Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Hung Up on Gallery Walls!!

Photograph by Anson Smart, via Desire to Inspire.

I admit - I'm obsessed with gallery walls.  I had to acknowledge this the other day while I was searching thru my archive photos and discovered an unusually large quantity (hundreds!) of photos illustrating gallery wall installations, I just can't get enough of them!  But they also happen to be one of the most common requests I receive from clients when addressing the finishing details of their homes, to create a gallery wall - actually, I've yet to work with a client who hasn't had it on their wish list!  Its easy to understand the appeal of these installations, much like how flowers and books instantly make a room feel lived in, a gallery of photos or artwork has the same effect.  A display of any collection gives the feeling that these things were collected over time and the fact that they've been put on display shows that these things provide a great sense of pleasure to their owners. Even more so, when you really get down to what is dearest and nearest to our hearts,,,,our photos, our collections of memories, and our ties with the past hold the highest material value to us as they truly express who we are as individuals, where we've come from, what we've experienced and who we treasure most in our lives.

No matter how many thousands of dollars or hundreds of thousands have been spent on renovations, for stone countertops, new floors, to-die-for soaker tubs,,,european faucets, state of the art appliances,,,and no matter how many months you searched for that perfect sofa or light fixture, or maybe even taken delivery of brand new furniture for your entire house - in my experience, nothing gets a more positive response or a bigger reaction from homeowners than when their personal photos or personal collections get hung on the wall! Its that 'transformation' moment.......when their space becomes a home.  Its no wonder in the event of an emergency like a fire or flood - these are the things that everyone will desperately try to save, forget about the $10,000 sofa. 

This week one of the things I'm working on is a small photo gallery wall for a client which will be installed on a tall staircase wall and comprised of travel photos she's had stored in boxes and on CD's for many years.  When I started planning out the image sizes and the frame finishes last week I searched through my image archives for photos of some of my favorite gallery walls to help me communicate with my client what I was envisioning.  As you'll see from the images below - there really aren't many rules with this process, whether its all photos, or a mix of various media, all black and white, all colour,,or a mix of both, each installation is always unique (which i think is another reason why they're so appealing to everyone). I do think certain interpretations may appeal more to some than others and the approach can be be either contemporary or traditional.   So if you've always loved the idea of creating a wall of your favorite photos or artwork but never dreamed you could put one together on your own, browse the images below and see how they all make it look so easy.  But be warned,,,,, you may soon become as obsessed with them as I am!

An eclectic collection of what looks like mostly old photos.  Photo source unknown.

Contemporary Grid style gallery wall.  Show home by Canadian House & Home.

All black & white photo gallery on chocolate brown wall.  Photo source unknown.

Gallery of vintage colour posters.  New York Apartment photo via Desire to Inspire blog.

A traditional grouping that integrates a mirror and wallsconces.  Despite the irregular shape, the arrangement is very symmetrical with each side almost mirroring the other.  Room design by C.W. Eisner.

A graphic grid style display of black and white photos.  Image by Photographer Morton Holton, via Desire to Inspire.

I'm CRAZY for this!!!!  Its like the armoire becomes part of the grouping of art.  Apartment of designer Thomas O'Brien, via House & Garden.

Classic and gorgeous.  Gold & Black & White.  Patric Johansson via Desire to Inspire.

Modern and dramatic black with colour.  Living Etc. July 08.  
The dark sofa helps to keep this balanced.

Modern and eclectic grouping of b&w photos mixed with some oil paintings, all cleverly arranged around wall sconces.  Room design by Katie Hume.

Black and whites surround a single coloured image.  Room design by Alexandra Rowley.

Elclectic gallery wall in the living room of Canadian House & Home editor Suzanne Dimma.

Photo source unknown.

This kitchen gallery wall just oozes LOVE & Happiness!  Photograph by Mark Lund.

Domino April 07.


Colour images on coloured wall.  Designer Show House, room design by Carrie & Co., via Habitually Chic.

This one is probably my all time favorite!!  Its also very similar to the look we're creating for the current gallery wall I'm working on as we have white walls and a large Moooi Random light fixture exactly as shown above.  Patric Johansson Photographer, via Desire to Inspire.

Black & White on an accent colour, stunning.  Domino magazine.

Modern black, white and graphic.  Photograph by James Tse for Canadian House & Home.


1.  Rules of thumb - there really aren't any hard rules,,,,but if you've never attempted a gallery hanging before try this no fail method of combining pieces that have at least one consistent theme ie; all b&w photos, or all white mats, or all black frames or keep all your spacing equal. Obviously this rule of thumb can be broken (see images above) and yield fantastic results but often takes more confidence and a keen eye.
2. Starting point - start with your largest or your strongest piece first then work out, up and down from there.
3. Lay it out - if starting with 3 or more pieces,,lay them out on the floor first until your happy with the configuration, then note the dimensions of each piece in relation to the other so you can recreate that placement on the wall.  While its still laid out on the floor, it also helps to measure the overall width, and the overall height of the grouping which will give you a centre point to use for reference.
4.  As Seen on TV - this Hang & Level gizmo is a fantastic tool for hanging artwork and makes quick work of hanging multiple pieces.
5.  One is enough - pick one location for a gallery wall in your home, unless your home is incredibly expansive, more than one will look too busy.
6.  Renting - if you're weary about putting dozens of holes in your landlord's walls, you can create a gallery effect by layering and leaning multiple pieces of art along a shelf, a bench, a mantle or a credenza.
7.  Instant & Inexpensive - if you've got a lot of blank walls but not a lot of collections or cash......go for high impact with a grid style installation by purchasing 9 or 12 inexpensive ready made frames with mats and insert a series of prints or photocopies or book pages.  These can always be replaced in future with more significant images but in the meantime, you'll have an instant and dramatic gallery wall.
8.  Grid vs. Random - A random grouping can look extremely interesting and eclectic and is in my opion more casual looking than a grid layout, but some may find the concept intimidating to lay out and or install, although as you can see from the photos above its hard to go wrong.  The benefit of this method is you can start with only a few pieces and continue to grow and grow as long as you still have wall space.  A symmetrical grid installation is classic and can be a bit more formal looking.  The multiple use, repitition, of the same frame creates a dramatic graphic effect which in itself has a lot of impact.  This method is ideal if you have a collection of similar items or series of items, or as noted in no.7 above, if you need an instant completed installation using a set of frames rather than accumulating a collection of different frames and pieces over time. 


  1. Thanks so much for the tips. I am planning on moving soon and have loads of great black and white pictures that I wanted to make apart of a room. The images you show in this post are very inspiring. Continue your great work.

  2. Caro - Kay ... I'm a little late to this party but I'm just thinking of doing a gallery wall in my house. I love them, I've always loved them and apparently I'm not going to stop loving them. So if I can find the space somewhere I'd better do one. GREAT source pics! Love Suzanne's wall a LOT. Def. going the mismatched frames, randomly placed route. Thank YOU. ~ karen!

  3. Karen, if anyone can do a great gallery wall its YOU! I'm sure you have some great photos and keepsakes, old and new. This can be as DIY or as custom as you chose, from matting and framing your own pics in ready made frames to having things custom framed or a combination of both.

    Personally, I lay out the pieces on the floor until I'm happy with the composition. Then just find the starting point of the most central piece on the wall and start hanging. I use one standard spacing dimension (ie; 3.5 or 4") between each piece then I align a frame in relation to another, either with top or bottom edge of adjacent piece or align on centre of the piece above or beside. I can't wait to see what you come up with. : )
    ~ C


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