Hanging Artwork :: The Ultimate Guide

Hanging Artwork :: The Ultimate Guide

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Well hello there! I have a little fix for you today that might come handy to you; a little unsolicited advice to help you shape up your homes… There are definitely two “design mistakes” designers notice when walking inside a house for the first time, even if it’s just a social call. (Let’s be honest, if you’re in this line of business you can’t help being aware – without passing judgement though – of something that doesn’t feel quite right). Hanging artwork too high and having a rug too small.

John Hemsley

And yes, they’re still very common mistakes. Which one is worst?

Personally, I think it depends, but I’m sure that artwork being hung too high gets the most popular vote! As a matter of fact, I read a post the other day called Decor Faux Pas to Fix Before Holiday Guests Arrive that mentioned artwork be hung way too high and as expected, it sparked a lot of comments from people (including myself). Apparently, a lot of people are continuing to have trouble with this controversial issue. Therefore, I decided to write these guidelines to simplify things, while taking into account all the possible factors, to help you avoid one of the most common “design mistakes” so that you can hang your artwork like a pro!

Our selection of artwork is a showcase of our personality. The way we showcase it though, also has a great deal to do with our personality. That’s a factor that most of us aren’t aware of. From my experience as a professional, I have deduced that outgoing people instinctively tend to prefer artwork being hang at eye level or a bit higher. People who are more introvert, instinctively choose to place their favorite images away from eye level to avoid direct eye contact (that usually means way too high and in fewer cases too low).

People who are perfectionists have the hardest time ever, especially if they want to create an effortlessly looking “unfinished” result. And there are also people who are generally indecisive who tend to move around their artwork one time too many and therefore, they either have too many holes on their walls or have given up at some point and left most of it on the ground against a wall, till they’re ready to “deal” with it. But, don’t worry, though I got this… Here we go!

Guide to Hanging Artwork

Ideal Hanging Height

The first thing anyone will tell you is to hang everything at eye level. What does that mean? The ideal height for an art exhibition is 58″ (1.47 meters) from the ground to the center of the image. The aim is to engage the viewer’s eye solely on the artwork. As such, the height of the ceiling is usually indifferent. Two notes to remember: a small size framed art piece draws you nearer as opposed to a large sized one. Moreover, the higher the hanging height, the furthest away someone has to stand to be able to view it in relation to the size of the piece, unless one cranes their neck. So, in order to calculate the height: determine half of the piece’s total height (h) then add it on to 58″ and next, subtract the distance (d) from the top of the artwork to the hook or wire from which it will hung or ½h+58″-d.

Via. An art gallery way too high, even for my vision line!

When it comes to a home interior though, most will argue that 60″ (1.52 meters) from the ground to the center of the image is ideal. The principal argument behind this is that artwork must not discontinue itself from the surrounding interior. However, other factors come in play like your height, your lifestyle, the ceiling’s height, floor plan distances, architectural features and furnishings. All of these dictate the actual hanging height.

My stand on this controversial issue is to serve comfort first. For example, my height is 1,75 meters; thus, my eye level (vision line) is approximately at 1.67 meters from the ground as opposed to 1.47 meters. That’s quite a difference for it means that I have to view everything lowering my neck. So, since my husband is a bit taller, we both agreed to hang everything at around 65″ (1.65 meters) from the ground to the center of the image. Coincidentally, most of our friends are also about our size and therefore, this height worked quite well for most of our artwork.

A beautiful black woman looking at some artwork on display somewhere outdoors.

Viewing distance

Our decision to hang everything at 65″ (1.65 meters) was also based upon the viewing distance. This is the distance between the piece of art on a wall and the usual standing distance away from it. It is all about the angle of the vision line. Please bear with me on this one, because it’s a crucial factor much too often overlooked. Let’s take me for example: if the artwork is somewhat small and my vision line is at 1.65 meters (65″) then if I stand fairly close to it i.e. less than a meter away, then I will end up looking down at it, creating an angle. If however, I stand a couple meters further back then, this angle becomes smaller and therefore, more comfortable.

Why does this matter? It matters when it comes to pieces that are either too large or too small compared to the rest (assuming that a consistent hanging height has been followed). It also matters when sofas are arranged in conversation islands rather than resting against a wall. Therefore, once the wall onto which the art piece will be hung has been determined, then trace the frame on a piece of paper, stick it with paint tape on the wall and check to see if it causes neck craning or lowering to an uncomfortable point from the usual viewing distance. Adjust height until it’s comfortable. Thus, the viewing distance is quite relevant and just as important as the actual hanging height.

