Nathalie Martin and Julian Lonergan of Railings Gallery on the art of bespoke framing

Interview: Ellie Costigan

We frame everything from children’s drawings, to paintings worth millions of pounds. We come from a background of working with artists, art consultancies and art galleries: we know what people want and what works best.

When choosing the perfect frame, the starting point is always the artwork itself. Does the frame need to add something, or does it need to disappear into the background? Sometimes it’s about designing an object that will enhance what the artist is trying to convey.

We always encourage people to use specialist UV reflective glass to give the perfect final look and protection. In fact, all of our materials are conservation grade.

Water gilding is the ultimate skillset in the framing fraternity. Gold leaf is monumentally thin—Lucas in our workshop applies it with his breath. They’re like chefs; each gilder has their own glue recipe and way of doing things. It takes years to get to the level where you can do it with confidence.

Occasionally, if something is hyper-valuable, we’ll frame on site. For places like Christie’s and Sotheby’s, it becomes an insurance nightmare otherwise. That’s one of the benefits of being based here in Marylebone—we are very close to those cultural institutions.

We pride ourselves on being priced keenly, but there is a difference between bespoke and readymade frames. And there needs to be—otherwise why would you bother? The whole point of bespoke framing is it’s made uniquely for your piece of artwork. That way every detail can be tailored. A bespoke frame should be thought of as a piece of handmade furniture. It’s a construction job, but also a craft. We’re effectively designing an object that happens to have some artwork framed in it.

Our colleagues at the workshop are expert joiners. A lot of it is carpentry knowledge, but when it comes to the real subtleties of a bespoke finish, of how different woods handle, that comes down to experience. Even where a frame has a very simple finish, where it’s about the beauty of the wood, the joinery is crucial: you can ruin a frame through sloppy details.

The predominant modern look is clean, simple, square, and flat across the front and down the sides. Thin, anonymous white or black frames. That’s great for very cutting-edge contemporary art on a brilliant white wall, but most people’s homes don’t look like that. A very elegant, basic walnut tends to key in the artwork better with people’s interiors.

Over the past five years we’ve seen a trend for bigger pieces. Whereas before it was about arrangements of lots of little frames, now people want one key, stunning piece above the fireplace or sofa, and they are prepared to really go to town with it.

If a customer is local to the gallery, we’re happy to go round, take some samples and see how a frame will fit in with their interior décor. We often do that for interior designers.

If you’ve gone to amazing trouble to create a beautiful home environment, let an art technician hang your piece for you. We have various teams who can help and advise on that side of things, and put it up safely.

If you’re having something precious re-framed, consider getting it cleaned. It’s the simplest thing to do and surprisingly accessible as an additional expense. In terms of enhancing the artwork, a light clean or a little bit of restoration is well worth it.

We can colour-match any paint from our neighbours Little Greene. We have their library of colours here, so if you want a specific spray or hand-painted finish, you can just give us the reference code.

Railings Gallery