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Don’t let wall hang-ups hang you up

March 1, 2012

We freeze when it comes to a few everyday details around our homes, such as hanging art and draperies. The thought of peppering the wall with nails from feeble attempts is a downer.

As for securing heavier objects — mirrors and cabinets — we often don’t do it ourselves because we’re afraid they’ll be crooked or come crashing down.

So we called on the pros to help us conquer these trip-up tasks. They showed us the correct way to measure and how high to hang the hardware.

With practical steps in hand, you’ll be armed with ways to save time, money and the aggravation of patching holes before repainting the walls — again.

• Mirror glass can weigh eight times more than picture-framing glass, so ask for “idiot hooks,” says Philip Graham, manager at Westport Glass & Mirror in Kansas City, Kan.

“They’re foolproof … adjustable and easier to hang than D-ring hardware.”

• Employ the buddy system. Two people are better than one because of the heft.

• If a mirror is especially large and heavy, ask for Z-bar hardware: One piece attaches to the wall, another to the back of the mirror. It anchors the mirror to the wall and prevents it from tilting forward.

Nothing stops an eye like curtains hung too low, which make a room seem shorter. Shawna Hampton of Modern Haven Interiors in Olathe, Kan., says:

• In a room with average ceiling height, install hardware 3 to 4 inches above the top window trim.

• Hang hardware 5 inches or higher above the window if you have high ceilings.

• Floor-length store-bought drapery starts at 84 inches and can go up to 108 inches or more. Take into account where you want the foot of your drapery to land — either gracefully “knuckling” at the floor for a traditional look or stopping at the floor for a modern feel.

• If you’re using clip rings, consider the extra length they might add.

For ready-made treatments:

• Measure the height and width of your window in three separate places: top, middle and bottom for width and at each third for height.

If any of the measurements is different, use the smallest one for width and the largest for height to make sure the treatment fits appropriately. This is vital for inside mount treatments, such as blinds and shades.

• If you have multiple windows that appear to be the same size, you should still measure them individually.

For custom draperies:

• Measure the width of the entire window, including any trim (in three places).

• Measure the height from the top of the window trim to the bottom of the apron under the sill (in three places). Measure the height from floor to top of window trim for floor-length draperies.

• Measure outside of the window trim to side obstructions (walls, doors, light switches) to determine how much stack back — amount of drapery that overlaps the wall on each side of the window — to allow.

A cable system — rather than rods — for draperies is gaining popularity for its minimalist look and space-saving ability.

Find them online from West Elm or Ikea, or make them from parts found at a hardware store or home warehouse.

You’ll need sturdy steel cable, two heavy-duty screw-in hooks, two turnbuckles, wire cutters and wall anchors (the cable can be cut to length in the store or with a small cable cutter).

The system is good not just for windows but also for dividing a large room into a smaller niche — for example, curtaining off a bedroom in a studio apartment.

More of us are downsizing, which leaves less wall space for art. Another challenge is that many of us don’t have one piece large enough to dominate an entire wall.

The solution: salon-style art hanging, a floor-to-ceiling collage. In French, “salon” refers to a gathering place for an exchange of ideas.

Designer Jonathan Adler says he loves the salon solution because it gives presence to petite pieces.

But the look can go hodgepodge in a hurry.

“Anchoring a wall with three larger pieces is a great strategy,” Adler says.

Professional art consultant and installer Jackie Warren of Kansas, Mo., City agrees.

“Then you can build on a collection and add to it over the years,” says Warren, owner of Artistic Solutions.

Adler has salon-style art tips in his book “Jonathan Adler on Happy Chic Accessorizing” (Sterling Innovation, $17.95). “Think of the ensemble as one big artwork.”

• Composition: Start at the center and work outward, leaving roughly even spacing between pieces. The more disparate the artworks, the better.

Balance size and frame weight, alternating big and small, vertical and horizontal, to create rhythm and balance.

• Placement: Go floor to ceiling, or group objects loosely in the center of the wall. Just beware of hanging too low (where pets and young children might jostle it) or right above a sofa (where anyone could disturb the arrangement).

• Integration: Rather than stress about navigating art around your decor, incorporate furnishings and include lampshades and even TVs into the arrangement (this “hides” the flat screen by surrounding it with canvases).

• Unification: Warren helped marketing consultant Linda Adams Naftel of Overland Park, Kan., hang art in her stairwell.

Though the media is disparate (ceramics, photography, pastels), Naftel chose to arrange them salon-style by theme: figures in the upper half of the stairwell and landscapes in the lower half.

• Map it. Art-installation consultant Jackie Warren’s favorite planning method is to lay everything out on the floor. It’s much easier than cutting out paper templates and taping them to the wall.

Move things around until you settle on the most pleasing layout.

• Measure for art. Measure 60 inches up from the floor to the center of the first piece you hang. If you have low ceilings, that number can go down to 58 inches.

Avoid hanging anything too high, which looks awkward and brings the room down with it.

• Handy hardware. When it comes to picture hangers and nails, the ones you find at the hardware store work fine; just buy according to the weight of the framed piece.

With plaster walls, Warren uses painters tape, making a small crisscross where the nail and picture hanger will go to prevent cracking. And she pre-drills into the tape, using a tiny bit.

Ceramic pieces are typically pre-drilled so a professional art framer can wire it; then screws or a picture hanger will work.

When it comes to hanging groups of art at the same height, it’s important to have a level.

“Make sure to measure each individual work of art, because the picture wire on the back is installed at different heights,” Warren says.

• Go easy on the nails. Homeowners are asking for track systems (about $200 for a 12-foot track) with adjustable cables and hooks, Warren says.

They are common in restaurants and offices and are handy for people who don’t want to mess with re-nailing and re-painting as art is switched out.

“One client likes it for his kids’ artwork,” she says.