How to hang pictures on a wall with a patterned wallpaper

A funky, unusual, extravagant wallpaper pattern does not necessarily clash with pictures, posters, or photographs. Au contraire - the combination of both elements can be extremely appealing and attractive, just as long as a few basic rules are observed. The main aim is to create a sense of harmony and continuity.

British interior designer Tricia Guild runs an internationally renowned lifestyle company and is a huge fan of combining large-scale pattern wallpapers with pictures. For her, a good dose of English eccentricity provides an interesting creative potential. This blog will explain how your favourites pictures, paintings and photographs will shine and even be emphasised by your patterned wallpaper.

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Pictures on the wall: Statement and expression of your own style

"Wall pictures" come in many variations, for instance: posters, art prints, art or family photographs, graphic art, drawings, watercolours, canvas prints, oil or acrylic paintings, and collages. But all of these wall decorations have one thing in common: They have been lovingly selected, bought or home-made and are a reflection of the home-owner's personal taste. After all, nobody would put something up on their walls unless they like it! What people hang on their walls reflects their own preferences, interests, ideas and values. It is a visual means of expression for thoughts, opinions and emotions.

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Pictures on patterned wallpapers - it all depends on order and structure

Pattern wall décor and pictures in all sorts of variations can be a match made in heaven - just as long as there is some order and structure. Due to the fact that the choice of wallpaper patterns, motifs and designs as well as the variety of pictures for walls is almost endless, there are no standard rules.

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However, there are some guidelines that will help create a harmonious overall picture. Without structure and order, the eye can easily be overwhelmed and an underlying sense of discomfort could be the result. When it comes to deciding which picture(s) to hang on the patterned underground, it pays to trust your intuition. Just try a few variations by holding pictures up on the wall. For more flexibility, you can place the pictures on pieces of furniture or a shelf.

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Of course it makes no sense to just cover your entire new patterned wallpaper with paintings etc. This will do neither your wall nor your pictures justice and creates visual chaos. Less is more, as the old saying goes.

However, there is one exception: a spacious staircase, where the walls can take on the function of a gallery. In British country manors, the grand entrances or stairways are often decorated with high-quality pattern wallpapers which creates a beautiful backdrop for a collection of family portraits and landscapes etc. A colourful but effective style mix that still manages to create a harmonious and coherent atmosphere - simply due to the nature of the space. Stairways or entrances are mere passage areas and one doesn't usually remain there for any length of time. Of course, other rules apply to living rooms, studies or bedrooms. In those rooms, the subconscious is always aware of wallpaper and pictures alike, even when we don't focus our eyes on them.

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The following hints and tricks will help you create a harmonious balance between wallpaper pattern and pictures whilst hopefully providing you with some inspiration.

Wallpaper patterns and picture motifs

There are two main options to choosing the right mix of wallpaper and pictures: a common theme or a striking juxtaposition.

For instance, the wallpaper pattern might be reflected in the pictures, or there might be a connection with the pattern theme. An Art Deco pattern can hugely benefit from prints or paintings by artists of the time, like Alfons Mucha or Gustav Klimt, or decorative Art Deco posters, black-and-white photographs or postcards.

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Retro wallpapers with unusual graphic/geometric patterns create a stylish background for relevant motifs of the respective art period: Stars, product design, classic cars, movie posters, etc. Depending on the decade represented by the wallpaper, Op Art or Pop Art pieces could also be a fitting option. A romantic floral wallpaper is perfect for motifs taken from nature or popular themes like love or nostalgia.

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On the other side of the (interior design) coin is the juxtaposition, the celebration of contrasts between the wallpaper pattern and the picture motif. The magic phrase here is "style clash". Abstract modern art on a Baroque-style wallpaper? A naturalistic drawing of a proud stag on a geometric wallpaper? The possibilities are almost endless, as long as you are comfortable with the combination. Give it a try and hold possible candidates up on the wall or place them on a piece of furniture to gauge the effect. Your instinct will give you reliable answers to all your questions.

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Colours in wallpapers and pictures - how to create a harmonious effect

Should colours match or provide contrast? These are the questions that determine if pictures and patterned wallpaper "get along". An easy solution is provided by black-and-white pictures which will work with just about every wallpaper pattern. Depending on wallpaper colours, monochrome (black-and-white) is also a great choice for passepartouts and frames and creates a matching - or contrasting - connection. Frames in precious metal hues like gold, silver, bronze or aluminium are very suitable means of contrast which provide a soft transition between different pattern and picture colours.

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Ideally, the pattern of the wallpaper and the picture share one or more identical colours. Even though the pattern is "interrupted" by the picture, there is a recurrent theme which connects both elements. This can also be achieved by using frames in the same colour as the predominant wallpaper hue. For instance, if turquoise is dominant in the pattern, the frame(s) should also be in the same colour.

