Artwork is the “icing on the cake” for interior spaces. It can serve as the inspiration that defines your design style or the finishing touch that pulls everything together. Selecting the right artwork is particularly important for commercial applications to reinforce your brand, strengthen local connections and ultimately create a positive experience.
Nature Rules! Since we’ve been involved in a number of senior care and healthcare settings, we have a particular respect for the positive impacts nature artwork can provide. In the book, Putting Patients First, Roger Ulrich and Laura Gilpin recommend artwork for healthcare settings that depicts landscapes, tranquil water, calm weather and warmer seasons. A number of studies by Roger Ulrich, Ph.D., EDAC, and others have documented not only a preference for nature scenes among hospital patients, students and office workers, but also positive outcomes such as reduced stress, lessened anger/aggression and improved well-being. And the inverse is also true, abstract artwork is the least liked among people of all ages and has been shown to stimulate negative emotions.
Keep it in Context: Artwork selections should reflect, or even guide, the overall design style as well as respect for regional context. Particularly for commercial applications, artwork installations highlighting elements associated with the region’s heritage or featuring local artists are often well received and reflect your organization’s support of the local marketplace. That’s not to say that you cannot ever use nautical artwork in an urban location, but the color palette and style should be consistent with the rest of your décor in that area. Consider using works by the same artist or pieces that have a common style to bring cohesiveness and a sophisticated unity to your spaces.
Keep it Positive: Provocative artwork should be avoided for most commercial applications. Artwork plays a key role in reinforcing the experience you are trying to create and obviously you want to avoid an unsettling or uncomfortable experience. The problem with selecting controversial or challenging works that very well may reflect a higher level of complexity and refinement is that they are less likely to offer broad consumer appeal.
Size Matters: Determine how much space you have available and select pieces that are appropriately scaled. Larger pieces are typically better suited for commercial settings. If you need to incorporate smaller pieces, you can group several together to provide greater impact and balance the artwork with your open wall space. A general rule of thumb is the art should fill two-thirds of the open wall space.
The Right Height: Another rule of thumb is to hang art at eye level. Obviously eye level is not the same for everyone, so our standard is 60 inches from the floor to the center of the artwork. However, even that rule has qualifiers. If it’s a corridor or entryway with tall ceilings, we might recommend going a bit higher. Conversely if the artwork is going in a sitting area or waiting room, that artwork might be hung a bit lower so it’s closer to eye level from a seated position. Also, the bottom edge of the artwork should be positioned six to 12 inches above the top of a credenza or sofa depending on the height of that wall. And for tall vertical pieces, we adjust the eye level consideration to the top third rather than the center of the artwork.
Glass vs Plexi: Plexiglass has evolved over the years, and now offers all of the benefits of glass including anti-glare and scratch resistance, plus it’s lighter and therefore easier to hang. Since glass can break fairly easily, plexiglass provides more durability which is particularly beneficial for certain applications such as a residence for people with dementia or educational settings.
Jessica Jack, IIDA, LEED AP, has more than 13 years of experience focusing on commercial design applications including senior living, education and healthcare. The importance and challenge of finding the right height for hanging artwork has been ingrained in her ever since coming home after purchasing their first home, to discover that her almost 7′ husband had hung all the artwork and mirrors at eye level, his eye level.
Here are a couple of additional resources we’ve found that may be of interest:
Henry Domke Blog: This blog is by a former physician who is now in the midst of a second career dedicated to creating art for healthcare environments.
Ideabook from Houzz.com: Houzz is always a good resource for ideas and tips. This link provides some helpful guidelines related to artwork.