Curating a gallery wall is kind of like putting together a band. So many things have to be considered, and the strength of the individual is only important if it works within the context of the group. Even with an overall idea, the right grouping can take time. I do this for a living, and every time I approach a new project it still takes lots of “back to the drawing board” moments before something really good happens on a wall.
Last week I showed you guys my method for how to hang a gallery wall, but this week I’m breaking down the process I use to actually and pick and pair art. (I know…totally backwards. I should have shared this first.)
If you’ve felt mocked by blank walls for months and just can’t figure it out, trust me you’re not alone.
Hopefully by the end of this post, you’ll have some new ideas so you can march over to that art stash in the closet and get planning. (Yes, I know about it. No shame, dear friend.)
Let’s dig in…
HOW TO CURATE A GALLERY WALL
1. Start with something meaningful.
To me, great design involves both aesthetics and meaning. If a gorgeous collection is visually appealing but impersonal, it rings a bit hollow. For Tanya’s wall in the pictures above, we started with a sketch of a little girl that her mom drew in college. We also knew we wanted to use three gold frames that she had inherited from her grandmother. (They ended up housing new art work.)
Starting your gallery wall with meaning might mean using any of the following:
-An heirloom piece you were given
-A piece that represents a certain time in your life
-A piece that you had in your first apartment/house
-The first piece you and your spouse purchased together
-A piece that inspires you on a deeper level
-A quote or phrase that is connected to your values
-Artwork your kids made
-A map or photo of somewhere you’ve lived, visited, or want to visit in the future
For my recent gallery wall in the living room, I started with a piece Stu and I brought back from a vacation. The painting was done by a local artist and depicts a charming little corner of Quebec City where we spent an entire afternoon. The memory of that trip was so special because we just found out we were expecting. The whole trip felt so hopeful and exciting thinking about the next chapter in our family.
(Side note, I think the best souvenir you can bring back from a trip is artwork…I mean all the mugs or shirts or other random tchotchkes eventually end up in a box or being donated.)
2. Make a Visual Plan.
The best place to do this is Pinterest. If you’ve been reading this blog long, you know that I always caution people to use Pinterest with intention, lest you fall victim to “Pinterest Paralysis”. This is one of those times I’m telling you to use Pinterest as a tool. Create a board for your new gallery wall and Pin any art you are considering. This lets you view things visually before ever purchasing. Also, take pictures of pieces you currently have and upload them to the board. (You do this by clicking the arrow button on the bottom right hand side of the screen and then choosing to “upload a pin”.)
3. Be intentional about color.
Decide whether you want this wall to infuse a lot of color to space or if you want to keep things muted. For Tanya’s wall, I wanted to use color but decided that watercolors would keep things feeling light and airy. Since we were using so many pieces, a lot of saturated color might have overwhelmed the small room.
I do suggest pulling it a couple accent colors from the room in the artwork a couple places, but don’t feel like you have to stay limited to that color palette. Play with some additional hues to keep things from looking too flat or one-dimensional. (AKA: Like hotel room art.)
Color Combos to Consider:
-Several bright colors in varying shades to bring lots of energy
-Black and white and neutral all over for a sophisticated look.
-Muted colors for a light and airy look
-One pop of bright color and several neutral pieces to both highlight it and bring balance. (That’s what I did with my DIY painting for the living room seen in the picture above.)
4. Mix both organic and geometric shapes.
Pair abstract art with pictures of landscapes/nature. Balance angular lines with pieces containing round lines or those that have a softness to them. Choose a piece with a large object as the focus to break up very detailed pieces. Lastly, try to incorporate something with a repetitive pattern to give implied texture.
5. Use what you have (but spring for some new things too).
Sometimes I’ve seen people try to hang a gallery wall using only pieces that they already have. The problem with this is that sometimes it looks really random. I’m all for using what you have, but I think picking a couple new pieces to mix in with existing pieces is usually the best recipe for a gorgeous wall.
If you’re using existing pieces, try to observe what’s missing… Are most of the pieces of nature or landscapes? Perhaps you should seek out an abstract piece to keep things looking fresh and current. Are all the pieces very serious? Maybe you need something with a little bit whimsy to lighten the mood.
Picking a new pieces that just makes you feel pangs of love is always a good idea. This might be a fun new piece you’ve had your eye on. You don’t have to be in love with every single piece you use, but there should be at least one or two that just make you melt.
6. Find your anchor piece(s).
You need to settle on what pieces you want to anchor the gallery wall. These are the largest pieces that help to dictate the overall aesthetic of the collection. (More tips on arranging the anchor pieces on this post.)
