How to select wall décor to hang on wallpaper

Wallpaper is popular and being used in every room of the home. A plain painted wall makes for a great backdrop for hanging pictures and wall décor, but what do you hang on a papered wall, given that it could be full of patterns, different colors and textures? Here are some decorating tips to consider when selecting pictures and décor to hang on a papered wall.

The aim when selecting items to hang on patterned wallpaper, is to work with the shapes, colors and textures of the paper. There are a few basic guidelines we can use to help us select décor that will enhance the aesthetic of the wallpaper and look like the wallpaper and décor belong together.

Two images of a decorated space showing how to use complementary and contrasting principles to select decor to hang on a patterned wallpaper.

Select similar or contrasting colors to fit in or stand apart

When selecting art to hang, think about the colors of the artwork and frame as complementing or contrasting the colors and patterns in the wallpaper. For example, if the wallpaper has a lot of blue in it, consider selecting artwork with some similar blues in it for a complementary look. Or go the opposite way and select artwork with some yellows and oranges to contrast with the blue and make it stand out from the background.  

Two pictures of art hanging above a couch and on patterned wallpaper to demonstrate how to select art with negative or white space to help it stand out from the patterned wall.

Use negative or white space to help the art stand out

Whether the color in the artwork is complementary or contrasting, you can help it stand out from the background by using the space around the artwork. The space that surrounds the artwork that separates it from the background is generally referred to as negative, or white space. A piece with some white space around it can more easily be seen, as the white space acts as a border between the background and the artwork. This is especially evident when you are hanging on a patterned wall.

You can create this white space by using a mat or border between your artwork and the edge of the frame. The frame itself can become that visual white space, especially if it’s a neutral color. If you know your artwork will be hanging on a patterned wall, choose the frame and mat options to help create this visual negative space. 

Two images of artwork hanging above couch and on a patterned wallpaper to show how to contrast the art scale with the scale of the pattern on the wallpaper so the art will stand out.

Consider the scale of the artwork

Generally speaking, selecting artwork with a contrasting scale will help it stand out from the background. For example, if the wallpaper has a very fine, detailed pattern, selecting artwork that has a bigger pattern or larger scale will help to make it stand out and create a focal point. And, the opposite is true as well. If the wallpaper has a large or simple bold pattern, then artwork that is more finely detailed will provide that visual contrast to help it stand out. This works in combination with the visual white space to help the piece to be seen. 

Keep in mind that these are guidelines only - selecting artwork is a personal choice and it’s important you hang pieces that appeal to you and enhance your space in a way that makes you feel good. 

Two pictures side by side showing artwork hung above a couch and on a patterned wallpaper to show how the match and contrast the style of the art and the style of the patterned wallpaper.

Consider the style of the art

One additional consideration when selecting what to hang on patterned wallpaper is the style of the artwork compared to the style of the wallpaper pattern. Just like when considering the colors in the artwork, you can elect to either complement, or contrast the two styles for different effects. For example, if you have wallpaper with a small, traditional Victorian pattern, select a similar piece of artwork like a botanical or still life for a complementary look. Or you can go the other way and select a bold, abstract piece of art for a contrasting look that will draw attention, creating a focal point. In either case, keeping a visual separation between the wall and your art using white space will help prevent the artwork blending into the wall and getting lost.

There is a world of opportunity at your fingertips when hanging artwork on top of a patterned background, and hopefully these tips will help get you started. At the end of the day, hang what looks good to you and makes you feel good about the space - there is no one right way to go. Happy decorating!

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