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Large pictures v small pictures: Frames and arrangement

Pattern wallpapers and pictures should never affect each other negatively, and both should be pleasing to the eye. The main factors to look out when arranging pictures are the size and number of pictures as well as their frames.

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Posters, prints, placards, drawings, watercolours and photographs are usually framed and protected from dust and other pollutants by glass or perspex/acrylic plastic. In terms of modern frames, wood, plastic and aluminium are most common. For fans of baroque or antique (look) frames, there is a huge choice of original or imitation models which look fantastic on a funky or unusual wallpaper pattern because they provide a fabulously unconventional style clash.

In addition, frameless picture holders are available in a large number of formats and sizes. The back is usually made of plywood and metal clips hold a glass plate in place.

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Posters, placards and banners can be put up on the wall with poster rails. This provides a great solution for unusual formats, lengths and sizes. Furthermore, this solution is both cool and informal as the pictures aren't in a rigid and immobile frame.

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Oil and acrylic paintings as well as photo and art prints which are mounted on stretcher frames have a very modern and purist feel. These days, family photographs can also be mounted on canvas and make a lovely personal addition to any home. For art and photo prints, there are some popular lightweight alternatives to canvas, e.g. Alu-Dibond, Forex and acrylic glass. These do not need to be framed.

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And this is how to arrange your pictures according to factors like size, number, framed or unframed:

Small-format pictures

  • Pictures in small formats can be arranged in a group and should be placed in a central position on the wall. This could, for instance, be by a chest of drawers, a lowboard or highboard, or a desk or bureau. If there are no pieces of furniture in the area where you want to place your pictures, the middle of the wall is a good place to start.

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  • For pictures arranged in groups of this nature, it is important to make sure that there is a clear structure. This means they can be arranged in a straight line next to each other, beneath each other, or slightly misaligned. Make sure the distance between pictures is always the same. Another option is to arrange pictures in a group that forms an imaginary geometric shape, e.g. a square, rectangle, circle or diagonal. Placing a couple of "strays" to the top, bottom, right or left of the group provides additional interest and a cheeky departure from conventionalism.

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  • This arrangement works for framed and unframed pictures alike. For framed pictures, please remember to consider whether you want the colours to match or clash with the wallpaper. The frames can be the same format and material, but you can also mix different formats and materials.

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  • Small pictures/photographs can be combined to create a larger motif - simply add them to a large frame. Passepartouts can harmonise or contrast with the pattern colours of the wallpaper. Example: Three small photographs (10 x 15 cm) are set in a frame of 30 x 30 cm (including passepartouts. Small pictures can be hung in a vertical or horizontal row.

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Large-format pictures

  • It goes without saying that mural-sized pictures are unsuitable for patterned wallpapers as they would simply cover them.
  • The most important aspect to consider is the relation between width and height of the wall and the format of the picture. A long and high wall would allow for two to three large pictures of about 30 x 120 cm. On the other hand, a picture or painting sized 150 x 150 cm should remain solo on a reasonably large pattern wall, and placed in a central position or by a large piece of furniture.

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  • Medium-sized pictures, e.g. 40 x 50 cm, 50 x 60 cm or 80 x 80 cm, can be arranged in pairs, in threes or fours (preferably of the same format), depending on the height and width of the wall. A coherent arrangement of the pictures (i.e. not spread out randomly) and the same sizes and frames are the decisive factors for a harmonious overall appearance.

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Combining pictures of various sizes

  • A group of small pictures here, a large painting there = a recipe for a disquiet atmosphere. If your aim is to create a connection between wall decorations and wallpaper pattern, it is important to arrange all pictures in a coherent fashion. Here is an example of how to get it right: One of the paintings you would like to hang on the wall is 80 x 80 cm. You would also like to add two smaller pictures (20 x 30 cm and 30 x 30 cm). First, position the large painting in the middle of the wall. Now place the 30 x 30 cm picture above right of the first one. The 20 x 30 cm picture should now be placed underneath it, so that it is flush with the bottom edge of the large painting and the side of the top picture.
  • We recommend arranging the pictures on the floor first until you have found your favourite position for each of them.

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Our tip: Wallpapers with frame designs

The extensive range in our Wallpaper Shop includes some beautiful wallpapers with frame designs. For instance, our models Frames or Familjen feature empty frames in various styles to which you can add your own pictures. Due to the fact that the base colours are black and white, you can choose just about any picture.

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Alternatively, we offer some gorgeous models that appear like a ready-made picture wall with themes like "animals" or "nature". Wallpaper Silas combines a number of motifs to create a harmonious picture - the perfect solution for those who like variety without having to burden themselves with issues like selection, hanging and balanced visual appearance.

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