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Filling the Blanks : If One Piece of Framed Art Falls Flat as a Wall Display, Try Creating a Collage of Objects

November 18, 1995|GAILE ROBINSON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A bare wall can be intimidating. The question of what to put where stymies the best of do-it-yourself decorators.

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"It's even tough for designers," says Michael Love of the New York-based Quantum Design Group. "You have to consider the scale of the room and how the art will reflect the decorating style. It's much harder than choosing a sofa."

A quick flip through the decorating magazines yields lots of ideas but no pervasive trend in wall decor. The room with one large, gorgeously framed oil painting works, but so does the one with less precious three-dimensional objects studding a wall. Another common--and relatively inexpensive--approach is the grouping of similar prints or photographs into a grid that's as commanding as the art itself.

One of his biggest challenges, says Los Angeles-based interior designer Ron Meyers, is getting clients to relax their definition of artwork. "They think if it's framed, it's art," he says. "Mixing objects with pictures is one of the hardest sells for a designer."

Although he is a proponent of the one-fine-piece-of-art style, preferably in a 22-karat gold leaf frame, Richard Hallberg of Hallberg Wiseley Designers in Los Angeles has hung a red antique apple picker's ladder on a client's wall. "There are no decorating standards," Hallberg says.

The lack of protocol may create confusion and insecurity, but it is also liberating. It is what allows the found objects, the odd collections and family heirlooms--anything considered dear--to creep out of the garage and on to a wall.

"People should not be afraid to hang things that have been in the family for a long time. These are what make us unique," says Ramey Warren Black, producer of "Walls That Work," a program on the cable network Home and Garden Television that's devoted solely to wall treatments. In preparing for her show, which airs three times a week, Black has encountered walls decorated with a wooden airplane propeller, a rake, baskets, boxes, ships' masts and decorative sheets of glass.

The key to assembling a whole wall of dissimilar objects--and one such wall is plenty in a room, Love says--is to first lay the pieces out on the floor. That way you can easily rearrange them while getting a sense of how the colors work together and in the room, Hallberg says.

To create a wall of like-sized framed art--botanical prints, architectural renderings, black-and-white photos and such--line up the pieces perfectly flush, as if they're within their own invisible frame. Inconsistent spacing will stand out like the proverbial sore thumb (which most people will get when trying to hang this many pieces of art). Carefully measure and mark the wall before hanging the first piece.

Most people make the mistake of hanging art too high, Love says. It should be at eye level, and if it's in the living room, as opposed to a hallway, that's eye level from a seated position. It may look too low on the walls, Love says, but remember: "The artworks are part of the [overall room] design and they should work with it, not be suspended so high on the wall that they disappear from view."

Michel Benasara, a home-wares designer for Guess, covered a wall in his Hollywood Hills home with dozens of photos in mismatched frames, eliminating the need for precision hanging. Some of the faces are of family, but others are of strangers whose mugs came in frames purchased at flea markets. "These are people I like to look at," he explains. Benasara often changes the photos but rarely the frames' arrangement.

Los Angeles interior designer Joe Ruggiero also has a wall of family photos, sandwiched between unframed glass, gallery style, in his Encino home. In his office is an inexpensive art statement taken from the flotsam of daily life: a large corkboard skewered with lists, phone numbers, doodles and pictures torn from magazines. Carefully illuminated with a picture light, all his little reminders take on the appearance of Important Art.

One of Love's clients found an even cheaper way to decorate his walls. Having absolutely no artwork budget, he took a favorite line drawing, enlarged it with an overhead projector and traced it onto his wall with charcoal. "Since the wall was painted with semi-gloss enamel, he was able to wash it off when he finally had enough money to buy more traditional art," she says.

Hallberg would rather a client invest in one excellent art piece than in three mediocre ones. "It's better to have less and do it right than do something for purely decorative purposes," he says.

But if while-you-were-out message slips and wall scribbles can substitute for an old master, there really is no excuse for blank walls.

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