While many of us have discovered a new skill or redeveloped an old one by watching YouTube videos about interior decorating, it is interesting to learn that the tricks of the trade are steeped in our cultural psyche.

In the middle decades of the 20th century, specifically the post-World War II era, the home-decoration industry offered assistance to customers when it came to decorating with objects, art, and furniture in one’s home.

During an appraisal event recently, I was not surprised to find myself reviewing a mid-century modern color print housed in an inexpensive wooden frame complete with a cardboard backboard.

What did surprise me at my appraisal event was that the cardboard backboard of a framed print had an advertisement clearly printed on the back with instructions for how to hang a picture easily and for biggest impact.

The printed advertisement image struck me because it was so reminiscent of what I had been taught when studying to be a museum curator in the 1990s.

The printed backboard included instructions from Reliance Industries Inc. of Chicago, Illinois, suggesting that when hanging pictures of small size that they be hung in groups of multiple pictures.

With an image of a living room comprising a lamp, sofa, and many framed pictures hung on a wall, the instructions showed an easy-to-follow way to hang frames.

A helpful hint printed in red advised customers that pictures should be hung at eye level. In museums, we call this the “60 inches center” rule. This method is widely used in galleries and museums when installing exhibitions.

The “60 inches center” rule means that a framed picture, painting, or print should be hung in a position so the center of the painting is hung at 60 inches from the floor. Since most people are comfortable viewing works of art at eye level, the 5-feet mark is optimum.

For gallery goers and museum fans, viewing art at eye level is pleasing and restrained.

The mid-century modern-frame industry encouraged customers to design their homes in their own style, yet the materials they used to get the word out — like acidic backboards — were helping to slowly deteriorate their artwork.

While these acidic backboards of the 1960s would need to be replaced later in the 20th century, using frames to encourage interior decorating is an inexpensive way to brighten up a room.

For instance, when trying to make a statement in a room with only small-scale (approximately 4x6 inches) framed pieces, consider placing the pictures within a group and group them by color, subject matter, or style.

Consider the light sources in the room: where the windows are located in relation to the wall(s) where you want to hang your paintings or prints. Keep art out of direct sunlight and away from radiators, windows, and air conditioners.

Be sure to allow enough resting space — that’s blank wall area — around your paintings and prints too. This gives the viewer time to consider one work of art before being introduced to another work of art on a wall.

If you are grouping works of art together, they may be hung closer together to suggest a group or visual relationship.

While some of the vintage interior-decoration rules have grown obsolete, others have stood the test of time.


Dr. Lori Verderame is the award-winning Ph.D. antiques appraiser on History channel’s The Curse of Oak Island and weekdays on the Doctor and the Diva. For video-call appraisals of your valuables, visit www.DrLoriV.com.

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