The pros and cons of gallery-style hanging systems in homes

May 1, 2013

I often get phone calls from potential clients asking if I would be able to install a hanging system in their home.My typical answer is “yes I can”, but I always add a further question, “but are you sure that type of product is what you need?”

Gallery-style hanging or tracking systems were originally designed specifically for art galleries so that art could be changed over on a very regular basis without the need to constantly be drilling or hammering new hooks into the walls. There are several manufacturers and designs but they all follow more or less the same basic principles.

For those unfamiliar with the product, these systems consist of a single two or three metre rail mounted horizontally high on a wall (usually just below the cornice or ceiling-joint). These rails (or tracks as they are usually called) can be joined together and cut to length and then screwed into place to cover the full width of any conventional plaster or solid brick wall. The tracks have a grooved slot on the underside that allows for hanging wires to be inserted and slid along the length of the railing to be best positioned where the pictures are to be hung. The wire drops vertically down and a special adjustable / lockable hook slides up and down the wire so that you are able to hang your picture or pictures exactly where you want; but then if you change your mind, you can easily re-adjust the hook (vertically) or the wire (horizontally) to further re-position the picture to suit. It is, in short, a brilliant design that no professional art gallery can operate without.

So if it is so good for art galleries, then why shouldn’t you have one installed in your home to hang your own pictures and paintings? Typically I answer that question with; “how often do you intend to re-position or re-hang your pictures?” Sometimes the answer is; “quite a lot, I’ve always got pictures coming and going and we like to change things over.” In this scenario, gallery-type hanging is ideal. But in the vast majority of instances the answer is “not very much at all; once they are hung they’ll pretty much stay there”. If that is the answer then I generally would not recommend a gallery-type installation.

For a start, supplying and installing the gallery tracking, together with the supply of sufficient drop wires and adjustable hooks is a significant expense. After installation, most clients still want me to hang the pictures as well (although I am always happy to teach the new owners to do it themselves if they wish) which adds further to the cost. The bottom line is - it will typically cost you about twice as much to hang pictures with gallery tracking as it would to hang pictures with conventional hooks into the wall.

The other advantage with conventional hook-hanging is that you don’t see any hanging devices. There are no visible rails or suspension wires, only the pictures, hung as they should be. However some people do like the modern ‘gallery-look’ of the hanging system, and that is another valid reason for going with the tracking method.

The other weakness of a gallery type system is if you wish to hang pictures in a tight grouping with varying size frames hung above and below one another, such as in a family photo wall. If you try and hang such a layout with gallery tracking it ends up being a ‘dogs-breakfast’ of wires going everywhere and it is very difficult to get the pictures hanging neatly. Where clients are installing a gallery system I usually recommend that if they are hanging a group of images we don’t use tracking in that area and hang conventionally with hooks.

My main recommendation then is not to rush in to purchase a gallery-type installation until you have made a valued judgment as to whether it will best suit your personal requirements.

And finally, just to make it clear I do not have a vested interest in my view, I actually make more profit installing a hanging system than hanging conventionally with nail-in or screw-in hooks. I just want to make sure you get the most appropriate and best value for money picture hanging result for your home, both in the way it works, and the way it looks.

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