Groups of handsomely framed photos add personality to a home PICTURE THIS


June 19, 1994|By Elaine Markoutsas | Elaine Markoutsas,Universal Press Syndicate

Imagine a table with just a lamp. A vase filled with roses adds color and life, but what really warms the tableau is a family photo. Artifacts that say something about the people who live in a home make visitors feel at ease. But no single accessory warms a room more than a photo of someone or something you love.

"Personal photographs give your home an identity," says interior designer and author Alexandra Stoddard. "They lend a special spirit to a place. I like to show pictures of my family, my friends and myself everywhere. Photos say, 'This is me; there's a lot of living going on here -- lots of happiness.' "

Indeed, photos preserve our history: They chronicle the birth of a child, graduations, birthdays, weddings and anniversaries; they immortalize our dearest ones, including pets; or they just celebrate a good time. Photos are our most prized keepsakes. Yet, believe it or not, there have been decorators who have advocated leaving the family photos in the attic.

In the last five years, however, there has been a proliferation of well-designed picture frames in an extraordinary variety of styles, materials and sizes. Even the most jaded decorators have conceded that there's a legitimate spot for a framed photo in practically every room of the house.

Photo frames are now available in plain, carved, inlaid or decorated wood, in light or dark stains or in brightly painted colors. They are fabric- or paper-covered, crafted from glass, metal or plastic or a combination of materials. As for shapes, you can find standard rectangular, square, circular or irregular forms. From the fanciest baroque to minimalist, they cover the gamut in home-furnishing styles. And they're designed to suit every budget, from $20 and less to more than $100.

Whether you subscribe to the overcrowded look or prefer a more pared-down expression, there are many options for displaying your favorite shots.

You might group a collection of identical frames, simply varying the sizes. A pair of lustrous gilt frames can conjure images of Italian museums with their bead-and-dentil detailing. They can be filled with old family photos. If you have none and like the look, hunt for vintage pictures at flea markets or in thrift shops.

Randy Bourne, president of Exposures, an 8-year-old mail-order source for picture frames, is a strong advocate of mixing. "We encourage people to be eclectic," he says. "The look of an elegant gold frame next to a tribal African mask, or barn wood next to a sterling silver frame can be a terrific high contrast, from a decorative point of view."

The catalog encourages being bold and blending styles, moods and materials, such as a couple of silver-plated baroque frames with a fresh contemporary whitewashed frame in a larger size.

In the last year or so, Mr. Bourne has assumed "that our customers long ago ran out of mantels and tables." So the catalog offers an attractive alternative: wall-mounted shelves.

The one shown with the silver-plated baroque and whitewashed wood frames was crafted in France of solid pine and outlined with a lustrous scalloped apron of pierced tin, which adorns it like a decorative concha belt.

Grouping frames of different colors or even patterns is another effective way to display photos. A trio of frames designed by New York artist John Derian for the Loom Co. not only introduces jolts of color, but combines a bit of nostalgia with a fresh '90s attitude.

Mr. Derian's frames are crafted of hand-painted paper or covered with color-copied Victorian papers in unconventional forms that resemble paper-doll cutouts. But what makes them fun and offbeat is their adornment with vintage objects he has collected, such as buttons or flowers.

If you don't have space for a small grouping of photos or if you'd prefer one photo, be sure to choose a stand-out frame that will look great solo.

One bold frame, "Haywire" from Exposures, resembles '50s retro designs but is actually contemporary. The aniline-dyed poplar inner frames bristle with a dozen steel-tipped balls. It's perched on a curlicue copper easel.

With such a wide array of frames, how do you select the appropriate one? The Photography Manufacturers Distributors Association (PMDA) offers these tips:

* Before you shop, measure the photo. Don't choose a frame whose inside dimensions don't match your photo, in spite of its seemingly adequate overall size.

* When grouping photos, choose varying heights, an assortment of verticals and horizontals, and a range of sizes, from 2-by-3-inch or even smaller to 8-by-10.

* In addition to choosing photos of different sizes, mix shapes for an attractive grouping.

* For the best effect, cluster frames that share some common element.

* Relate the image and the frame, considering color, texture and time period. Play up a point of contrast.

* A photo's content may invite a certain type of frame or color. Be sure to test a frame with photos.

* Never let a frame overpower the picture.

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