I recently unearthed a print of a French cartoon that my husband bought on a Paris street years ago. It was sitting in a tube in my old pantry. Some combination of inconvenience, expense and inertia kept me from framing these pieces. I’ve since learned I am not alone—maybe as many as 41 percent of households in the U.S. have art that needs to be framed. Nature and the Internet abhor a vacuum—so along comes Mantle Art (mantleart.com), a Seattle-based service that uses a free app and the USPS to get these neglected works framed and up on the wall—more cheaply and easily than many frame shops.
Here’s how it works (full disclosure: Mantle provided a free trial for me): I downloaded the app; uploaded a photo of my print; input the dimensions; reviewed Mantle’s frame recommendations and pricing; then made my purchase (time: 15 minutes total). A mailing tube with a prepaid label arrived a few days later, and I slipped in the piece and headed out the door. Everything went according to plan, except the convenient post office near my light rail stop and office has been closed for renovations—so I carried my tube back and forth for weeks before I got it mailed.
About a week later, my framed piece arrived (total time: a little more than three weeks). It looked great. Framing does that. I had gone with the app’s first recommendation: a white frame and brown mat priced at $114. In person, it looked vaguely French. I think that was a coincidence.
I asked owner Walter Haugland, who launched Mantle after more than six years at Expedia, about the recommendations. He calls it the “secret sauce.” “It's an algorithm that looks at the colors and size of your art to recommend a framing option,” he says. “If you were to go into any local frame store this is essentially what the framer does as well.”
My takeaway: If I was someone who really wanted to finesse the choice and walk through a million options, I might be frustrated. Plus, it’s hard to judge how a framed piece will really look based on iPhone views, and I probably wouldn’t frame a truly valuable piece this way. But I wanted my drawing framed and soon, and honestly, I suspect the Mantle algorithm chose a better frame option than I would have done. My wall and my wallet are satisfied.