COLUMNSGenericHome Guru

Family Photos Used as Home Décor Increasingly Popular

We are part of The Trust Project
Bill Primavera
Bill Primavera

By Bill Primavera

While realtors normally advise their home-selling clients to remove family photographs from refrigerators and other personal photography from walls and tables, not everybody takes that advice.

Some homeowners use their photographs, especially wedding photos, as decoration. I must confess one of my guilty pleasures as a realtor is to sneak a peek at those special mementos.

Interior decorating is a personal statement and, as a decorative accessory, use of portraiture is as personal as one can get. Eyes fixed on a camera lens or a portrait artist capturing what he or she sees results in eyes looking directly at us, as though trying to communicate who the subjects are, or questioning who their beholder is.

Portrait of my wife, Margaret, taken in her bridal veil adorns the wall of our living room.

In my home, many pairs of eyes are staring at me because I collect old paintings of people who are mostly unknown and long departed, but I still feel their essence and energy.

Through the ages, before photography, only the wealthy could afford to be immortalized through portraiture. Here in America, the art of portraiture was claimed by more common folk in the early 19th century as itinerant artists made a living by visiting households with paint, brushes and canvasses in hand, ready to capture family members in their best pose.

To save time, the artist would sometimes paint the backgrounds and even the bodies in advance and fill in only the heads at the home, allowing the subject to choose the headless “clip art” they liked best.

The art and business of photographic portraiture started more than 150 years ago with America’s first well-known photographer, Matthew Brady.

Brady’s first portrait of Abraham Lincoln revealed a man so sincere, open and honest that Lincoln felt that it projected him favorably to his public. At Cooper Union, when Lincoln came to the podium to make his first major address in the presidential campaign, the crowd was aghast to find that he looked and spoke like a country bumpkin, but he won the crowd over by what he said. A combination of his speeches, published alongside engravings made from Brady’s photograph, inadvertently became the first media campaign for president.

Photography, developed in America just two decades before Lincoln’s famous pose, captured the imagination of the country during the Civil War when every officer and draftee wanted to be photographed in uniform for loved ones before going off to battle. After the war, a popular theme was to reveal peoples’ trades by posing with the tools of their crafts. A baker would pose with his rolling pin, a carpenter with his saw. By the turn of the century, families from all walks of life were going to photography studios to pose and to freeze a moment of family history.

Rather than languishing in photo albums that are seldom viewed, photographic portraits can be featured in the home with flourish. Most commonly, wedding photographs are displayed on furniture or walls of the living room or master bedroom, and series of children in various stages of development grace the walls of hallways.

But, more and more, homeowners are creating groupings of portraits, both large and small, in the living room or central hallway, rather than saving them for the bedroom or interspersing them singly throughout the house.

In my former home, I had a harpsichord in the central hall and the flat surface of it was covered with dozens of pictures in frames of our family and friends. Arranging such a large display is best done according to the size of the frame. Or, it can be done by generation. Whichever method is chosen, arrangement can be an art in itself, especially when the styles of frames vary greatly.

Another venue of photographic portraiture is for business purposes, and those of us in real estate establish our brands with it. We are frequently reminded to update our likenesses regularly on business cards and websites so that a prospective customer won’t think that we’re still in high school.

Bill Primavera is a Realtor® associated with William Raveis Real Estate and Founder of Primavera Public Relations, Inc. ( His real estate site is, and his blog is To engage the services of The Home Guru to market your home for sale, call 914-522-2076

We'd love for you to support our work by joining as a free, partial access subscriber, or by registering as a full access member. Members get full access to all of our content, and receive a variety of bonus perks like free show tickets. Learn more here.