Gallery Walls Bring It All Together
From rustic to modern, hang with the cool crowd with these gallery wall pointers
Whether you’re a collector looking to showcase as many of your favorite pieces as possible or are just stumped by that big, blank space above your couch, gallery-style walls are a fantastic way to make a bold design statement. Also known as salon-style hangs, these concentrated groupings of art have been used for centuries. The technique was originally popularized by the French Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture, which began doing it out of necessity in order to make room for all its students’ work at the Academy’s annual Paris Salon. Paintings were hung from floor to ceiling, with the most important artists’ work nearer the ground; it was the upstart Impressionists who eventually rebelled by hanging their work side-by-side linearly (vive l’égalité).
Whatever your motivation, you have lots of choices to make, and not a few visual calculations to ponder, so here’s what you need to know about gallery-style walls.
Where to Start
While it’s in large rooms with an expansive canvas of wall where you tend to find gallery hangs, they also work in small rooms and can add an artistic flourish without cluttering the space.
“It doesn’t have to be a certain dimension,” says Danielle Perkins of Danielle Interior Design + Decor. “There really are no rules about the size of the wall, but you tend to find it used on large walls because it’s harder to find single pieces of art that can fill the whole space.”
You can also do gallery hangs around doors, windows, cabinets and fireplaces (but be mindful of heat or moisture sources that can damage the art). Stairwells make another great location, where you can create a sense of movement by decreasing the size of the images as they go up the stairway.
What Should You Hang?
Start with what you have and have fun with it, Danielle says. From your kid’s finger painting to an auction-house original, feel free to mix and match.
Heather Freeman from The Decor Fix offers some points of departure on what to use:
- A family heirloom
- Something you had in your first apartment or house
- The first piece you and your spouse purchased together
- A moving quote or phrase
- A map or photo of someplace you love or that’s on your bucket list
Think beyond two-dimensional images and work with musical instruments, mounted trophies and animal horns (ideally antique or faux), hanging lamps or fixtures already on the wall; Danielle even incorporated a flat-screen TV for one client. Sofas, chairs and other standing objects can also be blended into the tableau for a layered look, while floating shelves can be easily included to feature small sculptures, plants and floral arrangements.
Thematic or Eclectic?
Should you mix and match your art or keep everything in a similar genre? Should the frames all be different or the same? In a word: yes.
“If you want a more uniform look, you can use the same frame with the same line and have everything look like a grid, all lined up very evenly and nicely,” Danielle says. “But if you’re going for that eclectic look, things can be all sizes and shapes with different frames, mixing metals and woods.”
You can make your wall thematic, for instance all black-and-white photography, or tie a room together by using a common color in each item; tame colorful walls with all neutral elements; or match/contrast patterns in the art with those in rugs and upholstery. Think of your gallery wall as a single work of art and decor.
How to Map it Out
This could take some trial and error, so once you’ve gathered all your pieces, put them on a piece of wrapping paper or newspaper, trace them and cut them out, marking where the hanging brackets are located. You can then attach the cutouts to the wall with painter’s or masking tape, easily shuffling them until you’ve found just the right layout (start from the center and move outward). Once you’ve mapped your perfect salon hang, hammer your nails where the brackets are marked and pull the paper off.
For those who want to take a more high-tech approach, the online 3D modeling tool SketchUp Free (which, as the name implies, you can use at no cost) allows you to precisely lay out your wall. Or even easier, check in with Framebridge, where you can choose from a dozen preselected gallery wall styles, from “the uneven grid” to “the up the stairs,” upload your images (or send in physical art), and they’ll custom frame them and send them back with hanging instructions.
Mistakes to Avoid
The most common mistake is leaving too much space between the elements. “Each item should be close enough that it feels like one unit,” Danielle says. “They’re supposed to work together, so if you leave too much space in between each frame it won’t read as a grouping.”
You should also definitively decide whether you’re going symmetrical or asymmetrical. “Make it so things line up perfectly or make it so none of it lines up at all,” she says.
MORE: For some unconventional gallery wall inspiration, read our “Big Style in a Smaller Space” feature for one homeowner’s 9 tips for packing a design punch when you’re limited on square footage.
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