Many people have at least one wall in their home that’s empty and just begging to be graced by years of family vacation photos, a collection of random-but-prized art, or (best of all) a combination of both. Enter the gallery wall — the perfect solution for displaying all manner of framed treasures.
From the effortlessly curated, organic display of art to the measured-to-perfection grid of photos, gallery walls are everywhere. Many of my clients have more than a few inspirational images saved for the day when they’ll finally get around to filling their walls, but they stumble when it comes time to arranging frames and picking up a hammer. I want to take the mystery and anxiety out of creating your own gallery wall. With a little planning, you can be well on your way to your very own Pinterest-worthy art installation.
You have several options for how to arrange your art and photos. Let’s look at a few styles and when they work best.
A space that is struggling with mismatched furniture or lack of symmetry can be balanced with an organized, grid-like art or photo arrangement. Even when the art pieces themselves are varied, you can create a cohesive look by using a consistent frame size and color. I like to work in these layouts as a series of nine frames (three rows of three). This style is marked by uniformity, so take care when installing your grid to measure the space between each frame (the “river’’) and keep it consistent.
Tip: Save money by buying standard-sized frames. Invest instead in custom-cut mats. The latter are far less expensive and can instantly pull a collection of inconsistent-sized prints and photos into a cohesive arrangement in uniform frame sizes.
This style is best described as a riot of art arranged floor to ceiling in one statement-making collection. If you have a big wall or a room without much in the way of architectural details, you can instantly up the style factor with a salon-style arrangement. I love it best when it’s a mix of frame styles and mediums — photos among prints among canvases. It’s a bold look and can be a tricky and intimidating arrangement to get right. If you favor this look, make sure you start with one to three large “anchor’’ pieces to build upon. Too many small pieces will make your space look cluttered and without purpose. Depending on the size of your wall, your anchors could be 16-by-20 or larger. Once you have these hung, fill in with an assortment of smaller pieces, taking care to vary and balance the orientations and colors. Make sure you aren’t too heavy on dark colors to one side and too vertical-frame heavy on the other. Spread it around. Aim for a minimum of 3-inch rivers between pieces, but don’t stress about having them all be exactly the same. This style of art placement is marked by an effortless “collected over the years’’ appearance, so don’t be afraid to play it a little loose.
Tip: Trace all your frames onto wrapping paper, cut them out, and label with frame color, size, and subject. Then play around with the arrangement on the floor before you start hammering nails into your wall.
Somewhere between the uniformity of a grid arrangement and the floor-to-ceiling, free-form vibe of the salon style lies the happy medium of a balanced but asymmetrical gallery wall. The key to nailing this style is to identify the wall space you want to fill and then solving the puzzle of what combination of frames will fill it. For example, if you’re working with the space over an 84-inch couch, you might have 60 inches vertically (depending on your ceiling height) and 84 inches horizontally to fill. There is no right or wrong answer for the combination of frames that will fill this space. I like to start with my largest piece and place it off-center. Then I find three or five frames (always an odd number) that, when arranged together, take up roughly the same amount of visual space as the large piece I started with. This is the basis of your arrangement. Depending on the sizes you’ve chosen, you may have room to keep building outward or pepper in some smaller sizes.
Tip: If you want to create a little more consistency with this style, work your arrangement within the confines of an invisible rectangle. Worry less about the rivers between each frame. Focus more on having the outer edges of each one line up along the edge of your invisible rectangle.
For the commitment shy among us, photo ledges — thin-profile shelves meant to accommodate rows of leaning frames — can be the perfect solution. This approach lends itself to an ever-changing (even seasonal) display of art and photos. Don’t be afraid to layer. Vary the sizes, keeping larger pieces to the back. I often like to stack two ledges, one 23 to 30 inches above the other to allow for larger frames, and incorporate a few small, more dimensional treasures (think leaning starfish from a family vacation).
Tip: This is a great solution for displaying children’s artwork; it’s low commitment and can be swapped out regularly. Supply some inexpensive frames and empower your own mini art curator.
It’s time to start seeing those blank walls in your home less as items on an endless to-do list and more as opportunities to create truly personal, visual calling cards for you and your family. Gallery walls are meant to display things you love, faces that make you happy, and moments that bring joy. I promise, the first nail is the hardest, so get busy.
Dina Holland writes the Ask the Designer column in Address. Submit your questions and conundrums via Instagram by tagging her at @honeyandfitz or using the hashtag #honeyandfitzaskthedesigner. You can also e-mail them to Address@globe.com.