Monday, September 10, 2012

Framing Art

As much as I sometimes wish there were, there aren't straight forward rules for framing artwork in my design world. A frame and mat that will work for one art piece in one interior will surely be different if hung elsewhere. And if art is hung solo rather than in a group, again, the rules seem to change.

The key is to go with your gut if you're visually inclined, or find a really great frame shop that can help guide your decision if you're lacking that artistic eye. Even though I usually know what I'm looking for, I still really value the opinion of my local frame shop. They appreciate art and do this on a daily basis and two heads are always better than one.

I'm planning a gallery style art wall for a client's living room. It's a mix of their beautiful oil paintings and antique maps from Italy, and a few eBay finds thrown in to mix things up a bit. It's a coastal home with a lot of blues and grays in the fabric and wall color and a variety of wood tones throughout.

To find the delicate balance mentioned above I first consider the color and subject matter of the piece of art. For the larger oil painting in the grouping, gold was my first inclination. Gold is always a great standard for oil paintings and in this instance it was perfect for the color palette of the coastal scene; bringing out the warmer tones in the sand. This was also the largest piece of art in our collection and needed a beefier frame to match that, but not so beefy that it didn't flow with the rest of the art.

Second, I considered the design of the room as a whole. There are a few brass elements on the lighting in the room so I thought the antique gold of the frame would be a nice compliment to that, as well as a welcome contrast to some of the darker wood and oil rubbed bronze tones also found in the space.

Third, I consider the frame as it relates to the rest of the grouping. Because all of the art work was so different in subject matter and in medium, having all the same frame wouldn't have been appropriate. I decided a slightly thicker gold frame with a little bit of architectural detail was just what the grouping needed to make a lasting statement.

In the end I used a mix of darker wood frames, with the gold frames on the oil paintings, and a couple medium toned wood frames to bridge the gap between the two contrasts. A medium toned frame on the star map shown in the photo above wouldn't have been my first choice if the piece had been hung solo or in a pair, but it was perfect for the group as a whole. There again, walking the fine line between what is appropriate for the piece alone and what is appropriate for the piece as it relates to the room as a whole.

Something that I try to educate my clients on frequently is to look at things as a whole. Design, specifically interior design, is not about being in love with every single item in the room, or every single frame on the wall, but instead it is about the room in its entirety. Opposition and contrast is a good thing in design as well as in life. It's all about finding the right balance to achieve the type of aesthetic harmony you are seeking.

Below are some basic tips for beginning art collectors who want to start framing:

* You can never go wrong with a white/off white/cream colored mat. Select the white tone that is closest to the shade of paper that the artwork is on. If there isn't white in the artwork or the paper is completely covered, use your best judgement by holding up several different mats to the piece of art.

* For groupings of art, as I mentioned above, different mediums and subject matter often require different frames, whereas a wall of all maps, or a wall of all photographs can easily be hung in the same frame. Determine how simple or eclectic you would like the wall of art to be; clean & simple: use all the same frame, semi-eclectic: use 2-3 different types of frames, eclectic: use 4 + different types of frames.

* The key to finding a solid framing shop is to search through the privately owned businesses in your area and stay away from the chain stores. When you look in the more industrial areas of your city, that is generally where you will find the best framers who are passionate about art, and who aren't paying a lot of over head costs. Thus, you will be getting better and more knowledgeable service at a better price. For those in the Orange County and Los Angeles areas I recommend Gorman Framing.

* Look through internet images and shelter magazines to see what type of frames designers have paired with certain types of art. Look at how the frame relates to the piece of art and also how the frame relates to the room. A lot can be learned from observing the work of professionals.


  1. I was just working on a wall in our living room this past weekend, and I've used the strategy of mostly white frames with a hit of gold in 1 or 2 frames. We purchased an oil painting a few months ago and it's in a beautiful gold frame. I just need to find the right spot for it. It's been floating around our house following me wherever I go. I used a local shop for another piece of art we had bought and the service was impeccable. I'd go back there again in a heartbeat for additional projects.

  2. I always find framing to be one of the hardest parts of those last finishing touches. There are so many options and directions you can go. I also agree that a framer is a fabulous resource. Great tips!

  3. I absolutely love reading your thought process here. As much as I love a pretty picture, I so value hearing what goes on in the head of a designer. Love what you said about using the gold frame and then bridging the gap between the dark and light tones of the wood frames. Stuff like that is GOLD to me!

  4. Was this at Westervelt's at the Laguna Design Center? It sure looks like it and the art too.

  5. As an interior designer, he should first get familiar with the preferences and interests of the client so that he would be able to figure out what are the concepts to be included in home designing, and get to know the clients personality if possible so that there are lots to be incorporated in the design. Great blog!

  6. Great! With your tips and some porcelain from blanc de chine, I’m sure my room would be as good as new! I can’t wait to re-paint my room this weekend!

  7. I hope to see some of these at furniture stores in los angeles. I know furniture shops include frame arts now.


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