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Make your photo arrangement pop

By ELIZABETH BETTENDORF, Times Correspondent
Published September 23, 2007


Cherished family photos can add warmth to any home, but displaying them with flair is a challenge that requires a little creative vision.

The first step is to set aside a few hours to sort through your photos and decide which to put on view.

Experts recommend tapping only the best-of-the-best for display.

"Select four: a school photo, one with mom and dad, a sports photo and another of your child enjoying a hobby," advises Wesley Chapel interior decorator and room-makeover expert, Martha Adams, whose course "Decorating Divas" offers a 90-minute primer on the fundamentals of pulling a room together.

"I don't like clutter, so I would suggest rather than hanging every single photo of your child, slip a new one into the frame each year," she said.

Adams also suggests selecting four "very pretty frames" that match or work well together. Attach ribbon to the back, tie a bow, hang the picture and, voila, an artful display.

Uniformity of frames is important as well, said Bette Kahn, a national spokesman for Crate & Barrel. Although they don't have to be identical, similarity will lend cohesiveness to your photo display: Consider a few photos of each child growing up, grouped with a beautiful family photo, she says, "hang them vertically or horizontally and the uniformity of the frame makes the photo inside stand out."

She also suggests using small antique frames from old mirrors and pictures and grouping them together for an interesting effect. For stand-up style frames, Kahn says be creative when thinking about where to display them.

"If you're lucky enough to have this type of a space, the top of a piano or buffet, then silver or silver-looking frames are perfect," she says. "If you keep the frames in the 'silver' family, the pictures will look like the precious heirlooms that they are."

Groupings of family photos can also serve as punctuation in a bookcase, on a mantel or empty corner of a kitchen counter.

Consider using all black and white photos with crisp white mats and black frames for a more sophisticated look. Also, think about varying frames by height in tabletop groupings, delegating the tallest frames to the back.

Another suggestion from Kahn: If you want to give a great gift, consider something offbeat but tasteful like photo coasters. It's easy to just slide the photos in, she says, and they're easily changeable so you can serve guests on these conversation-pieces.

Dawn Kiefer, a national assistant buyer for Pier 1 Imports, said that when grouping family photos, think about balance. A collection of floating frames all in a similar wood, such as walnut, works beautifully.

"You can absolutely mix and match frames. However, the frames should have a theme, texture or color in common," Kiefer advises. Also, consider changing frames to reflect the season. As summer ends and the holidays approach, "use a collection of warm fall colors to draw attention to your family photos."

Pottery Barn offers a section on its Web site, www.potterybarn.com, devoted solely to displaying family photos. It not only provides helpful tips, but there are several inspiring photos. One suggestion from the site: create a "memory wall."

Start by hanging a series of small ledges and shelves and display your collection of photos and personal artwork and a few cherished objects. Allow framed photos to overlap for a more eclectic effect. You can also use ledges to create a family gallery, limiting personal photos to family pictures that tell a story. Mix history, faces and ages for visual interest.

Another idea is to create a vacation display, again using ledges rather than hanging framed photos. Sprinkle in appropriate images that you love, like photos of old ships or vintage postcards.

If you don't have the wall or display space to hang photos, one creative option is to organize and store them in a few beautiful boxes worthy of display on a cocktail table or book shelf. That way the photos, though not actually on display, are easily accessed.

You never know when you might want to kick back and take a look at your life for a few hours.

Elizabeth Bettendorf can be reached at ebettendorf@hotmail.com.