Picture hanging in an old home

We live in a 100 year old brick home with fragile render on the walls, about 20mm thick. Any pictures we hang using standard picture hooks eventually fall down bringing a chunk of render as well.

Homes in this era used to have wooden picture rails but unfortunately these were removed from this house during these previous owners makeover.

How to hang our pictures? We have a lot of framed artwork so some are quite heavy. We could re-install a wooden picture rail but our builder friend is unenthused - he says it will be a very tedious job screwing the rail through the render into the bricks.

Anyone have any suggestions about how we can hang our pictures?


Given the options try a new builder friend. Sometimes the best answer might be tedious, or comparatively benign. It is routine to mask and drill. Any small chips should be covered by the hanging boards, or easily fixed. You might ask him why he doesn’t want to do it.


You could try hanging a rail or rods from the ceiling?? I have seen some art installations that use this technique but not sure of cost or difficulty in the install.


The hook may only be part of the problem or highlights underlying problems.

What sort of walls are they?

Lath and plaster?
Mud render on bricks?
Lime plaster/wash on bricks?
Cement mortar/render on bricks?
Layers of newer finish over an older finish?

If the base is bricks, what condition are the bricks in and can they breath? If they are sealed internally and externally they may become soft over time adding to problems with the attachment of the wall finish.

The surface finish may not have good attachment to underlying base, causing sheeting off of the surface

The suitable method will be dependent on the walls construction and finish.

The type of hanging method could also impact on the finish resulting in further damage in the long run. An example is hammering hooks into a finish which is inflexible and porous. The hammering can cause fracture or weakening of the wall finish, with corrosion of the hook causing the surface to ‘pop’ off the wall.

In our own house we have a lime mud render which is over a very old (~160 year) brick base. We have had issues of historical picture hooks/nails being hammered into the walls causing sheeting off of the wall surface. One room the wall surface about 1.5m X 1m was detached and came way when nails were removed. Required some preparation and plastering to fix. If we hang pictures on the walls, we plan to check integrity of the wall by lightly tapping and listening to the sound make. If solid, use a deep (75mm+ to avoid pressure of the wall surface and push the load into the walls brick base) stainless steel dynabolt to attach a fixing hook. Stainless steel to avoid corrosion issues.

Is the house heritage listed? This may also impact on what can and can’t be done. Check if there are limitations before considering options.


You might try a professional picture hanger? They will know the best type of hook for your wall and for the weight of your picture. Would save you a lot of stress :wink:


As well as wooden picture rails (traditional) there are a number of modern low impact alternatives based on aluminium rails. Not low cost in the example, but installation is part of the service. Also available as ceiling rails for memory.


We considered this system for our current 19th century home, and decided to stay with timber picture rails. They are in character and less costly.

The previous posts advice re the condition of your brick work is relevant, as is the condition of the render. Any system of rails or discrete hooks is going to need to penetrate the render and the brickwork. It’s understandable some tradies may not want to take the risk of disturbing the render and hammer drilling the brickwork for the anchor bolts.

It does sound as if your current anchors are only secured in the render. This has no structural strength, and as noted can fracture or loose the bond to the structural brick wall. Our prior home was masonry block with plasterboard. With the exception of light items we needed to drill the block work and use galvanised anchor bolts sized for the weight. Stainless is available in a more limited range of options. Lucky it was plasterboard and not old render.


As others have said the substance of the walls under the render is key. The second aspect is how many pictures do you want to hang.

If the walls are insubstantial (I know all about lath and plaster) you are right out of luck except for using stands or ceiling hangers. The chances of picking up the studs underneath is rather hit and miss (and the spacing may not suit you) and they may not be in such good condition anyway.

If the walls are substantial (brick, concrete or stone) then you can hang stuff but it needs care to drill through the render and into the substrate and to use appropriate length and style of plugs to hold fastenings into the wall. If this is done properly the render will not fall out, although you may have some debris come out during drilling that can be repaired but it will not keep happening. Such a fastening will then hold considerable weight.

If you want to have many picture restoring the old picture rail is the way to go as it will require fewer holes and fastenings and you have the flexibility to move things around, and add subtract without drilling new holes.

If you only want to hang a few things and not move them about individual hangers for each picture would be easier.


Thank you all for your thoughts. The walls are brick and the render is cement but appears to have more sand than cement so crumbles easily (but come off in lumps rather than sheets). Not a heritage listed house but having removed some awful 70s features we are a bit careful about what we do.

I have never heard of a professional picture hanger! But will try the framing shop nearby as they may be able to give some professional advice.

