They say a lot, the picture frames we have on our walls. As well as the pictures we never got around to framing. No matter how chaotic our lives may be, with our broken boilers, cracked phone screens and skin-of-our-teeth tax returns, if the walls are decked with well-framed pictures, there is hope. The other stuff we’ll let go. But a good set of nicely framed pictures scream ‘I’m a grown up! I spent my money on something with lasting value!’
So the Blu Tacked Athena posters of our youth are long gone. The charity shops have got our old glass clip frames (those nasty metal clips). Even the novelty of Ikea frames faded (hanging precariously on a wonky nail with no hanging cord). We’re ready for the real deal. A good framer could frame your credit card bill and make it look good. But how do you sort the pros from the chancers? There are highly skilled framers out there, master craftsmen with backgrounds as engineers, artists and more. There are also people who’ve done a 2-day rookie framing course and are ready to try out their new hobby on that picture you love.
So we’ve had a dig around to find some of the best. They’re spread far and wide but when it comes to framers, you don’t need local. You can cut the cost in half if you’re willing to fill your car boot and go somewhere across town or even a few hours cross country. If you’ve a stack of pictures, ask for a good deal. We haven’t included prices because frankly how big is a frame? But these people are all tried and tested so gather up your pictures, call them and sort it. Then the next time you feel as though your life is falling down around your ears, at least you’ll know your pictures aren’t.
1. RENAISSANCE FRAMERS, EDINBURGH
A real-life Aladdin’s Cave stuffed to the gills with every frame you could imagine, big and small. The front shop is a Versailles Hall of Mirrors with less space. Gorgeous gilded mirrors, all rococo swirls and candelabra magic covering every inch of wall space and stacked five deep on the floor, requiring a sideways shuffle to get into the main workshop. But great prices, these mirrors. Our Midult found this place after she’d taken a large old oil painting – husband’s family heirloom it turns out – to a backstreet framer who put it in an Argos-style frame. ‘The guy who did this should be shot’, growled the Renaissance team. They spent weeks painstakingly restoring the thing and even offered to buy it – they sell paintings too. These old boys have been doing this for decades and know everything. There’s lots of banter too. You dash in to pick something up and emerge 30 minutes later having had an intense session on Prince Philip. Battery hens. Chernobyl. Good for the soul, this place.
2. THE PICTURE FRAMER, BERKSHIRE
Just don’t ask David for a frame that matches the furniture. One lady did and he’s still talking about it. ‘It’s just missing the point of good framing,’ he says. This aside, he’s great if you’re having a taste bypass or just struck with indecision. You may think you want a black frame for that print but chances are David might convince you that while it’s fine to play it safe, this option will work far better. And he’s always right. If your picture is damaged in some way, he’s your man. With the help of a restorer you can get a damaged old photograph fixed, a tear in an oil painting mended, or stains on a watercolour removed and more. Things you thought were goners suddenly have 50 more years in them. Whereas some framers we know have taken it up as a late career, he has the relaxed authority of someone who’s been doing this for years. Which he has. More than 20 and he learnt his craft in his father’s framing shop in Colchester. That’s why people come to him from all over.
3. PURE FRAMING, CARMARTHEN
After chatting to Jo Reynolds for 10 minutes we’re ready to rip all our pictures from their frames and start again. She’ll grill you relentlessly before she gets her hands on your pictures. ‘It’s what a good framer should always do,’ she says. Ask you the value of the thing you’re having framed, actual or sentimental. And what you’re going to do with it. ‘Never hang it over a radiator or fireplace, please,’ she says. And if it’s going in a kitchen, bathroom or conservatory tell her, as it will affect the materials she uses. Yes, she often finds herself reframing other framers’ shoddy work. She works on her own and doesn’t overload herself with orders so she can properly focus on each piece of work. Probably why she gets a lot of art collectors. Jo is good at thinking outside the box: she’s about to get in a motorcycle sprocket (no idea either, but it weighs a ton apparently) and she needs to work out how to frame it. She loves this problem-solving part of the job which is why she’s so good. She’s determined to frame each piece in the best possible way.
4. DEVONSHIRE FINE ART, DEVON
Many a West Country holiday-purchase gets framed here and sent home to the customer, which is why they’re popular, as this part of the world is full of galleries and antique shops. True, they’re fairly off the beaten track but don’t let that put you off as they ship all around the country. They do a good job restoring damaged pictures, whether they’re suffering from tears, staining or dirt. We love the pictures they have for sale, from endless Vanity Fair prints to a lot of historic maps and old etchings. They often have a good selection of beautiful old London prints too. Apparently they’re the only antique map dealers in Devon and Cornwall. They’re so reliable in their quality and their taste that you could easily buy prints you liked from their website, talk through the framing and have it sent to you in wherever without ever even visiting the shop.
