There is, however, one type of person who always notices the frame first. According to Christies, the auctioneers, some art historians, keen to take their knowledge one step further, will study the frames as well as the pictures, and then become collectors, searching for rare 16th century Renaissance frames or attempting to "reunite" frames with works from the same period. Although frame collecting is a specialist field, to the small band of collectors the frames are an art in themselves, and the general public is starting to catch on to the idea.
Frames have been around for centuries - think of grand houses with windows designed specifically to "frame" a particular view - but picture framing as a concept really evolved in the 13th and 14th centuries when artists would craft a frame to accompany their picture. In fact, frames can often be a guide to particular periods in time.
In the 15th and 16th centuries, for example, gilding - probably because of artists' links with the Church in general - was a common decorative style, and frames became increasingly ornate with extravagant garlands or leaf motifs incorporated into the design.
Distinct geographical styles also evolved. In Holland, 17th century "Lutma" frames, with their swirling leaf motifs, were very popular and gilded black cassetta frames are typically thought of as Spanish.
In contrast, in North America, frames carved from indigenous woods with simple, flat edges began to appear and, in 19th century Britain, the mass production of frames, designed for middle class homes and newly opened museums, set a precedent for standard frames and spawned a whole new generation of innovative frame designers reacting against this.
This tradition has continued into the 20th century, when variety is definitely the name of the game. Although gilded frames remain a design classic, minimalist frames, frameless pictures or even pictureless frames are all easily found. People are asking more of their walls, and a recent trend in interiors seems to be the efforts that go into using whole walls as display areas.
Antique cutlery, leaves or a treasured item of memorabilia are commonly displayed in picture frames. As Daisy Bridgewater of World of Interiors magazine explains: "People are experimenting and hanging all kinds of things, even pot lids, on their walls - a picture doesn't necessarily need to be a picture in the conventional sense".
In the Paris flat featured in the magazine's October issue, the owner decided that her picture frames were so beautiful there was no need to put pictures in them and left them to hang solo.
The frames you choose to decorate your walls and, in particular, the way you hang them, says a lot. A wall dripping in pictures from top to toe, or a jumble of pictures propped up above a ledge, can be somehow be more satisfying than a picture hastily hooked up according to the line of the best fit.
This home-as-gallery nature of picture display is a relatively new phenomenon in the average home. In a society where fashions change so frequently and where constant visual stimulation is both demanded and given "being able to change images is important," advises Toni Rodgers, editor of Elle Decoration.
"People don't want all their pictures on display at once. By propping pictures up on a ledge temporarily you can simply bring different pictures out when you want a new view."
Whatever your individual taste, it has to be said that frames are a way of making a decorative impact, and there is no reason not to have fun with your walls with the current range of affordable frames. IKEA's (0181 233 2300 for nearest store) Reslig deep frame (pounds 4.50) is 50x70cm and takes anything up to 10mm thick, so grab a favourite slimline possession and give it an impact Damien Hirst-style.
For larger items, the Bas box is 31x20cm and costs pounds 6 and, for self-conscious stacking of pictures, IKEA also does a floor easel for pounds 17.50. Habitat (0645 334433) is a similarly good place to head to for frames; there is a gallery department in all Habitat stores, selling various prints and frames. Joining the Habitat Art Club (which began on 30 April this year) costs pounds 15 (pounds 10 for storecard holders) and this entitles you to 15 per cent off all gallery products as well as receiving a quarterly magazine and details of various special offers and preview evenings.
Habitat's autumn range of frames continues the fashionable oriental theme of simple, pure living. Available from mid-September onwards, Bambu frames have bamboo edges and start at pounds 6 for 10cm by 15cm. The Aluminus range is still extremely popular, and the smallest costs pounds 7.50 for a 10cm by 15cm frame. Alternatively, create a family of frames to nest on top of your trendy, minimalist mantelpiece with tiny Eye frames, for pounds 3.50 each.
And, for the truly dedicated minimalist, there is always the "frame-free" option. According to Rodgers: "People are often using no frames at all, but instead mounting a series of photographs on art board and squaring them up immaculately to create a display."
Others are blowing photos up to fill a whole wall and the appeal of this is that you can have a go yourself by nipping down to your local quick- print shop. In some ways, you can't go wrong - even if the blown-up picture becomes grainy, this may give it a certain wistful quality you hadn't expected.
Where to pick up a good frame:
Frame Express (01453 885087 for nearest store) has branches throughout the south of England. Prices range from pounds 5/m to pounds 50/m and shops are open from around 9am-6pm Mon-Sat;
IKEA (0181 208 5607 for nearest store) has frames starting at pounds 1 for three 10x15cm wood frames, and going up to pounds 22 for a 50x70cm solid pine frame;
Each Habitat (0645 334433 for nearest store) store has a 'gallery' department stocking frames and prints;
Christies (0171 581 7611 for enquiries) will be holding its next frame auction on 28 October. A 16th century Venetian frame was sold at the last auction for pounds 8,000.
The Home (01274 530770), at Salts Mill, Saltaire, Bradford, is open from 10am-6pm daily and stocks a range of frames costing between pounds 5 and pounds 40, from simple metal frames to cloth and wooden frames;
Centre Gallery (0141 332 8880) is at 450a Sauciehall Street, Glasgow. Expect to pay pounds 45-pounds 55 for a 60x80cm single mount frame, or commission a frame in the next two weeks and get two-for-the-price-of-oneReuse content