How to Display Artwork in the Kitchen or Bath

May 26, 2010

A nice piece of artwork can be the perfect way to make your new kitchen or bathroom look complete, adding a personal touch to spaces otherwise filled with lots of cabinets and tile. But how do you keep artwork safe in such hard-used rooms?

Get the answers from custom-framing expert Greg Perkins, the in-house design specialist at Larson-Juhl, a designer, manufacturer and distributor of custom frames. Perkins also recently authored Guidelines for Great Frame Design, which offers advice and ideas on selecting the right frame and matting for any piece of art.

Q: What are the top concerns about displaying artwork in the kitchen or bath?
A: Several things that can be detrimental to art, such as temperature changes, steam and splatters, are common issues in kitchens and bathrooms. Temperatures often change drastically between  when cooking or showers are taking place compared to when a room is sitting unused. Paper and canvas can expand and contract during those changes.

Steam is moisture, and it can get into paper, canvas or fabric artwork. It can also absorb into some frames that do not have varnished or other hard finishes. Over time, this can result in water spotting and mold growth.

In terms of splatters, grease or other foods in the kitchen or hair spray and other products in the bathroom can cause stains on artwork.

Q: Are there certain kinds of art that are better to display in the kitchen or bath than others, and why?
A: Aside from possibly avoiding the use of expensive art in these rooms, the only other real problem may be with textiles. Cross-stitch pieces are often matted and placed behind glass but needlepoint and crewel embroidery are usually left open faced.

Q: How can you protect art from the humidity, heat and discoloration issues in a kitchen or bath?
A: Inexpensive art on paper can be dry mounted onto backings to prevent it from buckling due to moisture or temperature changes. Better quality art should not be mounted so it should not be placed in problem areas.

Inexpensive frames are often made from cheaper woods that may be prone to warping when exposed to moisture. Plastic frames may look nice when they are new, but plastic has a much greater tendency to warp or bow. Plastic frame corners are also more likely than those found on wood frames to gap over time. Invest in better framing to avoid these problems and always use your bathroom fan and kitchen vents.

Q: How can you protect art from water- and food-splatter issues in the kitchen or bath?
A: The best form of protection is to use glass or acrylic glazing so it will catch the splatters. It may be necessary to clean the glazing more frequently in these two rooms. Most acrylic will scratch rather easily, so glass may be a better option.

Glazing should not come in direct contact with the art so a mat or some other spacer should be used. This still leaves the frame exposed and some spatters can result in a dulling of the finish and possibly even eat into the finish. It is best to keep framed art away from immediate problem areas.

Framed art is easy to keep clean when you keep up with it. For the frame, simply use a feather duster or vacuum with a soft brush attachment. Because some frame finishes can be damaged by water, if it is necessary to actually clean the frame, use a damp, not wet, cloth and rub as softly as you can. Avoid all solvents and alcohol or ammonia-based cleaners. Always clean the glazing by spraying your cleaner onto the rag, not the glass or acrylic. Never use abrasive cleaners or cleaning cloths on the frame or glazing.

Q: What are some lighting concerns for art in the kitchen or bath?
A: Kitchens and baths tend to have less or unbalanced lighting compared to other rooms where lamps are more prevalent. Because art looks best when it is well lit, consider adding picture lights made for framed art or track lighting on the ceiling that can be aimed at the art. In the kitchen, under-cabinet lighting will highlight framed pieces between the upper and lower cabinets.

Photos courtesy of Larson-Juhl.