A sketch of room with a small artwork on a wall and two different eye levels at two different distances, showing the two different viewing angles formed

Ceiling Height

Generally, the lower the artwork is hung, the higher the ceiling appears to be. The lower the artwork, the more negative space is created between the living zone (from ground up to a 2.2 meters or 7 ft 3″) to the ceiling. So far so good. If the ceiling is really high though (say over 9 ft 8″ or 3.0 meters), then what is one supposed to do about all that “extra” negative space? Do we have to fill it? No! The reason is that we simply don’t walk around the rooms with a craned neck. Hence, we’re only interested in “filling” up the living zone up to a comfortable height. Therefore, having a high ceiling is not a disadvantage. It just begs and calls for oversized artwork or a gallery wall. (I have exaggerated the size of the art piece on purpose in the images below, just to make my point more clear)!

On the other hand, ceilings may be lower than usual. That shouldn’t put anyone off in hanging large artwork. It certainly hasn’t done so in my case, and my ceiling is at 2.55 meters (8 ft 4″)! However, I have taken care to leave as much negative space left and right to compensate for the low ceiling and added more lighting.

A pin graphic showing a sofa with a small art piece vs a large art piece hanging over a grey sofa.ng a cluster of artworks over a sofa.

small artwork = large negative space | large artwork = more balance with a high ceiling

Artwork Size

What is the ideal length of an art piece that goes over a sofa? I agree with most experts on this. At least half of your sofa’s length up to 2/3 of it. It is best to go for a bigger artwork rather than a smaller one, especially against a large empty wall with a whole lot of negative space. It’s almost impossible to go wrong with a large piece as opposed to a small one that can create a feeling of “not enough.” Besides, large artwork or mirrors give that fab factor that interiors need!

Partial view of the dining room and a glimpse of a sitting room with a grey sofa and a three piece artwork hanging on the wall

Via One grouping.

Grouping and Spacing

Creating groupings or art gallery walls is a wonderful way to display things that are dear to us. Ideally, artwork groupings should be treated as one. The position and spacing between the art pieces defines the grouping as one. Too far apart means too much negative space and discontinuity. Balance and proportion in terms of the space must always be kept in mind.

A pin graphic showing a sofa with the do and don'ts for hanging a cluster of artworks over a sofa.

small spacing = no discontinuity = one unit | large spacing = discontinuity = more than one unit

A contemporary living room with a dark grey sofa against the wall and a large artwork over it.

Francesca Tosolini on Unsplash.

When placing artwork over a sofa or any other furniture piece i.e. credenza, then most call for 4″ to 6 ” above the piece (that translates to 10 – 15 cm). Believe me I get that placing artwork too low over a sofa is not very convenient. As a matter of fact it can kill any mood for relaxation should anyone bang their head on a bulky frame. So, I prefer a minimum of 6″ to 8″ or 15 to 20 cm clearance instead.

Four small artworks grouped as one over a bed.

Swabdesign official on Unsplash.

If the sofa has a low back, then I won’t hesitate the increase that clearance distance further. Moreover, I need a little more negative space to rest my eyes without feeling overwhelmed by a clutter zone! Similarly, for medium and large art pieces grouped together the spacing between them should ideally be 2″ to 3″ apart (5 to 7 cm); for smaller pieces 1.5″ to 2.5″.

Again, I tend to be a little more flexible on these distances, depending upon the frame. (This is another factor that is overlooked so often). These distances work beautifully for a minimal framing approach. But with a vintage golden framing though, these distances might have to be increased by an inch or two, to allow more negative space because of the elaborate nature of these frame designs.

Just a note for parents: toddlers, much too often find it amusing to swing frames. A good way to avoid any accidents is to fasten secure the framed pieces at the back with command strips that work like velcro. They are easy to re-attach and will ensure some piece of mind. 🙂


The bottom line is to create a sense of balance by keeping the proportions and hang artwork at a pleasing height that is comfortable and soothing. Placing art on the floor against the wall creates a “heavy” feel to it and makes it very difficult for your guest to actually look at the art and much less appreciate it. If it’s hung too high, then chances are that it won’t be very comfortable to admire. It’s a trial and error process, but if the viewing distance and angle are determined, then it’s a lot easier to adjust the hanging height and spacing distances to fit your lifestyle in a harmonious way. Don’t you think so? After all design is meant to make living bigger and more pleasurable rather than burdensome. Therefore, now would be a great time to shape up your home by re-examining the height of your artwork… Drop me a line and let me know your thoughts on this.

Stay tuned for some holiday inspiration! XO