Smart Decorating Tricks for Any Space, Part IFour designers give their expertise on interior decorating in this two-part series. These tips will help any new homeowner achieve the look and feel they want in any room.

Rules for an Art Wall

Known for designing elegant, classical spaces, Bunny Williams has a special genius for grouping artwork. The advice here is for a salon-style hanging in an entryway, but Williams’s formula can transform any blank wall.

Height and Width

A cluster of artwork needs an anchor, like a console or a settee, and the item you choose will help determine the display’s dimensions. In general, the top edge of the highest frame should be about seven feet from the floor, and the lowest piece should end five to six inches above the furniture, with the center of the arrangement at eye level. Let the edges of the outermost frames extend three to six inches beyond the sides of the furniture.

Size and Specs

Mix rectangular and square pieces of art, choosing mainly works of similar size. The exception: You’ll need one piece that’s a third larger than the rest to ground the vignette; it can sit in the center or to one side. To add dimension, opt for a variety of mediums (watercolors, photographs, sketches), scale (some close-ups, some pulled-back perspectives), and frame styles and colors (but keep the frame widths comparable).

The Space Between

“The more tightly you group art, the more impact it has,” says Williams. In fact, a close-fitting collection can be greater than the sum of its parts. It reads like a deliberate, related display rather than a bunch of random pieces. So leave just two to three inches between frames.

Rules for the Living Room

Striking a balance between comfort and design in this hardworking area can be a challenge. Decorator Brad Ford has your number(s) for living in harmony, whether your space is symmetrical or free-form.


“If your rug just fits under the coffee table, it’s too small,” says Ford. Look for a style that spans close to 60 percent of the room, leaving at least 12 inches of floor space all around. And don’t forget to factor in furniture. If your sofa has a skirt or sits very low to the ground, keep all four legs on or off the rug. Higher models with distinct legs can sit with the front legs on and the back legs off, if you like.

Art Above the Sofa

“Art should never be the same width as the sofa,” says Ford. A better setup: Choose a painting or a print that’s two-thirds as wide as the couch, and position it so that its midpoint is about 60 inches from the floor and centered. The bottom edge should be 8 to 10 inches above the sofa back.

Coffee Table

As with artwork, the optimal coffee-table size is determined by the sofa. Go for one that’s two-thirds as wide as the sofa and a couple of inches lower than the seats (typically 14 to 16 inches high). “Leave 18 inches between the table and seats so that people can walk by but still reach their drinks,” says Ford. Side tables should be the same height or a few inches shorter than sofa arms.

Throw Pillows

Deck out a standard seven-foot sofa with three 20-inch-square pillows. Put two on one side and one on the other; an odd number is best so the look isn’t too perfect. Try a different pattern for each, or pair a matched set (say, in a bold motif) with one that contrasts (in a subtle print, like a pinstripe). On a love seat, two throw pillows will suffice.


For table lamps near sofas and chairs, make sure that the bottom of each shade is at eye level when you’re sitting. Otherwise you and your guests will end up staring (and squinting) at bare bulbs. “I like the middle of the shade to be 36 to 42 inches from the ground,” says Ford.

After getting settled in your new home, follow these easy tricks to decorate your space in a practical way. Keep an eye out for part II next week!

Source:  Virginia Johnson