November 7, 2010

Picture this: family photos, artfully displayed

By MELISSA RAYWORTH The Associated Press

When we decorate our homes, we express ourselves through the furniture we buy and the colors we select. But perhaps no element of decorating says more about us than the personal photographs we display.

click image to enlarge

As shown in this seating area designed by Genevieve Gorder, a group of photos in different types of frames can be a perfect way to decorate a wall and make a statement.

The Associated Press

This holiday season, families across the country will pose for photos, and snap candid images of gift-giving. Some will even sit for studio portraits. Between holiday photos, school photos, team photos and the many shots we capture each day with cell-phone cameras, we have a wealth of imagery to choose from.

But which belong on display? And how can we use them to make a room more beautiful and more personal?

Here, three interior designers share tips and tricks -- and also vent their pet peeves -- for using personal photos in home decorating.


Candid shots, rather than posed portraits, will help visitors to your home understand who you are, says Genevieve Gorder, host and chief designer for the HGTV show "Genevieve's Holiday Home."

Brian Patrick Flynn, editor of, agrees: "When I fall in love with a photograph, it's 100 percent of the time because there's a personal link to it." His favorite is "a family photo that looks like a moment in time was captured."

Think like a photo editor, Flynn says, paring down your library of images to tell your story. Photos don't have to be flawless, but they have to say something about you.

If you're having professional photos taken, consider hiring a photographer who will capture family members doing activities they love, rather than posing at a studio.

And Flynn's not a fan of everyone dressing alike: "In real life, you don't all wear the same button-down shirt and jeans. So don't do it in a photo."


"The main thing about personal photos is to remember that they're personal," says Los Angeles-based interior designer Betsy Burnham. "They're not art. They don't take the place of art."

Consider which photos are best in more private spaces of the house, such as bedrooms or an upstairs hallway, and which belong in rooms where you greet guests, she says.

"Team photos are fun in a kids room, on a bookshelf, to watch how they grew over time," Burnham says. "But those are never the best photos of any of us, nor the most interesting. Let friends look at something that's going to pique their curiosity or make them comment."


"Oftentimes we're not the best of photographers," Gorder says.

"But with all the tools we have, it's really easy to make (poor photos) into something great," she says. "Scan them, tweak them, crop them in a way that's non-symmetrical."

You can also crop to emphasize key elements. In many personal photos, "only 30 percent shows people; the rest is background and sky," says Flynn, so faces can't be seen unless you're viewing them up close.

Technology also allows you to create new items out of your favorite photos, including customized coffee-table books from sites like Flynn sometimes makes photo murals for clients -- a single image blown up to nearly wall-size "and printed on the sort of vinyl used to make billboards," he says.

Look through your collection of photos "and find that one image -- it could even be a still life of your grandmother's purse sitting on a counter in a childhood home -- that tells a story," Flynn said.

"Once you find the photo, contact your local digital printer and get an estimate on how much it would cost to have a gigantic vinyl print done, and get estimates of what it would cost to install," he says. "It can completely kick-start the design of a house and its mood."

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