Wall Styling: An Interview with Mason Lane Art Advisory Founder Katharine Earnhardt

By: Kealia Reynolds
Photo by Amelie Belanger

Too often in interior design, we treat wall art as an afterthought. It’s usually the last thing we think of after situating the rest of the furniture in the room, and sometimes, we forget to hang wall art altogether. But when chosen thoughtfully, the right wall art can provide beauty, character, and balance to an entire room. So how do we find inspiration for our walls?

We interviewed Katharine Earnhardt, founder of Mason Lane Art Advisory, a Brooklyn-based wall styling firm noted for client projects like Project ROYGBIV and Project Corporate Cool, to get her insight on transforming walls in relation to the rest of the space, how she curates art, and what mistakes we should avoid when styling our own walls.

Wall styling is such a specific practice. How did you get started?

I got started with wall styling after 10 years in the art world and setting out to furnish/design my first-owned apartment. I had a solid grip on the blue chip art market with 10 years of experience under my belt at MoMA, Christie’s, and other institutions, but sourcing art I could afford wasn’t so obvious.

I did my research and learned there are a ton of design-conscious and culturally aware homeowners (and interior designers) who don’t know where to start when it comes to sourcing, buying, and enjoying art. Issues like finding reliable resources, what looks good in a space, and understanding pricing and quality are a big fat question mark to this crowd, so there I found my niche.

Buying art was my initial focus and it naturally evolved into wall styling, since some walls need something beyond traditional artwork (like gallery walls, wallpaper, shelving, paint, etc.).

When styling walls, how do you consider the rest of the room?

We always consider the existing design and the desired design (which are sometimes different), and parameters of the project, like using existing art vs. buying new pieces and whether the client is open to less expected ideas like wallpaper, gallery walls, and shelving.

We consider factors like color, texture, light, and function to really assess what’s going to work best in the space. As an example, art framed behind glass often doesn’t work well near natural light because you’ll often just see a reflection rather than the art itself, even if you’re using high-end glass. Obviously we’re considering all of this alongside what’s going to resonate personally with the client.

Photo by Amelie Belanger

How do you curate art for clients?

We’re really good at gleaning what a client’s taste is through chitchatting, seeing his/her space, and the answers we get to our new client form that provides clients with an opportunity to jot down their preferences, vision, and absolute no-nos. These data points typically spark ideas about art and concepts that we put into a tailored presentation that’s reviewed with our clients in person.

For more inspiration, we look at our database which is a huge assortment of art, concepts, spaces, and products that we love. I take pride in having a definitive look that’s become part of our brand while still making every client space unique and personalized.

What are some common wall hanging mistakes you typically see?

I love this question! So often clients looking to upgrade their current art situation have only art framed behind glass hanging everywhere. Usually it’s a lot of prints that they’ve collected and the frames are ho hum. One main tip is to diversify for visual interest—get pieces of different media (like paintings, photography, works on paper and textiles).

Another common mistake is using the wrong hardware. Wires that are too long or too low cause art to hang off the wall at a weird angle. I like using D rings whenever possible to avoid this issue and ensure the art stays straight. Besides this, people tend to hang too high and/or too low. And when some are high and others are low, a space looks imbalanced.

Aim for hanging the center of each piece 57–60 inches above the floor and everything will look more uniform. This rule has a lot of exceptions to account for furniture, architectural details, etc., but having the center of your artwork align creates balance.

What are some unusual items you’ve put on walls?

We’re currently doing a project involving 50–100 rainbow-colored boat cleats, so I’m going out on a limb and saying that will be my favorite!

What’s your favorite wall styling project you’ve worked on?

My favorite was a project done from about 2015–2016. It came through a designer who had just wrapped up her client’s space and the art the client had wasn’t awesome. We first figured out her existing art/wall décor situation. Then, we made paintings done by a family member/hobbyist artist look SO much more expensive with new framing and an wide 8 ply mat [board]. A giant vertical mirror in the foyer was flipped on its side and hung behind the dining chandelier to reflect the light.

When this portion was done, we addressed the blank walls and got an assortment of colorful, textural, and sculptural works that truly brightened up the space and made it personalized. This client had an unexpected appetite for the unexpected, and reflecting this through her art was actually a total pleasure.

What do you consider the three tenants of wall styling?

I would say 1) diversity, 2) cohesion, 3) layering.

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