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Gain a New Perspective With the Right Frame

Elevate the look of any piece with a new finishing touch.
By Sarah Bennett |
Debra Stevens has been framing for 28 years. “The thing I enjoy the most is taking something that’s been framed previously and making it an entirely different piece of art,” she says. Visit her gallery by appointment only.

The right accessory can make or break an outfit. The same rings true for art. Just as thrift shoppers sift through sale racks for the right piece, the estate-sale enthusiast searches for a diamond in the rough. “I recently stumbled across a piece at an estate sale that I loved,” says associate creative director Jamie Laubhan-Oliver. “I knew it had potential, but sometimes it’s hard to see past the frame.”

Our treasure hunters learn to elevate the look of any piece with the right finishing touches. “I love to have expensive, beautiful art but you can’t always afford it,” photograher Elizabeth Lavin says. “You can create that by reframing.”


Picture This!

You’ve heard the phrase “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” With the simple swap of a frame, an overlooked garage sale item can become a showpiece.

Custom framer Debra Stevens shares her tips for looking at things from a new angle.

If you love it, buy it.

Imagine the art without the clutter of its current framing. “Try and think, ‘If I took all of this off, is the image appealing?’” she says. “As soon as I see a piece, that’s immediately what I do.”

If it sparks your interest, pick it up. “If you see something that looks remotely interesting, give it a try,” she says of garage sale and thrift store shopping. “So often, these things are like $5, and you may find jewels. You never know, you could be on Antiques Roadshow!”

Things to look out for:

Improper framing. Some pieces, whether a family heirloom or a garage sale find, could have been incorrectly framed for decades. If you find a piece suffering from one of these conditions, hire a professional framer to help with prolonging its life in your home.

Artwork is directly touching the glass. “Never put glass right on top of something, because it will stick at times,” she says. “You have to be real careful about that.”

There is cardboard in the back of the frame. “The wood pulp in the cardboard turns your piece brown,” she says. “It also gets striped like a zebra.”

The original mat is acidic. “If the bevel has turned brown, that means it’s an old acidic mat,” she says.

How to frame your piece:

Keep the home in mind. Stevens gets a feel for the client’s taste before making a major decision on the tone of a piece. “It’s very simple to pair a very traditional piece with a traditional frame, or take a traditional look and put a chunkier frame on it,” she says. “Gallery frames go anywhere, but sometimes people like to do a dressier look.”

The right frame can enhance a piece’s whimsical side or elevate its formality, depending on your taste.

Crop it. One of her recent projects had noticeable water damage, but it wasn’t beyond saving. “That piece is completely stained, but it’s not on the person’s face,” she says. “So we’re able to crop in and cover up.”

Update a piece with a white frame. Stevens loves a good white frame. “Ten years ago, everyone would have thought we were crazy,” she says. “I went to New York and saw it everywhere and knew it was just a matter of time before it’d come here.” She still uses maple, gold, and silver, though. “It depends if your home is more casual or contemporary; there are a million options.”

Is the piece in good shape? Try floating. For a dramatic look, your framer can “float,” or “full bleed,” your piece. “You show the entire piece of paper. Nothing is covered by an opening cut in a mat,” Stevens says. The framer uses linen hinges to attach art on top of the mat board. “The paper has to be in really good shape to do this,” she adds.