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DESIGN LINE: Framing Dos + Don’ts For Every Room

Tuesday, November 06, 2012


The proper frame takes a great piece of art and makes the room it's in all the greater. Here's how to get the most impact for your art, by giving it the frame it deserves. Photo: Larson-Juhl.

I recently hauled over forty pieces of tired-looking art away from a client’s home and headed to the custom frame store, where I spent several hours choosing the right mats, frames and glass and ensuring final dimensions fit properly on the walls.  Three weeks later, when those same pieces were hung, you may not have recognized the art: a complete transformation had occurred.

According to Dan Mechnig, president of the Providence Art Club, “framing is an art form in itself.” I could not agree more. As with any art, framing is part technical detail and part taste. But for the average person, a frame shop can be overwhelming.  Hopefully, this pared down list of technical tips will get you on your way.

The Matting

Function: A mat’s primary purpose is to protect the art by keeping the glass from touching it, so usually a mat is a must.  However, as Candita Clayton of Candita Clayton Gallery points out, works on paper can be lovely mat-free when “the piece floats in the frame as if suspended.” If you do use a mat, make sure it is acid-free to fully protect the work inside.

Style: The art itself should determine the color of the mat, so make sure you pick up on a ground color if you’re using a single mat: neutral doesn’t have to be stark white and usually looks better if it isn’t.  If you’re willing to splurge, a double mat can make an enormous difference by allowing you to highlight an accent color in a piece.

Size: The mat creates a visual separation between the art and its surroundings.  “A good rule of thumb is to increase the size of the framed artwork by approximately one third,” says Geoff Gaunt, co-owner of Providence Picture Frame. “For example, an 8x10 photo would typically need a mat with an outside measurement of at least 11x14.”

The Frame

Function: More than just to please the eye, the frame has a structural function: it has to support everything inside (mat, glass and art).

Frames should be chosen to accent the art they surround, but can also add depth to the space they are in. This frame highlights the golden tones in the painting as well as the chocolate brown tones in the room and provides a great contrast to the light, neutral wall. Photo: Larson Juhl.

Style: The frame should complement the artwork first, and the room setting second. One thing is for certain, says Michael Holland, owner of Holland’s Gallery & Framing, “The matting and frame should become part of the art—not fight with it!” It is important that the frame also complement its surroundings, but that doesn’t mean it has to match the furniture or all the other frames precisely.  Eclectic matching, when done well, is the height of high design.

Size: The frame width needs to be significantly different than the width of the mat.  “For example," says Gaunt,  “if the matting is 2” wide, you typically want to have a frame that is either far thinner or far wider than that measurement.  Otherwise the finished product will start to look ‘stripey.’”

The Glazing: Deciding which glass means thinking about ultraviolet light, glare, art conservation, etc. and can get very tricky.  Believe it or not, plexiglass may be the creme de la creme, since technology has created a clear plexi that is virtually glare-free.  Plexi or museum glass is the go-to glazing for Clayton, who feels the clear view these two offer “keeps the image crisp.” If you are on a budget, many times you can downgrade to conservation glass, depending on what’s being framed.  If you have a qualified framer doing the work, you should be able to make this decision fairly easily.

Frames can add another dimension to the interior design of a room, so while it may seem best to go simple and black, don’t forget that a frame is another “furnishing.” More often that not, like anything you may have for a very long time, a little more wow is worth the splurge.

Interior photography: Larson-Juhl

Kelly Taylor is the 2012 recipient of New England Home magazine’s “5 Under 40” award for excellence in design as well as Rhode Island Monthly magazine’s 2012 Gold Award for residential interior design.  She practices residential and commercial interior design in Providence, Rhode Island.  Please find her on Twitter at @ktidnet or visit her website at www.ktid.net.


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