How to Hang Art with Designer Erin Gates

With her new book 'Elements of Style' out this week, Gates shares eight simple ideas for upgrading your walls.

Illustrations by Anne Harwell McElhaney

Illustrations by Anne Harwell McElhaney

Elements of Style, the long-awaited book by Boston interior designer and blogger Erin Gates, hits shelves this week. The Tuesday launch was celebrated by a book-signing at West Elm Fenway attended by over 300 local fans who waited in line—some, for over an hour—to meet with her.

Erin’s new decorating guide includes her practical, personal approach to styling a home. In it, she shares lessons learned and offers tips for improving any space.

Here, Erin gives eight fool-proof ways to display art. All arrangements create a distinct mood, but both daunting blank walls and forgotten corners can benefit.


Excerpt courtesy of Elements of Style, published by Simon & Schuster.

Some quick and easy examples of ways to display art in your home, one of the MOST important accents you can add to a space!


Anne Harwell McElhaney

One large work of art above a sofa or substantial piece of furniture really anchors a room and makes a lasting impression. Whether a photograph, painting, or drawing, make sure it is proportionally significant in relation to whatever it is hanging above or the wall it’s on. If it’s too small, it will look lost. Go big or go home here; otherwise, consider multiple pieces.



Anne Harwell McElhaney

To give a larger grouping of art a more casual look, consider installing simple floating shelves and leaning the pieces against the wall, layered over one another. Frames of the same finish will keep your arrangement from looking too messy and haphazard. You can also create a version of this style atop a long console or buffet table.



Anne Harwell McElhaney

One of our most requested services is hanging art on gallery walls. My secret to creating a haphazard grouping is to simply wing it! Too much exact measuring will leave you cross-eyed and frustrated. It’s easier to trace all your art on newsprint and arrange on the wall with painter’s tape first. Then hang away! For a crisp look use matching frames and all one type of art (i.e., black-and-white photos). For a more eclectic one mix up the finishes and textures of the frames AND what goes inside, including paintings, prints, and even three-dimensional items like antlers!



Anne Harwell McElhaney

For this neat and tidy look you will have to get very friendly with your measuring tape and level! Whether it’s a triptych or a larger grid, like this one, make sure the frames and mats match in color and size and that all the hanging mechanisms on the back are the same height. Wide mats look fantastic hung this way, as do a series of black- and-white photographs. For smaller frame sizes try to keep about 1 to 2 inches between the frames. For larger pieces you can go up to 4 inches. The distance between pieces should be the same on all sides.



Anne Harwell McElhaney

Hanging art ON bookshelves is an amazing way to break up the business of lots of books. Easiest on built-ins, you can also implement this on single bookcases using small adhesive hooks instead of nails. Pick the art to work with the scale of your bookcase—larger for builtins that go to the ceiling or span the whole wall, smaller for freestanding pieces.


Anne Harwell McElhaney

Mixing artistic mediums can result in a very cool aesthetic, like leaning a large framed print against a mirror or pairing a traditional landscape with a large abstract painting. This application really shines when styling your mantel, so take it a step further by mixing sculptural objects in front of your layered artwork too! Grouping opposing mediums makes for a fantastic contrast and adding artistic interest to a large plain mirror in this way really makes your space feel lived in and unique!



Anne Harwell McElhaney

Don’t ignore the narrow, tall spaces in your home, such as those beside doorways and between windows. Hanging a vertical stack of frames really draws the eye up and creates the impression of a higher ceiling. Hanging items from ceiling to floor can look striking and inspiring—just make sure everything is securely anchored to the wall in case small children and pets are about.



Anne Harwell McElhaney

Symmetry is your friend in this case. Anchor your arrangement with one large piece in the center. A large mirror works really well, as does a large-scale piece of art. Be sure to balance the look with a matching arrangement (in scale and medium) on both sides, or ALL sides if you have the space and want the drama! This is a great way to add more interest to a single large item.

The ‘Elements of Style’ book tour will visit design shops in eight U.S. cities, with one final stop back in Boston at the end of the month. RSVP here to meet Erin Gates at Hudson on October 30 from 6-8 p.m.

Read more about Erin’s road to success, and see the 10 things she can’t live without.