GALLERY WALLS // How to create a gallery wall that works (and doesn't give you a headache)
Updated: Oct 5, 2022
A gallery wall creates maximum visual impact in a variety of spaces.
It can also be wildly unattractive if you don't get it right. Here at The Freshmaker, we're all about saving your eyes from bad design, so if you've always wanted to tackle a gallery wall but just didn't know where to start, read on!
First, let's discuss the awesomeness of gallery walls and why
why we love them so.
Got an awkward area in your home in need of some TLC? Is there an unused corner of your living room that's a glaring eyesore? Is your black TV detracting from your otherwise gorgeous room? Gallery walls to the rescue!
We love them as TV camouflagers! Since TVs are inherently rectangles, surrounding them with a variety of frames/canvases (which are also inherently rectangles) allows the TV to become part of a bigger composition, and thus reducing its visual impact. Now the focus can be on your amazing rock poster collection and not what you are currently binge-watching on Netflix.
We love them for elevating awkward spaces! That strange space under the stairs or tiny, unused wall are also great places to install a gallery wall! Since they can be hung at a variety of heights and still look good, gallery walls are a great solution for areas where traditional art applications may not fit the bill.
We love them for their big wall taming skills! Since sourcing huge, oversized pieces of art can sometimes be a challenge, a gallery wall is a great solution for adding color and personality to those extra large walls. And don't worry, you don't have to spend tons of money on frames. Get creative with how you hang your items - metal artist clips, decorative Washi tape, and brass push pins can all look cool holding up your collections.
We love them for showcasing personal collections! Your home should be a tangible, personal narrative. People should be able to walk in and get a sense of who you are right off the bat. Create a gallery wall full of items that are meaningful to you, not based on what's trending or copying what Jenny down the block did.
We love them for tying two areas of one room together!
If you have a large room with a desk in one area, for example, and a sitting area in another, a gallery wall can be a great way to tie those two spaces together, creating a sense of coziness in a large space.
Hot tips to look cool - the dos and don'ts of gallery wall success.
A gallery wall can be a chic design solution with a personal narrative that can't be beat. It can also, however, be a hot mess of a train wreck if not well thought-out. The following guidelines will help you tame that wall with awesome!
#1 - Add black and white to create movement and neutralize the color
What is the first thing you see when you look at this image? I bet it's the 3 black and white images. Am I right? Because they are so graphic and bold, black and white pieces tend to catch your eye first and pull it around the composition. They also act as visual "palette cleansers", neutralizing other images that have lots of color and giving your eye a place to rest.
Adding more white to your gallery compositions is another great way to ensure your wall doesn't feel too busy.
Oversized mats and tiny items in large frames help give each element within the composition more breathing room. It also helps elevate those smaller objects and make them feel more important.
HOT TIP! Get weird!
Get personal with your story. If it's something that's been stuck in the back of a drawer, but you've picked it up and moved it with you 3 times, chances are it means something to you. Why not celebrate it?! Don't be afraid to frame cookie fortunes, that driftwood collection from Rye Beach, old concert tickets (remember those?!), even old love letters. All those little items gathered together in one frame make a great conversation piece and a huge visual (and personal) impact.
#2 - Embrace variety in both content and scale
DO THIS: DON'T DO THIS:
Raise your hand if that hodgepodge of family photos is giving you vertigo! I love a family photo collage, don't get me wrong, but this cyclone of visual stimuli makes me want to run out of the house screaming. For starters, all the images are so similar in size I don't even know where to look first. The spacing is inconsistent, nothing is really aligned well, and it just looks messy and overwhelming.
Orlando Soria's lovely living room, however, (image courtesy of Emily Henderson) is a breath of fresh air. He uses pieces in a variety of sizes, even exaggerating it a bit with some large elements and some teeny tiny ones. The large pieces anchor the space and give your eye a focal point, and the small pieces keep it interesting and engaging.
Matching frames in a gallery wall certainly looks pulled together, but contrary to what Grandma Jane says, mixing and matching frames is totally OK! Having some variety in your frames can really make a collection feel curated and gathered over time. Just be sure to repeat the elements at least twice, so there aren't any black sheep in your frame family.
Since part of the job of a gallery wall is to tell the story of the people who live in the space, variety in your images is a must. Using basically the same image 6 times in a row doesn't scream, "Look how fun and interesting we are!" If you're going for family photos, mix it up! Include images of just the location, cool monuments, or favorite sights along with those showcasing the entire family. Bonus points for some close ups and some at a distance!
#3 Think outside the box (or frame) with 3-dimensional elements
Don't you want to just walk up to this gallery wall and stare and touch and explore everything? To me, that's the sign of a well-designed home - It should capture and captivate. Your guests should discover something new that they didn't notice on their last visit. 3-dimensional objects on a wall not only add visual depth, they create unexpected moments that really make your space feel personal.
HOT TIP! - Remove frames if they don't work
Vintage artwork is such a great way to add soul, personality, and uniqueness to a home, but sometimes those giant, guilded gold frames just don't work with your scandi-boho aesthetic. Guess what? It is totally, completely, 100% OK to get rid of that old frame! Sure, some of the sides of the piece may be worn or damaged underneath, but that just adds to the patina as far as I'm concerned. If you love most of something but it doesn't totally work for you, get creative on how you can adjust it so it will! Besides, removing the frame may result in a piece that is better-sized for your gallery wall, anyway!
