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Style Watch

Picture, picture on the wall

From organic mash-ups to precisely planned schemes, designers share tips for groupings with impact.

Joel Benjamin

THREE VARIATIONS For this grid arrangement in a formal living space, Jane Miller framed photos from her clients’ honeymoon in identical frames.


When decorating a wall with a picture collage, also called a “salon installation,” pretty much anything goes. Oil paintings can mingle with crayon scribbles and family photos, and frames can range from chain-store cheapies to vintage beauties, as long as the arrangement is balanced. “This is a situation in which the whole truly is greater than the sum of its parts,” says interior designer Lisa Kreiling.

For a display in the second-floor hallway of her South End town house, Kreiling used the piece with the most impact as the starting point. The “big” one, she says, will “jump out at you.” And while that piece might be the largest one, it also might be the most colorful or the most ornately framed. In her own home, she placed that piece slightly off-center, then worked her way out from it, making sure all the frames were evenly spaced to keep the arrangement from looking haphazard. Choose the grouping carefully, she says. “Edit, edit, edit. People want to put everything on the wall, but that won’t always look good.”


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If your taste runs more to symmetrical arrangements or your artwork is suited to same-sized frames, a regular grid may work better for you. Jane Miller, owner of South End home boutique J.E.M., created a living room picture wall for a Brookline couple using the photographs they shot on their honeymoon safari. Miller chose identical silver frames that complemented the room’s palette of silvery blues. “This is the formal living space, so the shine of the frames amps up the drama,” she says. Consistency is key with grids; you don’t want any one work to stand out more than the next. Be sure to keep the space between the frames exactly the same.


The beauty of a picture ledge is that you can easily change the arrangement any time the mood strikes – without banging more holes in your wall. While the pieces currently displayed in the hallway of interior designer and stylist Kelly McGuill’s Walpole home are similarly framed, she’s been known to add an oil painting or funky object to the grouping. She includes personal items, too, mixing in letters from friends, kids’ art, or black-and-white photos taken when she was a girl. The largest frame holds an essay that her now-teenage son wrote when he was 10. Pieces rest on the ledge at eye level, so she can easily see whatever is displayed there (and reminisce) as she passes through.

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