Picture Hanging 101

Put that hammer down, and read our advice before hanging and arranging pictures, art, and other objects.
Robert Martin

In tackling the subject, we've turned to Toni Spanos Nordan for some help. A former art gallery director, Toni has spent years hanging and arranging pieces of art for students' exhibitions and public shows. Invariably, she has drawn upon that same knowledge for displaying items in her own home, which she shares here.

  • Everything is not created equal.
    "Many people think that if you're going to hang something, you automatically need a hanger," Toni states. "But that's not always the case." For items that weigh less than 20 pounds, a long, thin nail secured at an angle works fine. Also, Toni points out that when you're dealing with a grouping of items, hangers can make the job more difficult. So, what's the best way of knowing when you can get by without a hanger? "Get out your scale, and check the weight," she advises.
     
  • Be generous with the heavy stuff.
    If a wall hanging exceeds 20 pounds, then use a hanger. "And if you choose to take an extra precaution by nailing in two hangers," Toni adds, "separate them by at least 3 inches to equally distribute the object's weight and to prevent it from hanging crooked." For additional strength, locate a wall stud with a stud finder. Because framing members are typically spaced 16 inches on center, you'll be able to secure only one hanger within a stud when nailing two.
     
  • Weigh your options.
    Besides nails and hangers, other devices are available that might suit your needs. For instance, wall anchors work best when dealing with drapery rod brackets or architectural fragments. Made out of plastic or nylon, these sleevelike plugs require a drilled hole roughly the same diameter. After tapping an anchor into the hole, insert a screw that, when tightened, expands the sleeve, creating a snug grip in the wall.
 

When hanging extra-heavy objects on gypsum drywall or plaster, use toggle bolts, particularly if you're unable to locate a stud. Like wall anchors, these require a similarly sized hole. Once inserted, spring-activated arms fold out for extra support.

Expansion bolts are another means of securing heavy pictures or objects onto gypsum drywall. These attachments can be hammered directly into the wall without creating a guide hole. If you're still in doubt about which hardware to buy, Toni's simple advice is to read the packages.

How High Can You Go?
"When hanging paintings, galleries use an arbitrary 59 or 60 inches from the floor to the center of the art, which puts it at eye level," Toni says. It's a good idea to place your central piece by this method, and position other pictures around it. "In our dining room, I asked my husband to sit in a chair so I could gauge the distance from his head to the bottom of the chandelier," explains Toni. "By determining this visual space, I then placed my art--and it worked!"