#4 Have a cohesive color thread or unified palette
and equally distribute for balance.
It's a common misconception that all the art in a gallery wall needs to be similar in color. Oh contraire! A collection of colorful prints can definitely work, as long as you pull one or two unifying colors throughout the composition. In this cheery example, the dark red + orange become the stars of the show, and move your eye from the fruit to the flamingo, over to the floral, and up to the little hits of it in the women's dress. From there you notice the yellow, which is pulled through the map, and down into the sails of the ship. As long as one or two colors are the focus and spread out amongst the other pieces, the collection will feel cohesive.
The blue and taupe gallery looks beautiful all together, so you certainly can stick to one palette and achieve success. It just all comes down to balance. In this example, the dark navy jumps out at you the most, so putting those pieces in opposite corners give the composition some nice flow and pulls your eye throughout.
HOT TIP! Introduce color in unexpected ways
What's that? You have a collection of great black and white images but you want to inject more color into your space? Easy peasy - get colorful on the frames! A frame in full-color may be too much for your chic pad, but adding a color pop to the edge, or just one side, keeps it fun and unexpected, but still sophisticated. I love that you don't see the color on the edges immediately from the front, but rather discover it as you move throughout the space. It just further serves to create an environment that feels layered and unexpected.
#5 Add a pair
If you're planning out a large gallery wall, consider adding in a pair (or two) of matching artwork. Our brains are conditioned to find patterns, so pairs of artwork will immediately catch the eye and help move it throughout the composition. They'll also give the eye a place to rest and help create balance.
#6 Keep items evenly spaced and aligned
This is pretty obvious on a grid gallery wall, as the name suggests, but it shouldn't be overlooked on a more organic gallery wall composition either. Gallery walls that consist of a variety of sizes and images need some manner of organization. One way to do that is to ensure that there is equal spacing between all the pieces. I generally use between 3" - 4", depending on the size of my pieces and the size of my wall. Feel free to tweak it depending on what fits your space best, but just don't go TOO small between the images - you still want some breathing room to make sure it doesn't feel too busy.
As for alignment, focus on three things - top alignment, bottom alignment, and center alignment. Every item in your composition should align to something else in one of these three ways. Pairs can be treated as "one unit" and thus aligned as such.
#7 Engage the entire wall or span a corner
When installing a gallery wall, don't be afraid to engage full space - high to low, wall to wall, even around the corner! Engaging the full wall can feel so chic and interesting, and essentially create an accent wall of art vs paint.
The corners of a home are also often overlooked when decorating. In fact, it is a Feng Shui belief that the corners of a room can block or trap positive energy. Installing art that makes you happy in the corners of a room are a great way to get that positive energy flowing! Plants are also supposed to help with that, so double whammy bonus points for putting art AND plants in a corner of your abode!
Start on the floor, transfer to the wall.
Easy tiger. Before you go all crazy with the hammer and nails and make a billion holes in your newly painted walls, let's get you started with a plan. Yeah yeah, you have a plan in your mind, sure, but I promise you'll have better success if you plan it out!
Before you do anything, figure out the size of the area you are trying to fill and map that out on your floor. You can do it by laying books in each corner, with painters tape, with rolled-out craft paper (this is what I recommend), or old wrapping paper. Next, gather all of your art / sculptural pieces and lay those out. Do you know which pieces are going to anchor your composition? Select those items and place them where you want them to go. Remember, the biggest one is generally slightly off center, so you have room to fit other large ones around it.
HOT TIP! Make a cardboard "ruler"! Instead of taking the time to meticulously measure the spacing between everything. It is so much quicker and easier to use a 3" strip of cardboard to lay everything out correctly.
Once you have your composition dialed, trace the images directly onto your craft / wrapping paper (if you are using it). Then you can either cut out the shapes or hang that whole entire piece of paper directly onto the wall! Now you're ready to figure out where all the nails should go. Hammer those puppies right onto the wall, rip off the paper, and you're in business!
If you didn't use the craft paper, take a photo of your layout, and hang the anchor piece on the wall where you want it to go. Using your makeshift cardboard ruler and a good eye, build out from the main piece, recreating what you did on the floor.
Troubleshooting Tips -
Got a gallery wall in your own home that's just not right somehow? Stand in front of it and ask yourself the following questions:
How's the scale? Are there a few really large pieces and a few really small ones?
Is the color balanced throughout or is it more on one side vs the other?
Is there a place for the eyes to rest? Are there some black and white images and some pieces with a lot of white space around them?
Are each of the pieces socially distanced? Are the areas between them the same all around or are some really close and some far apart?
Is there a sculptural element?
Fix your peepers on this image below. I bet now, after reading such an informative and funny post, you can see exactly why this gallery wall isn't working. And let's not even talk about why the sofa + wall color aren't working. That's a whole 'nuther post.
I hope now you're feeling empowered, inspired, and ready to take on a gallery wall in your own home. You got this! And if you don't, shoot us a note - we're here to help! Now go empty those drawers, find your brass push pins, and get to work! And don't forget to tag us @TheFreshmakerDesign so we can see your amazing spaces!