Joburg Expat: The Insurmountable Picture Hanging Project

August 29, 2011

The Insurmountable Picture Hanging Project

The one huge downside about being an expat is that you have to move to get to wherever your assignment is. And the one huge downside about moving, at least for me, is that you have to hang your pictures all over again. That's right, in my mind it surpasses visa trouble and cultural barriers to sit right at the top of the pain-in-the-ass list of expat existence. I cannot tell you how often we've had to hang these same pictures, every time on a set of differently configured walls, to the point where I cannot even look at them anymore.


But what's even worse here in South Africa, similar to Singapore, is that the walls seem to be made from titanium. When you go at them with something as obvious as a hammer and a nail, they practically laugh in your face. All you will accomplish is a stash of bent nails and walls that look like you've just survived the siege of Stalingrad. I almost cry when I think back to those cooperative American dry walls that are so soft you can practically push in a nail with your bare thumb.

So when I recently gave Noisette some photo canvas prints for his birthday - and when after about a month they were still standing in exactly the same place, attracting both dust and accusing stares from my housekeeper - I once again decided it was time to pull out our trusted tools of picture-hanging, South-African style:


Yep, you really do need a drill. To make the hole you're then going to stick the nail in. And a vacuum cleaner for all the mess you're creating. And some spackling paste for fitting the hole around the nail in case it is too wobbly. I realize that I can't offer this as one of my expat tips, because it sounds way crazy, but honestly, it is the only way we've gotten this to work. We tried that Hilti tool and those special nails it comes with, but that was just as bad as a regular hammer and nail, just more expensive.


Making progress

It took about two hours of measuring, levelling, marking, drilling, vacuuming, hanging, and adjusting, but it was all worth it for the final outcome, I think:



It took me three trips down to our garage to put away all the picture-hanging gear. It feels good to be done and for all I care that drill can rot in hell for the next two years. But I know it won't last. We are bound to forgive and forget and fall in love with a new piece of art all over again.

By the way, I will offer this tip: take photos of all your walls back home before packing up. It will help to know how you arranged your pictures the last time, even if the rooms are now different, and save time on planning the new layout.

10 comments :

Miss Footloose | Life in the Expat Lane said...

We had walls like that in Palestine. Unbelievable. Couldn't even figure out how to put up draperies and curtains.

You did a great job. It looks very professional. Now when you move out, do you have to redo the walls after filling the holes again )as per rental agreement)?

Sine said...

Funny how the "developing" and even "crumbling" places in the world have the toughest walls:-). Yes, we do have to fix up the walls before moving out. Maybe that's where those guys standing by the roadside at Builder's Warehouse with a paint brush in their hand will come in handy...

Bing said...

The walls in Singapore are like that too. That's why my Dad made sure I was a pro with the power drill ever since I was a kid. Hahaa..

I don't think I'm allowed to drill holes in my current place. So I've been using these - http://www.command.com/wps/portal/3M/en_US/NACommand/Command/Products/Product-Catalog/?PC_7_RJH9U523080QE0IIHEICN90GC1_nid=86QH3CT1CLbeF0GFSQ26BSgl

They stick really well and are special. They don't leave sticky marks when they are removed. I bring them in from Singapore or order from amazon.co.uk.

dailyhues said...

We had just the opposite experience when we moved to the US from SA twenty years ago. We were aghast that so many of the walls here are made of flimsy and insubstantial dry wall. Somehow that just didn't fit with our perception of how the homes in a first world country (and a superpower, "nogal") should be built :-)! It was only once we moved into a house that was built in the 1920s that my husband had to get out his trusted Hilti to hang our artwork on the lath and plaster walls.

Your canvas photos look great; striking shots and layout.

Sine said...

Bing - I remember well those Singapore walls, that's when we first started cursing! I believe that's where we actually also bought the drill we're now using, if I remember correctly. Thanks for the link too, maybe someone else can take advantage of those. I've seen them in Germany I think but have to say that I can't bring myself to trust something that sticks and doesn't leave marks and is still strong enough for heavy pictures...

Sine said...

dailyhues - I never thought about it from that perspective, so funny. I think for Americans it's just about convenience, and it certainly is a lot quicker that way. Plus the houses are cheaper to build. However, I do remember the kids being a bit rambunctious one day and boom, there was a big hole in the wall.

cat said...

Wow - that canvass picture wall is a stunning idea.

Sine said...

Thanks but I can't take credit for the idea - my friends Jacky and Andy had given me the hint with their beautiful picture walls. I got mine done at QPhoto and was happy with the service. You email your pics and pick up a few days later. Just be very specific on the sizes.

W. A. Jeffrey said...

I suppose the reason SA house are so hard to hang pictures in is because of the heavy use of concrete. Surprised there aren't more wood frame homes in the Johannesburg area because the concrete is only really beneficial where there is high humidity.

Sine said...

Yes, concrete. they sell these nails there that are supposed to work on concrete, but I never succeeded making a tiny hole, it always chipped the entire wall and made an ugly scar. So, only way to do it is to get your drill and masonry bit out, and make small holes you can then poke the nail into.