I learned everything I know about fashion and trends from my older sister on my bedroom floor in our modest Austin, Texas home. She read all the coolest fashion magazines and kept me informed about what was in and what was out. Those nights perusing magazines took on a lot of meaning in my world. I wanted to dress the right way, use the right products, and be on the cutting edge of fashion. Getting dressed up to go to the Highland Mall was my Met Gala.
Of course, there was one end all be all authority of fashion — Vogue Magazine. I waited every year for the September issue. It was my key to everything from fashion to art and even politics. In an age without internet and cable, those pages were my window into the great big world. This magazine was filled with more than style articles…it was filled with my dreams! I can still smell it to this day. (It smells like Calvin Klein Obsession, by the way.)
Eventually, I grew up (somewhat) and moved to New York City to start my interior design career. As I walked the big city sidewalks to my first very important day at a small but well-respected design firm, I felt the pages of my childhood Vogue Magazine coming to life. I lived in the big city rubbing elbows with the most fashionable people on the planet. I even had my own landline at my new desk!
On my first day at Jeffery Bilhuber’s interior design firm, I was handed a client list. Who else was on it but Anna Wintour, the editor and chief of Vogue Magazine! As you can imagine, my inner child shrieked in disbelief. Anna is the biggest name in the fashion world. She makes or breaks careers. She sets the tone for the season. She creates the stars! If Anna decides you’re important, you’re important. If Anna says you’re chic, you’re chic.
The novel and film The Devil Wears Prada were loosely inspired by Anna Wintour and Vogue Magazine, and there is a monologue delivered on cerulean blue that brilliantly summarizes how design affects us all. (I love this defining scene so much I wrote a blog about it.)
During my years at the firm, I got to work for some of the biggest tastemakers in the world. There was something magical about being a part of these designs and being young in the big city during that time. There were many occasions when I got to step inside celebrity homes to hang pictures. Clients would often send us new pieces they picked up, and it was our job to frame and hang the works while they were off being fabulous.
Hanging these new frames often meant rearranging an entire gallery wall, sometimes nailing into gold-leafed wallpaper or hand-painted murals. It always felt like a big responsibility. Many homeowners feel the same thing when hanging up images on much more modest walls. After all, a nail feels so permanent!
Jeffrey taught me not to be a perfectionist about the process of hanging artwork but to make a decision and go for it. After all, we had a job to finish, and none of us wanted to miss happy hour at The Royalton!
Coming full circle from marveling at the pages of Vogue Magazine on the floor of my childhood bedroom, one day, Jeffrey asked me to assist him at Anna Wintour’s office at Vogue HQ. Anna had asked us to go to her office after hours to hang a signed copy of the magazine with Hilary Clinton on the cover. Once you’ve hung a piece of history on Anna Wintour’s office walls, you can pretty much master hanging any piece of artwork.
4 Tips for Hanging Art I Learned in Anna Wintour’s Office
The experience of working with Jeffrey and learning how to approach hanging art is something that has stuck with me throughout my design career. There are many debates out there about the best ways to hang art. Here are my 4 tips for hanging art that I learned in Anna Wintour’s office that night.
1. Hang Art for Easy Viewing
The biggest lesson I learned about hanging art in Anna Wintour’s office is that art should be hung for easy viewing. Eye level is typically the rule of thumb most people refer to. However, most folks don’t realize that pictures in residential settings need to be hung at eye level while seated. Think about how you use the spaces in your home. More often than not, we are sitting at a table, on a sofa, or at a desk.
Typically, art should be hung with a span of 57 inches from the center of the artwork to the floor or four to six inches above furniture. Like all rules, these measurements are just a guide and can be broken. The interior designers at our Austin studio prefer to hang artwork lower because it makes ceiling heights appear taller. Now that you know the secret, pay attention to the level pieces are hung in different settings. You should be able to easily view an art piece without craning, tilting your neck, or moving.
2. Arrange Art Around Furniture Rather Than Architecture
When hanging artwork, it is essential to consider the accompanying furniture and decor in a room rather than the architecture of the space. In other words, the best places to hang art are dictated by your furniture placement. For example, hanging art-centered over a bed or next to a reading chair is a better way to form a composition than placing the art center of a wall with no context. Plan the layout of a room first to see how people will use the space and engage with the art. Then, accent and create vignettes with your favorite pieces.
3. Show Off Meaningful Pieces of Artwork to Tell a Story
When curating an art collection for your home, my team of Austin interior designers and I recommend finding pieces that resonate with you emotionally. Instead of buying copycat imagery from a big box store, shop local artists, break out the family heirlooms, or display your proud signed copy of Vogue Magazine with Hilary on the cover! Your artwork should have meaning and tell a story, and that doesn’t equate to it being expensive. Some of my favorite pieces are items passed down to me and photos of my family.
4. Create a Balanced Composition of Art Pieces
The difference between an amateur and professional-looking wall composition is balance. Balance can be symmetrical or asymmetrical and should be applied to both individual art groupings and art placement throughout the room as a whole. Different spaces require different strategies. Maybe you ground the area with one oversized canvas or create a curated gallery wall. Maybe your artwork pulls colors from furnishings and accessories, or perhaps it serves as a bold contrast. Consider how your art pieces work with the entire scheme and create a plan that yields the most impact.
When in doubt, ask yourself, “what would Anna do?”
Amity Worrel is an award-winning interior designer based in Austin, Texas. She has worked on high-end interior design projects for celebrities and tastemakers in NYC, LA, and the Bahamas. In 2008, Amity decided to bring her passion for diverse design back to her hometown of Austin. Her spaces pull from timeless design concepts ranging from coastal contemporary to cozy cottage to Austin eclectic. Emotional connections, functional flow, and a touch of humor remain central to every interior design scheme. Her work has been published in national and local publications, including The Wall Street Journal, House Beautiful, HGTV Magazine, Better Homes and Gardens, and Austin Home. In her free time, she loves perusing estate sales and diving into design history. Learn more about Amity.