Park City Home Weekend Warrior: How to Create a Gallery Wall
Make a dramatic visual impact using more personality than cash
A gallery wall is a way to display favorite pieces of art that might look a little underwhelming when hung individually, but make major visual impact when grouped together. Anyone who’s shopped for substantial pieces of quality art knows that the larger the piece, the bigger the price tag. Alternatively, a gallery of smaller pieces is a more affordable way to fill a big space.
Gather your gear
As room-altering as creating a gallery wall can be, it is a project you can easily accomplish in a weekend, and with just a few tools:
• Kraft paper or newsprint
• Painter’s tape
• Tape measure
• 24” level
• Picture hanging hardware, usually sold as a packaged assortment
For convenience, an electric drill, stud finder, and stepladder may also
Before you begin measuring and hammering, you will want to do some advance work. Scout closets, drawers, shelves, and the basement or attic for orphan pieces of art in need of a home. Unbox the collection of watercolors from a long-ago summer in Italy, and comb through old photo albums. To give photos more impact (and to preserve the originals, if they are family treasures), consider having them enlarged and perhaps converted to black and white by a high-quality photo store. Not everything has to be a traditional piece of art. Vintage scarves, baskets, ceramics, mirrors, and musical instruments can all add texture and interest.
Mat and frame your pieces
Additional prep work that might require a separate weekend or outsourcing to a professional includes matting and framing individual pieces.
Although one purpose of matting (best done with acid-free paper) is to keep a photo or piece of art from sticking to the glass, it is essentially a border that adds a design element. You have several options. Use a white mat to make a piece stand out against a dark frame. Or choose a colored mat to complement the tone of a piece. Selecting a wide mat lets you display a smaller piece in a larger frame, giving it more importance. Especially for larger photos and posters, you may decide to forgo a mat entirely.
Among the basics for choosing a frame, focus most on making sure it works with the room’s décor. Select lighter frame colors for a more casual look and darker for a more formal one. For contrast, use frame colors that are not too similar to the mat or wall colors.
Finesse your layout
After gathering the pieces together, arrange them on the floor. Color is usually the primary consideration when organizing a display, as it often creates cohesion between pieces that might otherwise seem an unlikely match. Repeating frame styles, textures, sizes, shapes, or subject matter can all bring harmony to a group of disparate items.
To ensure that a viewer’s eye will make a sweep of the entire gallery, place your largest piece at one of the corners or, if it is a more extensive collection, somewhat off-center from the middle of the entire display. Place your second largest piece somewhere adjacent to it. The space between pieces can be whatever looks right, but a common distance is 2″ – 3″.
Get it on the wall
The next step, which is to get the pieces from the floor to their location on the wall, is the one that intimidates people the most. But there is a relatively simple way to go about it.
First, lay each framed item on a piece of kraft paper or newsprint, trace it with your pencil, and cut it into a template. Mark each template where the hanger for the piece is located. Using painter’s tape, re-create the floor arrangement on the wall, adjusting the spacing until you are happy with the result. Drive a nail into each template at the hanger location, rip away the paper, and, voila.
Consider the spacing
The vertical central point of the gallery wall space is commonly at eye level, about 60 inches from the floor. If it is going over a piece of furniture, the bottom of the gallery display usually starts 4″ – 6″ above a sofa or credenza (if it is going over a sofa or chair, make sure someone sitting there won’t hit the piece with their head).
If your gallery wall has an odd number of pieces in the horizontal rows, the horizontal central point is at the center point of the middle piece. If you are hanging an even number of pieces in the horizontal rows, it is the center point of the space separating the two middle pieces.
Again, these are just standard measurements, primarily helpful for working with a formal grid. This is when your tape measure and level will become most important. For a more free-form approach, it’s perfectly acceptable — whether you are arranging a gallery wall of museum-quality photos, framed textiles, or amateur art picked up at a flea market — just to eyeball everything until it feels right.
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