Thursday, May 16, 2013

Homes Updates: Anatomy of a Gallery Wall

I am not really a home blogger. But I am a bona fide home hacker and I do love to be inspired by the beauty of my surroundings. And I just happen to have a blog which means that sometimes I see fit to interrupt my irregularly scheduled posts about kids and failure and making friends with mess to show you my most recent home hacks.

Enter this post on "gallery walls."

Oh how I love them! I always have. My first gallery wall was way back in 2002. I'd traveled abroad by then and I desperately wanted to display photos and art from my travels. When we moved into our current home 7 1/2 years ago, I replicated much of what was in our old house and for the most part, it has remained unchanged since then. 

I may be a compulsive rearranger but when I get my walls a certain way and love it, I do not change a thing.

But new paint inspired some much-needed change. {See the earlier post this week on new paint and our dresser-turned-entertainment-center.} I painted all the shelves and some of my frames white. I mixed in new photos and art. And it just. kept. growing. My gallery wall is now so expansive that I'm thinking about charging admission.

Here's the great room gallery wall BEFORE:

{Oh and here it is after I had to move the settee to make room for our homeschool desks a few years ago.}

And here's the great room gallery wall AFTER:

I know, that's a lot of stuff on the wall. Maybe too much. But it makes me smile and it's terribly sentimental and I really, really love it. 

{Now that I'm no longer homeschooling, that long desk had become a landing strip for clutter and laundry so I removed half of her. I'll show you where the other half went in another post.}

So this post is all about what I've learned after assembling a few gallery walls over the years. I know, a "bullet point post" is not my usual fare. Nonetheless, I'll share with you some tips that may be useful if you want to create a gallery wall of your own. I'm anything but an expert. Take or leave whatever you like.

1. Make it personal. There's nothing wrong with buying cute, mass-produced art from Hobby Lobby. Truly there's not. I've gotten a few things like that over the years but recently realized that I've given all of it away or sold it in yard sales. In the end, I guess I prefer what's "real" or sentimental or crafted by an actual artist, even if that artist is my amateur kid painter. 

I have four pieces of kid art on this wall. And I'm just crazy about all of them. 

Two pieces of art are watercolors by street artists in Prague, given to me by my sister who visited there during the year she lived in Munich. They are beautiful, miniature works of art and I have always adored watercolors. I've had these for years and love them just as much as I always have. 

I have three "artifacts" that are super special. One of them is a teapot that belonged to my husband's grandmother, gifted to me by his grandfather. Both of them are in Heaven now and gifts like the teapot are sweet reminders of them. 

Another is a gorgeous Anthropologie teapot gifted to me by Lily for my birthday a few years ago. The last is a hanging piece of pottery crafted by a local South Carolina artisan and given to me by my dear sister last year. 

I also copied, pasted, and printed out this "Prayer for the Home" that I saw on Edie's blog, Life in Grace, a really long time ago. It's so beautiful. 

I thought it was perfect and wanted to have it in our place too. I wrapped some scrapbook paper around a matte and put it in a clear frame. 

2. Choose your favorite photos. I have ten photos on this wall. That's quite a lot but they're a sweet, eclectic representation of our family. Having fewer but larger photos would also work beautifully. I'd love to have several larger canvas pieces around the house at some point but with an open floor plan, there's a shortage of walls and therefore a shortage of gallery space. 

Photos are such an easy, inexpensive way to change things up. Take 20 minutes to upload and print several of your favorite photos that are sitting in obscurity on your hard-drive. Then grab some cheap, chunky frames from a discount store {or from your attic} and you're good to go. 

I don't know why I put simple things off like that. I'm amazed at how easy and quick it is to add photo updates to our space; I always wish I'd done it sooner. 

3. Mix art and photos and "artifacts." It just works. Too many like things can feel matchy-matchy. Mixing is up is fun and interesting. That's all there is too it. 

4. Add architectural elements. Shelves and cubes and giant chunky frames add substance and dimension. 

5. Group tiny things inside larger frames or on shelves. Scale is important. Our house is small but this room is huge. It comprises two-thirds of our house. Small picture frames and tchotchkes sitting on end tables or tacked to the wall with nothing around them end up adding to the clutter and getting swallowed up by the space. But let's face it, most of us have lovely things we want to display that are smaller than an 11 x 14 frame.  

