The Frame Game

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Imagine visiting a museum where none of the paintings and pictures hung on display had frames. You’d likely think that the art felt naked, vulnerable and incomplete – and for good reason. Truth is, a quality frame both protects and completes the image, making it appear valuable, important and unique.

Your home may not be an art gallery, but that doesn’t mean that the images you have on display aren’t worthy of extra TLC. A proper frame, in fact, can enhance your showcased art and photographs and safeguard it from the ravages of time, say the experts.

“Displaying artwork is an easy way to express yourself visually and to make your home a more comfortable and inviting environment. The right frame should complement the art and match it as well as your décor and personality,” says Josh Hubball, founder of Level Frames in New York City.

Chicago interior designer Maura Braun, president of Maura Braun Interior Design, agrees.

“A proper frame acts as an accessory to the artwork, just as a woman uses accessories to enhance her outfit,” she says.

As with most things in life, you get what you pay for: choose a cheap off-the shelf do-it-yourself frame and the end product will look cheap. Opt for higher-end materials in the frame, glass, mat and backing board as well as the expertise of a custom framing service and you’ll likely be thrilled with the result.

“I always leave the framing of my photography to the professionals. It’s very delicate work and requires precision – any slight defects or imperfections can be really distracting and devalue the art,” says Michael Joseph, a Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based professional photographer.

Selecting frame and mat materials, colors and sizes can be intimidating to a novice. That’s why it’s best to consult with a skilled framer who can guide you in the process, says Julia Marks, chief visionary officer with Picture Source Somerset, a Seattle-headquartered custom framing and art consultation firm.

“The first thing to consider is where you want your piece to hang, as placement is key to determining the size, shape and materials of the frame,” Marks says. “You need to ask questions like will it be part of a larger collection, what are the color characteristics in the room, and do you want the piece to blend with the environment or make a statement. Remember, for example, that art placed near a window with direct sunlight may cause it to fade faster.”

Braun recommends a traditional frame with details like ornate carvings, gold leaf and stained wood for traditional artwork. More contemporary art and photos work best with less traditional, more modern frame designs.

“You don’t want the frame competing for all the attention,” says Braun. “Aim to coordinate the color or finish of the frame to draw from the colors in the picture and to coordinate the style of the frame with the style of the artwork. And if you’re using a mat, pick a color from the art.”

Hubball recommends choosing a mat border that’s roughly twice the width of the frame. A wide mat is a great way to compensate for a small-sized image and make more of a visual impact.

When it comes to the glass, “select a glaze with UV-protective properties to prevent fading and yellowing over time. Choose acid-free mat boards and archival foam backing boards to help preserve your artwork, too,” adds Hubball.

Hanging hardware should be based on weight of the finished framed piece.

“Using the wrong hardware can result in your art falling off the wall and being damaged,” Marks notes. “Ask your framer for their advice, and when in doubt hire a professional installer to do the hanging job for you.”

When it’s high time for hanging, Hubball’s rule of thumb is to place the center of the image at eye level and allow at least three inches between frames placed side-by-side.

“Also, center the artwork when placing it above a large furniture piece like a sofa or console table,” Hubball says.

Lastly, be careful when maintaining your framed art.

“Use soft, damp cloths when necessary to clean the glass and remove dust. Don’t use glass cleaners or abrasives, and never spray anything directly onto the artwork, glass or frame,” says Marks. “In addition, check the hardware and make sure the staples and screws are secure before moving or rehanging elsewhere.”

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