Picture hanging is a long-ignored art form. But in recent years, the hook aisle at hardware stores has grown to include an encyclopedic selection of devices that can accomplish any number of feats: holding 170kg on drywall; securing frames safely above children’s beds; latching onto concrete and then moving four inches when you decide a picture could do with being pushed down a smidge. Yet many of us still hang frames on a simple nail, a strategy that horrifies the pros at galleries and museums.
“The correct method of hanging is to use D-rings,” said Marilyn Murdoch, the owner of Katayama Framing, a Portland, Ore., installation company that serves West Coast museums and galleries.
A D-ring is just what it sounds like: a metal ring shaped like the letter D that screws into the side rails on the back of a frame. The D-rings are then hung on two J-hooks attached to a wall.
The J-hook, another item of hardware that looks like it sounds and is sometimes called a “professional hanger,” is secured by three nails. It is available at hardware stores and can be used in drywall or plaster.
Museums often further secure frames with a mending plate, a device that keeps people from moving a picture and prevents it from falling off the wall during an earthquake. The plate, a piece of metal with two holes, is attached to the frame with one screw and to the wall with another.
To hang children’s art, Ms Murdoch suggested using a nail and a small magnet.
“We recently helped mount an art show of light Japanese papers,” she said. “The artist put a straight pin in the wall, then held up the paper and secured it with a little magnet, so they looked like they were floating.”
Heavier pieces, like oil paintings or large mirrors that weigh more than 70 pounds, can be attached with two cleats (usually made of wood or steel): one is screwed into the back of the frame and the other is drilled into a wall stud. The two fit together like puzzle pieces.
“Multiple cleats are safest for big things, even 500 or 1,000 pounds,” said Kent Roberts, an exhibition design manager for the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. “They’re ideal in homes because cleats can go on each stud, without having to centre the picture around the studs.”
Do-it-yourselfers can hang almost anything under 40 pounds, said Heidi Karpa, an interior designer in Chicago, but she suggests they “measure three times, hang once.”
Before she hangs anything, she said, she makes scrap paper cutouts in the shape of her frames and arranges them on the wall with tape.
“Once you know how you want your paintings laid out, go to your local hardware store and tell them what you’re hanging and what kind of wall you have, and let them help you,” she said. “There are the greatest twist-in screw things that you don’t even realize exist.”
She suggested buying hooks that can support slightly more weight than the load, particularly when hanging plants because water adds pounds.
Ms Karpa also recommends investing in an electric stud finder and laser level. “When you have a row of things to hang, you find your stud, mark your point, set the laser level and a beam shoots across,” she said.
If this sounds too intimidating, though, there’s no shame in hiring a pro.
“It’s money well spent,” said Philip Gorrivan, a Manhattan interior designer who once hung 40 engraved plates by himself when a client didn’t want to hire professional picture hangers. Although he was pleased with the result, he said, he has dreamed that the client had taken the plates off the wall “and noticed the six holes behind each one.”
“I pray that she doesn’t ever take a picture off the wall,” he said. “Professional hangers can hang a dozen smaller frames in an hour.”
Companies typically charge an hourly rate of $50, plus a service fee. (Hanging a small group of pictures might cost $110.) One way to find a professional is to call a local gallery and ask who does its hanging.
If you’re planning a wall with a lot of photographs that you might want to move around, Mr Gorrivan suggested using grasscloth as a wall covering. “It has texture and adds dimension,” he said, and most important, “you won’t see the holes.”
Many professionals hang pictures from cables suspended from the ceiling, creating a three-dimensional effect. “You get these great shadows and a feeling of art being presented to you in a different way,” Ms Murdoch said.
If you want to try doing it yourself, she suggested a picture hanging system, which comes with detailed instructions.
A similar effect can be created in a room with crown mouldings, by attaching moulding clips to two wires hanging down to frame level.
“People use fishing line, which is clear, so the wires go away,” Ms Karpa said. “I love the clip because you can reposition it.”
To some, of course, this kind of experimentation may sound all too risky. Mr Gorrivan is one of them.
After his latest experience, in which an 18th-century portrait of one of his wife’s ancestors crashed to the floor because it was not hung securely, he said, he plans to leave picture hanging to the professionals.
“We call her Elizabeth,” he said. “Elizabeth wasn’t very happy with me.”
This article appeared in the New York Times.