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Don’t get “framed”

One of the most expensive habits I ever developed was that of framing photographs and memorabilia. In the mid-1980s, my sister worked in a frame shop and set a trend in our family for framing. We framed everything from movie posters to unique postcards to postage stamps. If I got an award, I framed it. And on and on.

In the early 1990s, Martha Stewart started her magazine “Living,” and often showcased walls of photos and mementos framed in black or silver and matted in white. I followed her lead and reframed dozens of items to match. The woman at the frame shop started giving me her “friends and family” discount. I spent a small fortune there, more than I spent on shoes and handbags combined.

When circumstances and my tastes changed, I had thousands of dollars’ worth of framed pieces that I would either have to store or dispense with. Since they were highly personal items, donation and consignment weren’t an option. I decided to store my very favorites, about 10, in a plastic bin in the garage. For the others, all I could do was remove the personal item and donate the empty frame. The amount of money I’d spent and could not recoup cured me of my framing habit.

I have lots of clients for whom framing is an ambition to be realized (if they are on a budget) or a passion to be indulged (if they can afford it). I get very anxious for them not to make the same mistakes I did. There are several points I will caution a client about before he or she makes a trip to the frame shop. Here are a few:

• Is the item a treasured possession, such as a fragile, old family photo, a piece of handmade lace, or a brittle newspaper article, that would benefit from the protection of a frame and glazing? It might be worth framing even though you may not display it forever.

• Is it a flattering photo of yourself, a friend or loved one from a significant occasion that will make you happy every time you see it and that you would like others to see? Most photos belong in a photo album at best, or in the trash if they are not flattering, in focus or in some way interesting.

• If you have a large home, a whole wall of family photos, floor to ceiling, in a hall, entry or stairway can be terrific, but the trick is to tie them together in a matching color family or style of frame. Also, keep it interesting and current by trading out photos as the children grow up or grandchildren are born and so on.

• A contained collection is artistic; a meandering, sprawling collection is clutter, unless you have the help of a good decorator to edit and place them for you.

• Be careful about where you hang precious family photos and memorabilia. Hallways are great because there is usually very little sunlight getting into them. Photos fade incredibly quickly in the sun, so if you don’t protect them with proper placement and UV glass, you will have a washed-out, unrecognizable collection in a few short months.

• Another consideration when hanging personal photos and items is public space (say, the living room) versus private space. A thoughtful approach is to hang personal items in personal spaces — the bathrooms, an office, family room or den, or, as mentioned above, in hallways and places your guests won’t spend much time in. It can be fun to examine photos in a hall on the way to the powder room, but might be a little intimidating to have all that personality crowding a living room.

• Many feng shui experts say that photographs of people don’t belong in a bedroom either. People “staring” at you when you sleep doesn’t make for the best night’s rest.

• An album of wonderful pictures on a coffee table is sometimes more enjoyable and definitely less expensive than a wall full of frames, and much easier to store if you grow tired of it. When in doubt, don’t frame, or at least get an inexpensive frame and live with the item awhile before investing in custom framing. Beautiful second-hand frames are out there for pennies on the dollar. I should know; some of them were mine.