A large, multi-frame gallery wall has become a statement piece in my home. We’ve had one in each of our five homes for the past ten years! Here are some simple tips and tricks I’ve learned along the way, for creating a stunning gallery wall of your own!
You have a ton of options for frames. Here are some of the most common choices for gallery walls:
- Clean and Modern – Same Style, Same Color – All of the frames are the same style AND the same color. This is a very modern look that really showcases the photos or artwork, instead of the frames themselves.
- Modern Vintage – Various Styles, Same Color – If you love the character of old, mismatched frames, but still want to keep the tone modern, then paint all of your frames the same color! The various textures and styles of the frames will create subtle visual interest while keeping the gallery unified.
- Casual and Homey – Various Styles, Various Colors – With this gallery wall, each frame is as unique as the photo or art it holds. You’ll need to spend extra attention to the layout with these frames, to be sure the gallery reads as a whole, instead of individual pieces. More tips on this below!
Regardless of the style of frames you choose, the layout of your gallery wall is where you’ll find success or failure. Take your time and don’t rush this phase! I highly recommend working with a digital version of your gallery so you can make as many changes as you want until you find the right layout.
Tip 1: Digital Layout
While I may use Adobe Illustrator to create my gallery walls, there are so many other options out there, and for the sake of this post, I will focus on the free options.
Google SketchUp: Free yes, but also not super easy to use. If you’re hard core about accuracy and exact measurements, then there is nothing better than Google SketchUp for planning out a three dimensional space. We used Google SketchUp to plan out our third gallery wall (below). And while it worked, and turned out beautiful, we realized it was far more effort than necessary.
Microsoft Word/Apple Pages: Everyone has a word processing application, right? To use one of these is a little odd, but you can absolutely make it work. First measure your wall, then set your page size to those dimensions. You will need a scale!! You can’t make your page 10 feet by 12 feet….you’ll crash your computer. So, if your scale is 1in = 1cm, then your page size (aka wall) would be 120cm x 144cm. Then add/insert a square shape onto your page and set the size to the size of your frames, within your scale. Now you have a bunch of black squares to move around the page until you get a layout you like!
Tip 2: Start from the middle
One of the first things I learned from seasoned designers about page layout, is to start in the middle. When you’re arranging multiple images in an area, the last thing you want is trapped white space, so start in the middle and work your way out. This isn’t necessarily the middle of your wall, but it should be something close to it.
When you’re working with multiple sizes of frames, I strongly recommend starting with the larger sizes in the middle and working out to smaller sizes around the outside. The smaller frames will fit in more nooks to help you avoid that trapped white space.
Tip 3: Pay attention to spacing
The spacing between the frames is going to be your worst enemy and your best friend. It is INCREDIBLY DIFFICULT to create exact equal spacing between every frame when you’re working with various sized frames. But you can try. And do your best, and when you have to sacrifice space, take it away from the space between smaller frames, and leave plenty of space around your larger frames.
If you are using various styles and various color frames, your spacing between frames is even more important. In order to create a cohesive gallery, you need to keep the spacing as uniform as possible. The result will be a purposeful and planned out grouping of frames. The alternative is a haphazard set of random frames you hung on the wall in proximity to one another. Don’t do that. Make them look purposeful!
Tip 4: Strive for balance, not symmetry
Symmetry is a great, and consistent way to make a beautiful gallery wall. But I’ll be honest, it’s a little boring. Instead of symmetry, strive for balance. Look at your high points and your low points and make sure there are at least two frames (three is even better!) that touch that high “line” or that low “line”. For the sides, again, just make sure the layout feels evenly weighted, as in there aren’t more frames, or drastically different sized frames, on one side of your layout compared to the other.
Tip 5: Sleep on it
Please don’t sit down and crank out a layout on your computer in a few hours and go straight to hammering holes into your walls. I know it’s exciting, but trust me when I say sleep on it. Give it a week. Seriously! Open the file once a day and just look at it. You’ll see something different each time you look at it, and if there’s something that just bothers you, you’ll be so happy you can fix it in the design phase, and not after it’s on the wall.
Tip 6: Stairs
Stairs are hard, I’m not going to lie. So when you plan the layout for the wall above your stairs, you have to place your baseline first, and make sure that baseline mimics the stair step pattern of your stairs—that means try to get a consistent rise-over-run with your frames. Once you get you baseline set, start in the middle and add “rows” on top of that baseline, keeping your spacing between frames as consistent as possible.
Here is a beautiful example from my good friend Nicole, of Nicole Hart Photography.
Over the past 10 years, I’ve installed six gallery walls, using several different techniques. Here’s what worked, and what was a little more hassle than it was worth.
Exact measurements. For our third gallery wall, we used Google Sketchup, which is incredibly specific and accurate. So we had the ability to plot the exact point to hammer the nail. While this was cool, it took a loooooong time to get the measurements correct, and since many of our frames used picture hanging wire, our measurements became less accurate as the wires flexed.
Projector. For our fifth gallery wall, we employed the use of a projector. Yes, i realize not everyone has a projector laying around, so this isn’t really practical. But boy was it easy! Especially since in this house, we weren’t allowed to nail into the walls, so we used 3M velcro picture hanging strips and literally stuck the frames to the wall right where they showed in the digital layout. We definitely used a level to make sure everything was straight, though.
Relative Positioning + measuring the gaps. This is by far my favorite method, and in my opinion, the fastest and easiest. Here are the tools you’ll need:
- Ruler or tape measure
- Picture hanging tool (seriously!! I love this thing!!!)
- Level (my fav for hanging frames)
- Hammer and picture hanging nails or 3M velcro picture hanging strips
- Step stool (what I use)
Step 1: Measure the width and height of your wall, and plot your first frame (one towards the middle) on the wall. Hang that frame, and measure again to make sure the placement on your wall is the same as in your digital layout. Now you can base the placement of all the other frames off this frame.
Step 2: Place your frame on the picture hanging tool, and place it roughly on the wall where it’s supposed to be. Using your free hand and your ruler, measure the space between the first frame, and the second frame. Check that it’s level and then remove the frame (not the hanging tool!) and press the hole marker into the wall where the nail will go. Hammer in your nail, hang the frame and again check for level, and measure the space between the frames.
Step 3: Continue this method of rough placement, measuring the space between frames and checking for level.
This method works best when you’ve designed your layout to have consistent spacing between frames. Otherwise you’ll need to continue to check each frame’s spacing measurement against your design.
Tip: Since the picture hanging tool is placed above the frame, it’s best to work from the lowest frames to the highest frames.
When you’re done, you’ll have a beautiful gallery wall!