Add the Power of Art to Your Office

| Office Design

Oct 2 2013

It’s not just a pretty thing or a nice-to-have. Collecting and displaying art in your office creates a meaningful, memorable connection between your business and everyone who walks through your door.

Art touches our emotions in ways that interpersonal communication doesn’t. The emotional qualities evoked by your space, your furniture, and your décor enhance what your clients and customers feel about you and the goods or services you provide.

You don’t have to go out on an extravagant spree to get started. Photographs, prints and posters can be dressed up quite nicely with matting, glass, and a frame. Start with one or two, and add something new every year.

Selecting art for your office is easy: choose a theme

One way to start thinking about what art to purchase is to choose a theme that relates to your business, to your surroundings, or to your community interests and values. When you visit stores and galleries, in person or online, you can watch for art that fits your office focus. A theme guides your purchases and gives meaning and impact to your result.

Observe the art in other peoples’ work spaces to inspire your own theme idea. Some office art I’ve seen recently:

  • A plastic surgeon with a Greek surname displays replicas of ancient Greek sculpture in his waiting room. It relates to his heritage, and it subtly refers to ancient Greek ideas about human perfection.
  • An advertising agency that is active in and supportive of its community exhibits the work of a new local artist each month in their lobby, and invites the public to a monthly opening.
  • A lawyer, interested in history, displays replicas of historic documents.
  • A beauty salon shows contemporary, abstract paintings that all fit their chosen color palette.
  • A rural grain salesman displays a collection of miniature tractors in his office.

  • Presentation and Preservation

    Good matting and framing will make your art look spectacular. But that’s not all. It preserves your art, protects it from damage, and provides a method for hanging it on the wall.

    Matting and framing is not inexpensive, but it is durable. You can expect a frame to last more than 25 years, so while your initial investment seems steep, the cost is negligible when distributed over time. There are also do-it-yourself frame shops that provide you with materials, instruction, and a space to build your frames, without labor costs.

    Works on Paper Need Matboard and Glass

    Drawings, watercolors, and photographs— anything produced on paper— should be matted and framed under glass or acrylic glass. The glass protects the artwork from physical damage. Use glass with UV or other protective treatment for art that will hang on sunlit walls.

    Layering for artwork

    The matboard, or mat, does several things. It provides visual space around the art and keeps it flat and presentable. It also keeps the art from touching, and potentially sticking to, the glass. Your mat selection can become a design element in your office. Choose mats of the same color for continuity, or spice things up with a variety of colors or textures.

    Matboard should measure at least two inches on each side of a picture (more for art that is 18 x 24 inches or larger). Less space between the picture and frame looks skimpy.

    Mat Measure

    When all the edges of the matboard are the same width the bottom edge will look thinner because an optical illusion occurs. The solution is easy: make the bottom mat edge wider than the sides and top, like the mat on the left.

    Original work on paper should be museum mounted with matboard made of 100 percent rag material. The acid content in paper-based mats will discolor and destroy your art over time.

    Hanging Other Art, like Paintings and Quilts

    Small paintings on panels or canvas are sometimes matted and framed (glass is not necessary, and can promote deterioration with certain paints). Larger paintings are usually put in a frame only; those with a gallery-wrapped stretcher frame (no nails or staples show on the sides) don’t need a frame at all. If left unframed, paintings should be handled with care, as paint can chip easily.

    Fabric pieces, like needlework or quilts, often have their own hanging systems, or can be mounted and framed in a number of interesting ways. Browse frame shops for an idea of their capabilities.

    A Word About Wire

    Unless the piece of art is terrifically small and lightweight, sawtooth hangers affixed to the top of the frame are notorious for tipping sideways and falling off walls. There are other ways to hang art, but a properly positioned and wrapped wire over the right sized picture hanger (a special hook nailed into the wall) is a sturdy and reliable combination.

    Both wire and hanger should be capable of holding the weight of your art piece. Screw eyes (also of a size based on the weight of the art) should be placed one-third of the height of the art from the top, centered in the frame. The wire should be pulled taut across the back, double- or triple-looped around the screw eye, and wrapped tightly.

    Wire placement

    Wire shown placed too high on the frame and not tight enough across the back.

    Wire placement

    Wire is tight across the back and at a proper distance from the top of the frame.


    Wire should be wrapped neatly, with coils close to each other, like the top example. Screw eye should be perpendicular to the wire.

    Displaying Art: Plan Your Wall Space

    Work spaces and offices range from being as cozy and quaint as a lakeside cottage to those with vast stretches of flat wall broken by steel-framed windows. There are an equal number of ways to hang art. My personal preference is to keep things uncrowded and at a good viewing level. However, I’ve seen walls full of art, from floor to ceiling, that fill me with awe and delight.

    Consider your business image and your art theme. A serious lawyer might want to stick to a more conservative display to convey a reassuring and reliable attitude, while a lively restaurant down the street can afford to be more playful and fun.

    Before you bring out the hammer and picture hangers, trace your art pieces on large sheets of colored paper (brown kraft paper works well), and cut them out. Use painter’s or designer’s tape (both can be removed easily without taking paint or wallpaper with them), and stick the paper facsimiles to the wall. Then step back and take stock, moving the paper until you’ve got it where you want it. You can measure and attach your picture hangers to the wall right on top of the paper. Just tear it away and hang the art in its place.

    Rules of Thumb

    In general, large art pieces look best centered on big wall spaces, or centered over large pieces of furniture or cabinetry. You can cluster smaller works together to create a large impression. Choose smaller pieces for small wall spaces, or for hanging over smaller furniture pieces.

    Painting Placement

    Art over a sofa should be at least two-thirds the width of the sofa. Smaller pieces look lost.

    Painting Placement - Row

    A grouping of art is as effective as a single large piece. Space between frame edges should be consistent, two to four inches. Hanging similarly sized art in an even row gives a more conservative appearance.

    Painting Placement - Gallery Wall

    For a fun grouping of multiple pieces and different sizes, begin close to the center with the largest piece, and work outward until the grouping feels balanced. Maintain even spacing between each piece.

    Painting Placement - Gallery Wall

    Hang smaller art in small wall spaces or over narrower pieces of furniture.

    How High Should Art Hang?

    Most people tend to hang their art too high on the wall. The vertical midpoint of the art should be at eye level (the average is 54 to 58 inches from the floor). In areas where people are seated, like reception lobbies and conference rooms, artwork can be placed at a lower height, 46 to 50 inches from the floor.

    Painting Placement - Eye Level

    Art, centered vertically at an average eye level, is the perfect height for viewing.

    Once your art is up, sit back and enjoy! It will benefit you as well as your visitors and guests, enriching your space, your work and your life.

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