For this wall, I found that grouping my smaller frames inside one giant frame feels cohesive instead of cluttered. 

6. Crop. This is something I've just discovered. My daughter has gobs of art and because she's a perfectionist, she hates most of it. Thankfully, I have salvaged some precious pieces from the trash. This monarch butterfly, one of her "earlier works," was painted on a much larger piece of paper. I cut out just the butterfly and framed it. Made all the difference. 

This waterlily painting was a half-hearted attempt at Monet. It was her first draft and she tried to trash it. The paint ran and the colors mixed too much and she thought it was a wreck. But I thought the colors were beautiful and I told her it was simply an impressionist version of impressionism. Once again, I cut out a small piece of it and showcased it in a thrift-store frame. She still doesn't love it...but I do. 

7. Copy. Inspiration is everywhere. Grab your old magazines, get on Pinterest, do a search for "gallery walls." See something in a friend's home a snap a picture. You don't have to replicate it identically but you can use similar sizes, shapes, combinations, layouts and colors. 

lifeingrace BHG photo shoot/gallery wall

#art #wall

cork walls


Here's a great post on artwork wall groupings that is full of all sorts of beautiful and vastly different gallery walls. 

There is no need to reinvent the wheel, people. Remember, you don't have to be inventive to still be creative

Find something you like and make it your own. You'll feel like a creative genius when you're done. 

Years ago I had a friend who sent her husband to take a picture of our gallery wall and replicated it with her own pieces at home. It totally worked and she loved it. "Imitation is the finest form of flattery."

8. Don't over-think it. Just experiment. 

The "bones" of this wall {the shelves, some of the larger pieces} stayed the same. I held stuff up and moved things around and put countless tiny nail holes in my wall. 

My friend came over to look at and said, "I love it. It's balanced even though it's not symmetrical. And it's interesting. There's so much you want to look at!" That was exactly the vibe I was going for. This same friend is doing a gallery wall of her own. She cut out paper shapes of frames and such and tacked them to the wall. She's moved them around and played with the design until she finds what she likes. That works too and is probably the "right" way of doing a project like this.

Unfortunately I am ten shades of impatient and tend to just use what I have, eyeball things, and grab the hammer. 

9. Pick one to three frame finishes and stick with those. This isn't a "rule." There are no rules. 

Actually I've seen gallery walls with all sorts of different frames and finishes and it works. But because I'm an amateur, I've found that sticking with one to three of the same color frames brings it together a bit. In my case, I used black, white, and a bit of faded, splotchy gold. 

Here's my other, smaller gallery wall as you leave the living room and walk down the hallway. Everything is white. I love this too and if you want a less eclectic, more traditional look, go with all the same finish on your shelves and frames. 

{Here's that same wall with the old wall color and black frames. Ugh. Why do wall colors photograph so strangely?}

10. Enlist help. I know what some of you are thinking: "I'm just no good at this sort of thing." In the words of Tim Gunn, you feel like you just can't "make it work."

I hear you. And let's face it, some people just see the world through a more creative, free-spirited lens. They can put things together in ways others would never imagine. Chances are you have one of those friends. Ask him or her to help you. 

I'm no professional but I love beauty and home. I love to lend a hand and help a friend make her space beautiful too. I've also been known to enlist my own artistic friends when I feel stuck. 

Tell your artsy friend that you'll watch her kids or buy her a frappuccino while she hacks up your wall. Win, win. 

And just to keep it real. Here is how the gallery wall has evolved just while I've been sitting her typing out this post.

Apparently I have a tiny creative genius of my own, which brings me to tip number....

11. A fort is the perfect addition to any space. 


So there you have it. What do you think, are you a fan of the gallery wall trend? Any tips of the trade you can share with the rest of us? Should we have a gallery wall linky party?

{Other Recent Home Update Posts}


  1. Bravo! Bravissimo, even--to the gallery wall and to the dresser-cum-TV stand. I love the new look! :)

  2. Just stopping back by to say that I featured you at this week's Grace at Home party, and I'm pinning this--your 10 tips are great! :)

  3. Hey thanks a ton for the link love to my post on gallery walls! Yours turned out fabulous! M.


Share your thoughts?


Blog Widget by LinkWithin