Hang Time: Making a Case for Picture Rails

Picture Rails - Fougeron Architecture

Photo: Fougeron Architecture

Picture rails are strips of molding that adhere to walls and run horizontally around the room, typically aligning with the tops of any windows. This type of molding was once an elegant way of hanging artwork on hard-to-penetrate plaster walls.

Popular in New England and Southern townhouses during the Victorian era, picture rails may seem like a quaint throwback, but they can also look fresh today and serve a purpose.

For an art collector who often rotates works, rental houses and apartments with frequent tenant changes, and those who simply like walls free of nail holes, picture rails offer a practical solution.

Home stores typically carry a couple of options when it comes to picture rails, so it’s easier than you’d think to track down this material. It’s affordable, too. This 1-3/4″ primed option from The Home Depot runs just $1.05 per linear foot.

Picture Rails - The Home Depot

Woodgrain Millwork Pine Finger Jointed Picture Molding from The Home Depot

House of Antique Hardware carries Colonial Revival, Classic Ogee, Craftsman and Victorian picture molding options, if you’re looking to match your home’s original profiles.

Picture Rails - Craftsman Style

8' Craftsman-Style Picture Rail Molding in Stain Grade Hemlock from House of Antiques

Once the molding is in place, you’ll need hardware that hooks around the molding’s profile and carries the weight of the artwork. These hooks can be tough to find. Some local hardware shops carry options in their picture-hanging section, but you shouldn’t rely on big box chains to have this specialty item.

Online sites Van Dyke’s Restorers, House of Antique Hardware, and Rejuvenation carry great and affordable versions. Most common are 1/2″- and 1/4″-wide versions, with the 1/2″ tending to be more stable.

The standard finish is brass, but House of Antique Hardware carries a few satin white-, antique white-, and satin black-painted options. Use metal or invisible hanging wire (think fishing line) of the proper gauge to create a loop between the frame’s hardware and the picture hook above.

Decorative Picture Rail Hooks

Decorative Picture Rail Hooks from House of Antique Hardware

Picture Rails - Victorian Hanging Medallion

Victorian Picture Hanging Medallion and Tassle from Rejuvenation

If you really want an authentic Victorian look, these same sources also carry cord kits with a medallion plus hook, cord, and tassel. This look is not for the modern design aficionados among us, but rather for the preservationists and historically minded.

With a little bit of planning and forethought, existing homes and new construction alike can benefit from nail hole-free walls.