7. Find your frames.
As far as frames are concerned, it totally depends on the look you are going for. If you like a more cohesive look, keep the frames all the same color. If you gravitate towards a more eclectic vibe, mix and match frames.
Frame combinations to consider:
–White frames read modern, crisp, and are the perfect backdrop to display art.
–Clean-lined black frames feel contemporary, but if used with wood frames and white matting can feel classic.
–All metallic/mirrored frames spells total glamour. Very luxurious and feminine.
–Mixed frames: If you’re going to go this route, I’d advise you to at least of two of each frame finish that you use. (For example, don’t use all wood and white frames with one random gold frame in the mix. Having at least two of something makes it seem more intentional.)
TIP: Sometimes the frame comes first…You’ll have to wrestle with that one. It’s the “chicken or the egg” dilemma of decorating.
8. Arrange Your Art.
(Check out this post on how to hang a gallery wall for all my tips.)
MORE OF MY THOUGHTS ON GALLERY WALLS
On Using Photographs…
Ok, I’m weird about this but typically I say all or nothing with it comes to photos. (I don’t really like mixing personal photos in gallery walls full of original art, prints, or artistic photos.) I do love a good family photo wall but like to keep it free of artwork. There’s just something so classic about this, and done in the right way it can feel both fresh yet still timeless.
image via This Is Glamorous
In some cases I think a symmetrical arrangement works nicely. When you need to bring a sense of order or formality to a room, a nice 2 x 3 or 3×3 grid of the same sized prints works wonders. A set up like the one below is great for a formal entry, dining room, or even a bedroom depending on the mood you’re trying to create.
image via A Thoughtful Place
On Floor to Ceiling Art…
I haven’t tried this in my home, but I want to someday. It is such a daring move and looks both totally chic and wonderfully eclectic at the same time. I am completely smitten with Jenny Komeda’s old living room pictured below. The floor to ceiling approach works gorgeous on these white walls.
In most of my projects (unless it was a symmetrical arrangement), I like to mix pieces with mats and those without. It keeps things looking collected. However I like the look of this stair case where really thick matting has been used on all the pieces to bring a cohesive and tailored look.
image via Pure Style Home
On a TV Wall…
I LOVE this trick and have used it in a couple different projects. Candace of Lovestuck Events used a gorgeous collection of art to help minimize the visual impact of the TV and instead incorporate it in a great focal point for the room. (Also, would you check out that gorgeous media console??)
GALLERY WALLS MADE EASY
If the thought of picking art still feels overwhelming, there are some great options for curated art sets these days. (Making them meaningful gets a little tricky, but it’s still possible.)
One of my favorite new places to source art is Artfully Walls. They have several gallery walls already curated and even have a tool you can use to virtually test out the art with your own wall before purchasing.
THE COST OF GALLERY WALLS
Until you actually try to fill an entire wall with art, you many not realize what an investment even reasonably priced prints can be. Prints, paintings, frames and mats add up quickly.
Next week I’ll be sharing all my tips for saving money when creating a gallery wall. (Plus some fun DIY art ideas!) Be sure to head back and check them out.
Q:Did this help motivate you to try a gallery wall in your own home? Still have questions? Let me know in the comments below!
PS: I’ve been hanging out on a lot Instagram lately. If you have a gallery wall you want to show off, tag it with #decorfixart and I’ll head over and check it out!
Thank you for the tips. this really help me a lot … 🙂 So, the photographs can not mix with the art in gallery wall? well noted… 🙂
Hi Dini! That’s totally just my preference, not a hard line rule. I think that an all photo gallery wall has more impact than a wall of mixed art and photos. Just a personal call;)
And what is your suggestion for a blank wall in living room, a gallery wall with original art, prints / artistic photos or gallery wall with family photographs? I plan to make some gallery walls in living room, stair and also playroom and I haven’t decided which gallery wall will contains only photographs and which gallery wall will contains full or art/prints.
Thank you Heather 🙂
I think a stair case is a nice place for family photos…Maybe try your art collection in the living room and photos by the stairs. Hope that helps;)
Carol @ CAD INTERIORS says
Interesting tidbit on your preference to NOT mix photos with artwork. 🙂 Love incorporating the television as part of a gallery wall. It helps it “recede” instead of standing out as the “black box”.
I think well-curated gallery walls take into account the basic principles of design, including balance, scale, and repetition (as you show). Once we complete this round of home renovations, I definitely plan to curate a gallery wall! Great post. 🙂
You know, I didn’t used to feel that way. The last couple years I just liked having them separated. Just a personal preference-definitely not a rule of any kind. (As you know!) totally agree about the “black box”;)