5. HERITAGE PICTURE FRAMING SERVICES, NORFOLK
Why the ‘Heritage’ bit, we ask (wondering if it’s just an easy way to sound upmarket). ‘It just seemed to fit,’ says the main man Daniel, vaguely. Until it comes out that he’s a skilled carpenter by trade who’s worked on some of the country’s most historic buildings. We’re talking Ely Cathedral, Holkham Hall, the British Library… And the Bosworths have been in the framing business since 1841. So the heritage thing is probably fair enough. He’s been doing carpentry since he was nine and framing for the last 30 years. He runs this place with this wife Jane and, to be honest, there isn’t much he can’t do with wood. Not to mention all the other materials he works in. The choice here is endless, with over 7,000 frame mouldings to choose from, 400 colours of mount, 13 types of glass – and bags of advice to help you choose. He knows how to transform pictures by putting them in just the right frame, often the one you’d never have thought of. Passionate about what he does. A true find.
6. STEVE GARNETT PICTURE FRAMING, YORK
Steve works out of his home-based workshop and if his testimonials are anything to go by, he’s top of his game. Honestly his customers come back again and again and they can’t praise his work highly enough. He’ll take on anything from framing a precious papyrus to embroidery to Tower of London poppies. We’ve heard he’s especially good at collage-style framing, where someone wants a collection of items like golf clubs, some balls and tees framed or an album cover with concert tickets and so on. A really good bloke, no airs, no pretences and he won’t presume you’ve a wad of cash to spend. In fact he’s more likely to tell customers ‘I wouldn’t spend the extra on that, this one will work just nicely.’ This man will never need to advertise, once people find him, they never leave him.
7. IN A FRAME, ESSEX
‘He’s my secret weapon,’ says our lady artist. Tell us more? He framed a series of paintings she’d done as a fledgling born-again artist and she reckons her work wouldn’t have looked half as good if it hadn’t been framed by him. In the flesh Richard is softly spoken and not one to big himself up but don’t let that fool you. He’s highly trained, a member of the Fine Art Trade Guild and a Guild Commended Framer. He’ll come up with endless options for every type of frame, glass, price range and is good at talking you through it all when you’re feeling overwhelmed with choice. A good, reliable, hardworking craftsman who people come a fair way to find and entrust him with their precious pictures. Well, not always pictures. He’s as likely to be framing cricket memorabilia. Other recent commissions include some icing sugar art and a large piece of wall.
8. THE FRAMING FACTORY, BRISTOL
If you’ve a Picasso lying around which you’ve been meaning to frame we wouldn’t bring it here as it has a slight High Street stack ‘em high feel but it’s seriously good value for your everyday stuff. We’re talking less than £20 to mount and frame an A3 picture. And they do a good job with it too. The prices rival your average Ikea frame but with none of the messing about trying to fit it into the frame yourself. They make it so easy. Great staff. Open 7 days a week. Based in the refurbed harbour side in between a museum and a tearoom. And if you do have something that needs a bit of TLC in the way of restoration or patching or whatever else, they have a good guy nearby who they’ll put you in touch with to carry out the work before it’s framed. A great bet if ever you have a big stack of prints which you want in fairly standard frames as you’ll end up paying a quarter of what you’d pay in some London joints.
9. SIMON ROBINSON & SON, CAMBRIDGE
‘I’m too busy to talk,’ says Lester, in the nicest possible way. But lucky for us he’s so passionate about what he does he can’t bear not to give us some chat. At busy times like Christmas he’s booked up months in advance. ‘It’s because I get so involved,’ he says. ‘When stuff gets as far as my door I appreciate how much it means to someone. It can be a very long process working out what people need.’ His dad set up the business in his garden shed and ran it until he retired (at least he keeps trying to retire) and his mum, a whizz with embroidery and known as ‘the Oracle’, is still involved. ‘People like a family business, it has a good vibe, which is good for trade,’ says Lester. He’s good at asking all the right questions and talking you through the process. Sometimes he has to save people from themselves (‘they don’t always know what’s best’), but it seems most are happy to be saved. He works to a very high standard. ‘We’re not inexpensive but when people come to us they really care about what they bring, so we step up to the plate.’
