Quick Change Artist: How Wall Art Transforms the Room

By on March 26, 2015, in Soft Surroundings

During this mid-century and even through the 1970’s, art for the walls was almost solely limited to flat pieces—paintings, prints, and posters. In the 80’s, hanging textiles on the walls (like a throwback to the tradition of European tapestries) became popular and still is.

But the days of only thinking about walls two-dimensionally are long gone. Now, an inventive home has the depth and range of architectural pieces and collectibles gracing its walls alongside framed paintings and prints.

What do we mean by architectural? Anything goes! We’ve seen everything from upcycled window frames to ornate screen doors and vintage shutters painted and positioned on blank walls. The walls of more masculine bedrooms and dens can thematically accommodate graphic elements like boat oars, crisscrossed paddles, and propellers.


What if the treasure you’ve found can’t be hung? Turn building fragments like corbels into shelves. Our stately Rouen Hanging Shelf is a classic example. It has a distressed finish applied over hand-carved mango wood to give the appearance of a reimagined ancient ruin.

Our Avril Hanging Shelf has been spotlighted in more than one blog post because it is so unique, intricate, and useful. It too is hand-carved of mango wood, and the weathered French grey finish has gilt accents to add to the vintage feeling.

Use pieces like these as platforms for décor that isn’t easily hung on a wall, like painted plates, statuary, or a beautifully bound book. Group small shelves like the Avril together in a horizontal line, stacked or in a stair-step arrangement for an ad-lib bookshelf that’s as creative as what you prop on top.

We often find that big blank walls are the best place to use uncommon and unexpected approaches. This can bring just as much warmth and personality to a room as the furnishings. Wall décor can truly transform.

But even if you prefer the traditional approach, think about how your prints and paintings can be hung to maximize their impact.

For example, a grouping of similarly framed prints can sometimes grab more attention and contribute more pop to a room than one piece of art does singly. Over the headboard of a bed is a good instance. The long horizontal line of the headboard can be used as a strong visual foundation. Depending on the size of the bed, two, three, or more framed prints like our Garden Siren Prints can form a secondary “headboard” above the first. The effect will be dramatic, intimate, and beautiful.


If you are blessed with soaring ceilings, stack framed art vertically. The eye will be drawn upward, naturally, and the wide, open space will warm up with personality.


Another option—one that blends the familiarity of framed art with the more novel architectural approach—is to place one of Soft Surroundings grilles on a focal wall. Our Valere Triptych Panel is inspired by an Indonesian design and carved by hand of mango wood. We love how the lacework of its three sections create a circular floral motif in the center.

Or make a dramatic statement with a single element like our Rue de Bac and Rue Le Verrier Grilles. They are stunningly handmade and rimmed with a gilded frame. The counterpoint between the textures of the wood, the rubbed grey finish, and the shiny opulence of the frame is eye catching.

The key to creating a wall arrangement using a wide variety of framed pieces is to find their common element: color, frame or subject matter. So, for example, photos framed in wood, metal and gilt can feel as one if all of the photos are black and white. Disparate watercolors can be grouped together when their frames are all alike in texture or color. We used this technique when we created the Chaumont Collage Frame.


Don’t be hesitant to hang artwork on closet or cabinet doors. It’s easy to wrap a ribbon, rope or colorful piece of twine around a cabinet knob, attach it to the back of the framed art, and voila! Our Renaissance Intaglios would be a great choice for this approach, depending on the size of your closet doors.

One last tip for transforming a room with phenomenal art is to balance what’s placed on the vertical plane of the wall with objects on the horizontal plane of the table, bed, bench or whatever furniture is placed in front of. For instance, a sensational 3’ x 4’ vintage print can be an anchor at one end of a low bench in an entryway—that is, when it’s counterbalanced with an umbrella stand, collection of baskets, or hat rack on the wall at the other end of the bench. The asymmetry works because the bench acts almost like a mantel to “fix” all of the objects in place.

How to Compose a Wall Grouping

The most flawless way to arrange and hang a grouping of elements for the wall is to start on the floor. Yes, the floor! Purchase a large roll of craft paper from your local hardware or art supply store.

Roll it out across the floor. Use as many lengths of sheet as you need to approximate the size of the wall you want to adorn. Tape multiple sheets together so they don’t shift.

Then place your frames, objects, wall shelves, etc. on the craft paper. Rearrange them as much as you’d like until they feel like a unit. Remember to create a strong horizontal line along the base or the top of the grouping. You may want to establish one or more vertical lines as well.

Don’t forget: the space between objects is as important to the overall look as the objects themselves. Consider keeping the spaces between objects equidistant. Once you’re happy with the arrangement, mark the nail holes on the craft paper for each piece.

Now attach the craft paper to the wall. It’s best to do this with painter’s tape, so you don’t blemish the wall when you remove the paper. Next, hammer nails into the spots you marked and then remove the paper. Finally, hang the wall art in the designated spots!


  • Marsha

    I love this. Art can drastically improve a room’s atmosphere, and wall art is a necessity! I like your idea of vertically stacking art to draw attention upward. I might need to make some changes around the house!

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