Most of us don’t collect art like a gallery does. We may have a few large-format pieces that hang in places of honor in our homes, and a few smaller pieces that are placed where they’ll bring us daily joy. On top of those, we accumulate dozens of smaller pieces that reflect our passions: scientific prints, historic photographs, maps, artifacts, or pictures of grandchildren. If you go on Pinterest, you’ll find boards telling you how to arrange this accumulation of frames into a “gallery wall.”
There’s an art to doing this kind of wall correctly. Do it right, and it’s a beautiful and thoughtful addition to your home. Do it wrong, and it looks like you haphazardly threw a bunch of frames up on the wall.
I spent A FULL DAY putting together just such a wall recently. This is how I did it.
- Start with a theme.
This isn’t a place to put up a bunch of rectangular stuff you found at a flea market because you have a blank wall behind your sofa. Find a common thread. It doesn’t have to be subject matter, though that’s a great place to start; it can also be color or framing, so long as it seems to have some rhyme and reason.
An ideal wall will be an assembly of pieces that looks like you’ve acquired and curated it over years of collecting — though there’s certainly no shame in assembling one from a collection someone else has been curating for years.
Last week, I was working with bird prints, collected over the span of 30 or 40 years. It’s a random collection (from various artists and sources) and had once been dispersed throughout the entire house, with groups of one, two, or three hung here and there. Only when we took them all down and put them in once place was it clear what an impressive collection this was.
(I really don’t care for the term “gallery wall,” truth be told, since no gallery would ever hang this way. Since these were bird prints, I got to call this wall “Birds of a Feather Flocking Together.” And when I got frustrated, I could just shout “Flocking Birds!” which made for a great stress reliever.)
- Begin on the floor.
I measured the shape and size of the wall — this one was above a staircase — and then laid out those measurements with painter’s tape on the floor. That way I had a clear idea of the size I wanted to fill. I started putting pieces down, like I was working a jigsaw puzzle. I started with the largest piece in the middle, thinking about the balance of the whole composition. From there, I worked out in a grid pattern, to create a formal, clean look. If you don’t follow a grid, your wall will look like you just threw stuff up.
Go ahead and lay out the whole wall on the floor. Keep an eye out for balance, making sure that you haven’t placed all the heavy frames on one side, or grouped all the bright colors together. Keep the density consistent up and down and from side to side. But also keep artistry in mind, and put your most stunning pieces at eye level, and move pieces that are less significant or don’t have the detail to merit a longer look higher on the wall. Also, if you have pairs, or a series of prints or photos, do your best to hang them together (in matching frames, obviously).
- Grab a hammer. And cancel your appointments for the day.
Now it’s time to put it all on the wall. Make sure you’ve got a solid work surface for hanging the higher frames; you don’t want to be swinging a hammer over your head or falling off the ladder.
Start hanging with the center piece and stick to the grid as you go. The spacing doesn’t have to be exact unless you are hanging a lot of identically sized pieces; in fact, varying the spacing between the pieces helps balance the look and gives it a more cohesive feel. For this wall, I used spacing between 2 and 5 inches apart depending on the size of the pieces. (The more planning you do on the floor, the easier the hanging will be.)
You’ll be exercising more than your arms when you hang a full wall of frames; it’s also a good exercise in patience. If you think this is something that can be done quickly — or if you simply have limited time‚ then think again. Once everything is up on the wall, you’ll stand back and look. And then you’ll probably change out some pieces that looked great on the floor but just aren’t quite right on the wall.
With this wall, I was lucky enough to have a pair of mirrors that fit the frame style, so I brought the sides of the wall together by hanging one mirror on one side and the other mirror on the other side — but not exactly in the same horizontal line. That’s not a move to be executed based on lessons from Pinterest, I’m afraid. That comes from decades in business and hanging art on hundreds upon hundreds of walls.
- Be confident.
With enough forethought and enough time to execute well, any hobbyist decorator with a good eye can make a decent wall of frames. But if you’ve got a particularly interesting or valuable collection — or really, just don’t want to spend the next ten years looking at a slightly off-balance wall and cursing yourself — then hire a professional. These are the sorts of puzzles that I love working out, especially if the puzzle pieces are exceptional.
Also, the homeowner on the scaffolding in these pictures is for hire, since he proved that he has infinite patience after a day spent working with me. Tell him that his sister recommended him highly.
Credits: Top image: Pinterest Second Image: Habitually Chic