10. CLAPHAM PICTURE FRAMERS, LONDON
A straight-talking Londoner, Rob has been here for 11 years and is as good a framer you’ll get if you’re looking for a quality job. If you’ve a painting in need of restoration or TLC he won’t do that himself but he arranges it all for you. The framing he does himself in his workshop is high quality, using either manufactured or hand finished frames. He won’t hold back on advice if you need it, useful if you’re having an is-that-naff-or-not crisis and the set of newspaper front pages he framed for our Midult was fairly-priced considering they’re in a not-cheap area, right by the Tube. These guys have framed a wedding dress. They’ve framed a large chunk of the Berlin Wall. They can frame your pictures without a hassle.
11. SAVIA & COX PICTURE FRAMERS, KENT & SUSSEX
People love all the extra touches you get here. Beautifully framed chalk boards for an event, as well as lots of other wedding themed stuff. They do excellent hot press dry mounting which is ideal for displaying posters, much better than putting them behind glass. They do customised frames painted in Farrow & Ball colours which come up nicely and make a change to being stuck with the limited colours you usually get. They won’t take on a full-on restoration job but they do have good contacts they can point you to. Don’t be put off by the posh name, they’re as fine with you bringing in some kid’s art or a piece of gift wrap (oh tea towels are another one) to be framed as they are ‘serious’ art. They’re very laid back and fine when faced with dithering, indecisive customers who, we hear, have been known to spend 3 days choosing what shade of white to use for the mount.
12. RAY’S GLASS AND FRAMES, LONDON
A good old East End family business. Mum, dad and the three boys frame anything that can be nailed to a wall from their workshop in Shoreditch. They do a lot of framing for artists and big projects for interior designers, so are used to working to a very high spec. But also a fair amount of one-offs, framing watercolours, backing a vintage poster, box framing memorabilia. They’re a laid-back bunch. They don’t have a philosophy or a niche, they’ll see what you bring in, what you want and go with it. If you’re clueless they’ll hold your hand (not literally which is a shame as Ben who we talk to is lovely) and help you work out what’s best for you. If you’re determined to have what you want they’ll go with that too. Their work is good quality and made to last.
13. THE FRAMING WORKSHOP, GLASGOW
One Midult is willing to fill her car boot with pictures and paintings and drive all the way from West London to Glasgow just to have these guys frame her stuff. Sounds insane but when you’re getting as good a job as this and at such amazing prices (£15 to frame an A4 size piece of art WITH mount) frankly she could probably get a taxi there and back and still make it worth her while. Run by a husband and wife team, with branches in Milngavie and Dumbarton too, these guys are all creative, give spot-on advice if you’re having a creative crisis of confidence and have a great selection of frames. They’ll frame everything from a large old oil to an even more battered old pair of boxing gloves. They’ll turn things around quickly and their frames are made to last. Just prepare yourself for a fair bit of Weegie banter…
14. SOHO FRAMES PRINT COMPANY, LONDON
The last time we were overdrawn it was in here. To be fair we got the maths wrong but it would have been steep anyway. So if your house has already put you in debt don’t make it worse by coming here to sort out your interiors. But then who expects bargain basement in Soho? The frames are beautiful, from an effortlessly classy Manhattan loft vibe to gorgeously distressed, gilded delights. To be honest you could bring in any old scrap of paper and they would make it look amazing. We love their print shop, so whether you have a scan on an email you want printing out beautifully or some photos you want edited and printed before framing, they’ll do it. Being in this part of town means their bread-and-butter clients are big players, from slick graphic design studios to top advertising agencies, restaurants and more, so their standards are always high.
15. METRO IMAGING, LONDON
Don’t tell them you’d like a ready-made frame. Okay, do. For a laugh. These guys are craftsmen and proud of it. Everything they do is bespoke. The place has been going for over 40 years and has a Royal Warrant. It’s way more diverse than framing A3 prints. For starters they can do images as big as 10ft by 6ft. They can print onto anything up to 100mm thick – leather, concrete pack ice you name it. The guy in charge is Prof Steve Macleod, a lovely deep-voiced Scot who’s an artist himself and a professor of photography at the University of Suffolk. ‘Never underestimate the power of a frame,’ he says firmly. In fact he tells his photography students to picture the frame before they even pick up the camera. ‘When you take a shell and put it under a bell jar, it changes,’ he says. It becomes an object. ‘It’s the same with framing.’ He’s the thinker’s framer right enough. Better still this place is doing good things, running a mentoring scheme and offering frame rental to NGOs.
