British architectural and interior designer Ben Pentreath had finally persuaded an English antique map peddler to part with his last copy of a detailed engraving of 18th-century London’s streets. But the triumphant cartophile faced one problem: how to hang the 24 panels that comprised the 13-by-7-foot map.
Mr. Pentreath turned to a technique designers use on collections of similarly sized art (or large images broken into pieces): Framing each panel identically, he butted them to form a tight grid. This kept the presentation compact and imposed a pleasing geometry over the unruly arch of the Thames. (Antique maps of this size often come ready-made in panels, and Mr. Pentreath doesn’t recommend taking scissors to an image to achieve this look.)
The grid technique is arguably more surprising when you’re framing individual but related images. This refreshing alternative to salon-style hangings has major impact but captures viewers’ attention more quietly than the “trendy, heroically-sized works” that “consume the viewer as well as the room,” explained Manhattan-based designer Jeffrey Bilhuber.
“The individual images draw you in,” said another New York designer, Richard Mishaan,“and when you stop looking closely, they become a wallpaper.” He hung 12 photos by Massimo Vitali in a client’s dining nook. The shots—from crowded Italian beaches to Alpine resorts—share an overexposed, sun-faded quality that unites the group. Any thread, such as genre or color scheme, can unify botanical prints, 19th-century silhouettes, even vintage wallpaper samples.
Explaining why he massed a client’s collection of etchings by German artist Thomas Schütte, Mr. Bilhuber said, “Having them in this grid format creates a dialogue.” Dispersing them throughout the house breaks up the narrative, diminishing their impact.
Thin, equal-sized frames work best. Matting can compensate for slightly different sizes of art. And a second set of eyes will help make sure the arrangement coheres.
Downsizing is completely acceptable. “A 10-by-10 grid of 1-inch-square intaglios,” said Mr. Bilhuber, “could be powerful.”