I think we may end up with a mix of options - in rooms with a few large pictures, hanging with individual bolts makes sense but we may reinstate the picture rail just in the long, wide hall so we can have a movable gallery.


Since whatever you do will not be easily changed put yourself in the position of a buyer and consider what is most appealing as a sales feature. Some people find rails a turnoff and others prize them. Some of each could confuse ‘the look’ if done for practicality and ignoring the overall aesthetics and architectural period.

How many buyers want a true to period 1900’s as compared to a 1900’s exterior and renovated modern interior? If some rooms are true to 1900 and others look post-war it could make a confusing interior where neither expectation would be met, thus reducing the ‘curb appeal’.

Eclectic decorating can work, but takes a very good eye.


The outside walls are usually Rendered, this gives better protection from sun and rain.
It’s thicker and the sand is coarser.
Sometimes it’s used inside for a Feature wall.

Usually the inside walls are done in Plaster, which uses finer sand to give a smooth finish easier to paint and clean.

This also has to be taken into consideration when choosing picture hooks.


Not exactly. Inside, the brick walls will be rendered first, and as the OP has pointed out the render was often rather weak being a lot of sand and not much cement or mortar. The inside brick wall underneath the render is likely to be cheap common bricks (even if the outside is face brick and not rendered) and they will not be laid too carefully as they were never intended to be seen. This applies to the inner walls of double-brick construction and to interior walls that are generally only one brick thick.

Then a skim coat of plaster would be applied to the render and sanded smooth, this may be only millimetres thick. In better quality builds a second or even third coat of plaster is applied to give a superior finish. The plaster does not contain sand, it will be plaster of Paris, which is derived from gypsum. The texture is much finer and whiter than render containing sand and it is softer allowing it to be sanded easily.

The plaster top coat(s) are easy enough to patch but that is not the scope of the problem. In old houses the render fails especially if it has got wet at some point. You may be able to track ancient leaks in the roof, around windows or through ventilators by the condition of the render nearby. It can break up as you drill it or under any kind of impact, worse still it can separate from the brickwork and large areas can just fall off the wall. It is a bugger to fix as the repairs may lead to more damage in adjacent areas. You have to love old houses to play this game or find a good plasterer who knows how to deal with it and pay him (there were no ladies taught the skill way back when).


Just for fun! :laughing:

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There is a type of hanger which looks like 3/4 of a ring of 1mm diameter steel. You drill right though the wall and insert the plain end thought the hole so that it touches the inner surface. This leaves the hook end against the outside. it’ll hold up to 10kg. The thickness of the brick backing to the plaster may be a problem.
Alternatively, drill a 5mm hole well intro the brickwork and install a rawl plug to take the weight of the picture instead of the plaster doing so.

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I suggest that you reinstall picture rails anchored to the brickwork or install gallery rails near the cornice using filament line to hang the artworks. We reinstalled picture rails which was the more cost effective, and they work well for us. Pictures do not have to hang below the rail if you position the hanging wire on the back of each artwork in the right position. Alternatively, you can anchor artwork individually to the wall, but that does not provide flexibility for easily rearranging in the future.


You could try removing a small portion of the old render where you intend to hang your picture and insert your hanger and then fill around with a filler. I have done this and filled around hanger with one of the white fillers that sets hard and you can drill into set filler but I set the filler around the inserted hanger

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This is what we have done. We are in the Inner West in Sydney. ~100 year old property with traditional lime render. We recently installed picture rail in the hallway. Just drilled and screwed into the walls with the red plugs right into the brick. Sorry, not sure of the size.
In the bedrooms we use similar sized plugs and screws for single pictures. Same for curtain rods. You have to be drilling and screwing into the brick. If you are unlucky, you hit the mortar course and the plug will not hold well. There are some tricks to measuring to hit at a brick course.
You can get some fracturing or crumbling, but it is usually easily repaired.


I have just installed old fashioned style picture rails in my 100+ Yr home. I found it straight forward, taking care with height and levels. More of a job for a good handyman/woman than a builder. I purchased my rails from Subiaco Restoration, but I see they are also available from Bunnings. Hanging the pictures is another skill worth learning.


That would depend on the condition of the wall. It could be anything from straightforward to a nightmare. We cannot usefully generalise about such things.

Yes indeed. As with any DIY situation one must be able to determine before commencing a project whether your skill level is up to it in the particular case. Knowing how to hold a hammer drill or a screw driver is not enough. If you don’t you may get in too deep and leave the job unfinished or at a poor standard and not be able to make it good without expensive professional help.

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Welcome @JHW !

Thank you for sharing :grinning:

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Wow ! - what an amazing amount of practical help !!!