A Gallery Wall How-To

I recently moved into a new home. Blank canvas. Lots of pictures of my kids, and a few other pieces of art that I really liked. My friend who is a decorator suggested grouping them together in a few areas of the house, instead of sprinkling them all over. She said they would have more impact this way.


Starting point: An empty first floor office/study/formal living room, one antique-style desk, and lots of random pictures. First port of call was of course Pinterest, where gallery walls seem to be all the rage. My aims: create a super-cool-looking wall that would give the room a purpose. Showcase a lot of pictures that didn’t necessarily go together. Put up some more recent pictures of my children, since the last ones I had framed were from, um, 2009. And, not spend a lot of money. (Still have rest of house to furnish/decorate).


My friend Phyllis, whose own home is super put-together, had offered to help me get straight. And she had created a gallery wall in her own home. So I called and asked her to come help me figure out where to start. I had originally envisioned having the desk against one wall, and hanging the pictures in a large gallery arrangement above the desk. She took one look, and said “Nope. The desk has to move to under the window, and you have to cover the ENTIRE wall in pictures”. Gulp. I had a couple of boxes with old framed pictures that hadn’t been hung up in years, that I’d cleared out of the attic. So maybe we could make this work.


Gallery Wall


We started by measuring the wall, and laying out butcher paper on the floor to the exact size of the wall. This gave us the exact space we needed to fill, and had the added bonus of not scratching up the new floors.


Then came the hard part, figuring out the layout. We started with the two focus pieces–large gallery wrapped canvases from Canvas On Demand. These are two of my favorite pictures I have of my girls, so I wanted them front and center. Then, we put a few frames down, stood back, and decided if we liked them. We got the top row in place, then worked our way down. We focused on how the frames went together, figuring I’d fill them with pictures after they were in place.


Our considerations: having a roughly even distribution of sizes, orientations and frame colors. I had a few frames that were a light pine color that just didn’t go with the rest. Nothing that a can of black spray paint couldn’t fix. And I had a few pairs of frames. Some of the pairs we hung together, some we split up. There really wasn’t any magic formula to how things were laid out. Phyllis had learned it’s good to include a couple of elements that aren’t frames, to break things up. She had used a large letter ‘S’ monogram from Ballard Design. I had a couple of Pottery Barn ledge shelves that we included. They served two purposes–they broke up all the squares and rectangles in the layout, and they added a bit of dimension, since they project out from the wall about four inches.


It took us a couple of hours and a couple of glasses of wine to get things the way we wanted them. We found a few gaps where things didn’t quite meet up, and we added a couple of extra details in there that I happened to have on hand—some small star shaped frames, and a bunch of rusty keys—to add contrast to the frame shapes. Other things that would have worked well to break things up—monogram letters, round frames or starburst mirrors. What I really wanted to add but didn’t was a papier mache deer or rhino head (think fake taxidermy), but the ones I liked were well over $100. Did I mention I was trying to do this on a budget?


I left the frames laid out on the floor for a few days, and would stand and look at them each time I walked past the room, sometimes making slight adjustments. I added in a couple of gallery-wrapped canvas artwork to break up all the photographs. (Hint: if you have an outlet you are not going to use and you want to cover it up in your gallery; canvases are great for this, as they have hollow backs.)


Gallery Wall


The next day, I took each frame and numbered it. Then traced around each one on butcher paper and cut them out. I wrote the corresponding number on each cut out. Using masking tape, I taped each piece of paper onto the wall in the place of where it was going to go. At this point, I was able to take all the frames up off the floor and stack them against the wall, so I could get a stepladder into the room.


Once I had all the shapes taped to the wall, I stepped back and adjusted the spacing on them. It looked best when there were some common lines amongst the frames, as it anchored them together. For the top row, most of the tops of the frames lined up. And down the right hand side, the inside edges of those four or five lined up. After I had things as good as I could get them, it was time to start hanging them on the wall. There are a ton of tips on Pinterest for how to easily hang pictures.


The method I found easiest was to take one paper shape off the wall, and tape it to the back of the corresponding picture frame. Mark up where the nails would have to go in through the paper. Tape the paper back onto the wall in the same spot, then hammer your nails in straight through the paper, right where you marked them. Take the paper down from behind the nails, and hang your picture. If I hadn’t used this method, I would have tried the blob of toothpaste one. That looked pretty cool.


Hanging the frames was by far the most time consuming and frustrating part. It took me a good couple of hours to get them all up. But it was so worth it. It would have been really easy to stop at this point. I was really happy with how the frames all worked together. But I figured that sooner or later I would get tired of looking at either empty frames, or frames that contained cheesy images, or old pictures that I no longer liked (which is why they had been in a box in my attic in the first place). So the next step is to fill the empty frames with new pictures. That’s the fun part, right?


Gallery Wall


Quick Tip #1

Plan the layout BEFORE you start to hang anything. Arrange your layout on a workspace or the floor then use kraft paper to create a template or guide for the wall.

Quick Tip #2

Create balance and visual interest by adding in a non-rectanglular object, such as a shelf or three-dimensional letter.

Quick Tip #3

If you have an outlet you are not going to use and you want to cover it up in your gallery; canvases are great for this, as they have hollow backs.


Gallery Wall