Artful Advice

Michelle Ogundehin on How to Display Art in Your Home

The writer and all-round interiors authority give us some handy home art advice.


Michelle Ogundehin

Michelle Ogundehin is a writer, creative consultant, TV presenter, and former editor of Elle Deco. If that wasn't impressive enough, her new book Happy Inside: How to Harness the Power of Home for Health and Happiness, is a game-changing and essential guide for anyone in search of a more balanced life. (It also has some delightful illustrations by Papier's very own art director, Nicola Rew. Needless to say, we recommend it very highly.) So when we wanted to find someone to help us out with some advice on displaying wall art, Michelle was top of our list...

The art of successful display boils down to curation and containment. Because, if carefully collected possessions are not displayed with consideration, they can end up looking rather more trashy than treasured. Here’s my seven top tips to get you started…

Collages, where the sum of the parts is art in itself. Creating a gallery wall packed with art prompts a pause to see a selection of works as a collection, as well as encouraging the search for links between the pieces. If all the artwork has been collected from the heart, it can be fascinating to see what they can reveal, something not usually perceptible until they're grouped together.

But there's no set way to hang a collage, except to lay everything out on the floor first to ensure all your pictures will fit together; keep the gaps between all pieces roughly the same; and add to each side in turn so the arrangement stays balanced. Beyond that, just start!

However, collages work best if no more than four different frame finishes are used in total — for instance, silver, oak, black and white — and any mount colours limited to no more than two. White as a default and one other that works with your overall décor is best.

Don't underestimate display shelves. These are perfect for an open show of a mix of things that you love — from postcards, pebbles and driftwood to art, ornaments and other ephemera. They work best when set within alcoves, whether naturally occurring by virtue of the architecture of a room or created as a recess between two cupboards. Make them as deep as possible so that you can layer larger pictures behind, and smaller items in front, and enjoy the ease with which they can be constantly updated.

Unexpected placements. What do you see when you wake up? When you stand in the shower? What's at the top, or bottom of the stairs? We probably look at these areas more frequently than many other spaces and yet they are often left bare. Enliven them with anything from a single picture to a small floating display shelf onto which one object of significance has been placed.

Alignment is everything. In any room, I think the tops of any large artworks should always be aligned regardless of whether they’re hung on different walls — it helps a room to feel cohesive. Smaller pieces can sit just above or below this line, and the overall sense of composition will feel consistent.

That said, I once visited a home in which about ten different sized paintings were aligned horizontally, using their bottom edges as the guide, and the whole collection was positioned such that it sat just above the top of a wide modern sofa. The jiggledy nature of the top of the paintings kept the overall impression loose, while the dead-straight line at the bottom worked perfectly with the homeowner's contemporary aesthetic — it added the necessary level of consistency to balance the differing natures of both the picture frames and the subject matter.

Whatever you love is art. There can be a tendency to think 'art' must be expensive and by someone everyone knows to be ‘proper’. No and again no! Follow your heart and let instinct be your guide. Art has to trigger something emotional inside you. But it needs no explanation, you just have to feel that you love it. And anything goes.

Some of the most precious pictures in my home are those done by my son from the moment he could splat paint on paper. They are framed and hung pride of place throughout our home. Other pieces are happily collaged together on my study wall as a more changeable way to honour his nascent creativity. It all counts, and it all adds to the joy that it is so vital to surround yourself with at home.

My golden rule. Whenever you invite a new object or artwork into your home, use it as an opportunity to swap other items around, rather than just slotting it in alongside existing things. It's amazing how different this can make a room feel.

Michelle's book, Happy Inside, is out now. And if you're looking for something to spruce up your home, take a look at our collection of wall art.

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