16. DARBYSHIRE, LONDON
After framing a few Damien Hirsts and Tracy Emins, the job of framing someone’s childhood security blanket (or what was left of it) could be seen as a bit homespun. But no. These guys are pros. They get that someone’s scrap of blankie is as valuable as another’s multi-million Hirst. ‘The blanket was all shredded like a relic but she’d had it since she was a girl and it was her most important thing. Now it’s framed and hanging in her sitting room,’ says Dan proudly. We’d heard this place was pretty high-end and so were expecting a good dose of London gallery snootiness but we couldn’t get a rise out of Dan at all. He’s a lovely guy, down to earth and knows his stuff. ‘We frame pretty much anything and everything for anybody,’ he says. Though because they do some big gallery projects, if you walk in with one little watercolour they might not be able to turn it around in a week. But they’ll do it. They suggest you go in for a consultation to go through the options and they’re very transparent on price, you won’t get them trying to upgrade you on every type of glass, mount and so on. But having worked at the cutting edge of the art scene for a while now they’re wildly inventive when it comes to dreaming up clever ways of framing tricky objects.
17. BLACK SHED PICTURE FRAMING, KENT
Engineering’s loss is the art world’s gain. Kenton was travelling the world working on electronic equipment when, 20 years ago, he left the industry to pursue a lifelong passion for art. He did a fine art degree and worked as an artist fairly successfully until the recession hit. He needed a Plan B so he opened a gallery to support artists and provide framing. He’s trained with some of London’s most renowned framers and is in much demand in these parts, regularly being called on to frame for galleries across the South East including Hastings Art Gallery. For him, it’s all about the artwork and what the customer wants to do with the art. ‘Too many High Street framers just want to put a glossy frame on the work of art and they aren’t so interested in the piece. We work the other way around,’ he says.
18. SE1 PICTURE FRAMES, LONDON
Not the place to cross town for with a single old oil which needs reviving but for a really good contemporary framer in London these chaps cut it. They do lots of projects for smaller galleries which is why we can’t manage to get Sam to speak to us. The man’s frantic. Framing 100 pictures for an upcoming Quentin Blake exhibition. But if you book an appointment and go in with your pieces, they’ll impress. Our interior designer Midult has used him to turn out a series of up to 20 matching frames for projects and she says he always delivers. And he’ll deliver, too. To your door if you can’t collect. A good place to go to have a mirror cut and framed. We’d never thought of doing it that way round but such a good idea. Plus they’ll reglaze pictures where the glass has smashed, which lots of High Street guys won’t bother to do because it isn’t worth their time. They’re based in the beautiful Alaska Buildings in Bermondsey, another reason to go.
19. WINDSOR FRAMING & ART, WINDSOR
Some people worry about being ripped off by a framer. You know, having the type of glass upgraded or more high-end finishings than they need. Not with Ron. He recently sent someone away telling them not to waste their money on having him make a frame when a ready-made frame would do perfectly well. An old school gent, he’s keen to do his best for people even if it means sending them away. Ron’s been doing this for more than 30 years now. He was working in London but he got tired of the commute so he opened a shop and a gallery in Windsor. The best thing is that if you’re struggling to get to him or you want to chat about your pictures in situ, he’ll come to your place, so long as you aren’t more than about 10 miles from Windsor. ‘People are busy, you’re all working these days and weekends are full of shopping, kids and so on, so I’ll try and fit in with you,’ he says. He sees it all, from money-bags who don’t care how much they spend, to old age pensioners who want their cross-stitch framed and can only just scrape together the money. He’ll never turn away a job, even if it’s replacing cracked glass or mending a broken frame.
20. MH FRAMING, WILTSHIRE
Talk about #JustDoIt. Lelanie’s mother is an interior designer and her dad is a bit of an art collector. A few years back he had over 300 works of art to frame (we thought we had problems with our stash of 6). They looked and looked but found it impossible to get a framer who’d do it for them. So what do you do? Say sod it, shove the lot in the garage and forget about them for a year? We would. But not Lelanie and her folks. They decided to set up as framers themselves. They recruited a guy who was keen to learn the trade, sent him to train at the Guild after which they all learnt the tricks of the trade. Fast forward a few years and they’re storming ahead, doing jobs for interior designers, kitting out manor houses, galleries, you name it. They’ll do anything from very cool contemporary framing to restoring an old gilt frame which has chunks of plaster falling off it. The key is that their staff are young, which is no accident. There are so many older framers who are good and know what they’re doing but are stuck in their ways, unwilling to try new things, they won’t even have an online presence. Not so MH. Their website is beautiful and the staff are mostly in their 20s or 30s (apart from her folks). Worth travelling to, this lot, but call ahead to book as sometimes they’re out and about doing installations in galleries or homes.