There are few things that make a house feel like home quite like hanging art—even if your space is a rental. While most leases will have you agree not to drill into the drywall (at least not without patching the holes when you move out), living in a home with bare walls can be disheartening. So, when you decide to take the plunge and hang something anyway, you want to make sure you do it right to minimize the potential damage (and avoid having to put multiple holes in the wall).
Enter the 57 inches rule of hanging art, which ensures nothing is too high or low. Applied carefully, this rule will make sure you hang pictures and other wall decor perfectly every time. But why 57 inches?
Meet the Expert
- Kristi Kohut is an artist and founder at Hapi Art.
- Robyn Vegas works at the Business for the Arts of Broward in Florida.
- Francesca Fiumano is a co-founder of Fiumano Clase, a contemporary art gallery in London.
- Alice Zavelsky works with the Affordable Art Fair.
- Heather McKeown is the founder of Land and Sky Designs.
57 Inches Is Eye-Level
As Kristi Kohut, artist and founder at Hapi Art, explains, “The 57 inches rule is a terrific standard to use when hanging art. This means that the center of the artwork should be 57 inches from the ground and helps to align the art to eye level. When used throughout your home, it can create balance and harmony amongst an art collection.”
The reason 57 inches is the magic number is that this is considered to be an approximate average eye height and is commonly used in art galleries and museums, as well as by interior designers.
Robyn Vegas of the Florida-based Business for the Arts of Broward is a firm believer in the 57 inches rule. “Nothing makes me want to grab a hammer and re-hang a picture more than seeing it hung too high,” she says. “The 57 inches rule has never let me down.”
It’s Great for Beginners
Francesca Fiumano, co-founder of London’s contemporary art gallery Fiumano Clase, notes that the 57 inches rule is great for beginners: “The 57 inches rule is a great starting point for collectors who do not have a great deal of experience in hanging works in their home. It can provide a uniform feel in larger rooms, hanging different shapes and sizes with the same mid-eye line.”
It’s an Ideal Baseline
Alice Zavelsky of the Affordable Art Fair notes that the 57 inches rule works for hanging anything, not just art—and it’s also an ideal jumping-off point for placing art.
“[I] find that using it as a baseline allows me to begin thinking outside the box of traditional design. As standard art hanging advice goes, the 57 inches rule allows for a clean and clear curation that creates a very accessible viewing experience,” she says.
It’s Not a Hard and Fast Rule
When asked if she recommends using the 57 inches rule to hang art, Heather McKeown, founder of Land and Sky Designs, says yes and no. “Every piece of art and every room is unique, so although the 57 inches rule is a great baseline for what height to hang art, I do not follow it,” she says.
Instead, McKeown encourages people to go with their instinct. “The height needs to feel ‘right’ to you, the individual who will be the one enjoying this art 90 percent of the time," she says. "If your eyeline naturally falls higher or lower than 57 inches, the art placement may forever feel awkward to you.”
It’s also worth considering who else lives in your home. ”Often, we have clients where the [couple] are different heights, so we take the average of their eyelines and center the piece at that point,” McKeown explains.
Fiumano agrees. “All rules are made to be broken! Each space is unique, especially within the home. Perhaps an artwork is to hang above a piece of furniture—in this case, it is best to work ‘by eye,’” she says, adding, “Children’s sticky fingers may also be a consideration.”
You Can Use It to Anchor a Gallery Wall
If you're considering using the 57 inches rule on your art gallery, then you need to decide which piece will act as your anchor. "Personally, I’m not that into symmetry when it comes to balancing a gallery wall,” Zavelsky says. “I’ll typically start with the largest or most striking piece I have that will act as the focal point and build from there.”
If you're unsure of where you want your anchor piece to go, Zavelsky had advice for that, too. “I choose which side is furthest from windows, taller furniture, or anything else that can pull attention from the artwork, [and] hang it at 57 inches." She then places the other pieces so they radiate from there.
It Might Depend on Your Wall Finish
“I’ve had four different apartments in New York City, and they have all brought me new challenges to hanging my art and have caused me to break the 57 inches rule,” Zavelsky says.
“At my current apartment, half of the walls have unsealed, exposed brick, which aesthetically is very in vogue, but fundamentally difficult to drill or hang anything on," she says. "I’ve invested in some brick clips that hold onto an individual brick and grip the open mortar space, so I’ve been hanging my collection wherever the clip fits and is most stable ... which is anywhere but 57 inches!”
Consider the Size of Your Piece
While the height of your average viewer may be worth considering, the scale of the art itself is just as important. McKeown told us that smaller art, on average, can go lower than you might expect.
“Don’t be afraid to hang smaller art much lower than expected to create a surprise vignette,” she says. “Perhaps near a reading chair and side table.”
Alternately, Fiumano points out that large art might present different challenges: “If you are hanging a very large work, you will have to think about distance from the floor/ceiling and other architectural features. Very few of us live in perfect white boxes.”
Every Mistake Can Be Fixed
While experimenting with different heights can be daunting, Fiumano encourages everyone not to feel too stressed out. “Hanging artworks can feel very daunting,” she says. “I have been handling art for over 20 years, so for me, it is second nature. Don’t be afraid of getting it wrong the first time!
"Polyfiller [or spackle] is your best friend," she says. "A spirit level is also [a must], as is a good drill, a sturdy hammer, and, most importantly, taking your time. Ask someone to hold the work in the space for you so you can have a look.”
The 57 Inches Rule Isn't the Only Art Rule
While the 57 inches rule is one of the better-known rules of hanging art, there are others worth considering. “If you’re installing a piece directly over a couch or bed, you’ll want to give yourself about 8 to 10 inches from the top of the furniture to the bottom of the artwork,” Zavelsky says.
No matter how high you hang your art, McKeown has a rule for hanging a gallery wall or a collection in a grid layout. “I recommend spacing rather tightly, approximately 2 inches apart, rather than trying to spread out over the whole wall," she says.
And as always, the size and scale are key. “I like to use the 75 percent size rule when hanging art over furniture,” Kohut says. “This means that the width of the art should be about 75 percent of the width of the furniture. But don’t be afraid to get creative! Rules are meant to be a guide and sometimes going against the grain can create really interesting, powerful displays of art.”
“Measure Twice, Drill Once!”
Zavelsky is a strong proponent of “measure twice, drill once!” when it comes to hanging art.
“This is particularly wise for people who don’t own their apartment or home. You want to reduce the number of holes you make in a wall, and you’ll feel like a pro when you get it right the first time,” she says. “Also, if you have a heavier artwork, use an anchor! They’re incredibly easy to install and will save you the headache and anxiety of wondering whether your piece will fall off the wall.”
When it comes to the 57 inches rule, one thing’s for sure: It’s a great solution when you can’t quite decide where to hang a piece. “When in doubt, use the rule!” Vegas says. “It really is a magic wand in your art tool bag.”
But most importantly, as Kohut tells us: “Art is meant to bring joy to your works, so don’t be afraid to play and have a little fun with it.”