send the perfect message and embody just the right “vibe.”
In the end, however, the most important thing to remember is that this is your space. We all want to impress our friends and family with the interior worlds we create for ourselves, but at the end of the day we’re the ones who live there, and we should be happy to do so. Anyone decorating a room should take the tips and rules discussed above into account, but the most basic criterion for any piece of art is, finally, does it speak to you?