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Emily Henderson

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by Arlyn Hernandez
Emily Henderson Invitation Home2
photo by sara ligorria-tramp | from: a budget and renter-friendly living and dining room (with 80% thrifted finds)

Over the fiveish years I’ve worked in digital media, I’ve written probably…oh, 20 (or more) articles about gallery walls. Layout ideas, art ideas, color palette ideas, lather, rinse, repeat. Readers love gallery walls, Google loves gallery walls, WE ALL LOVE GALLERY WALLS. But, being someone whose fingers could churn out a post on the subject probably on muscle memory alone, my brain kicked in and thought “wait, but what’s NEXT.” Not next in terms of other ideas for filling a wall, but what’s next for the gallery wall itself. What is gallery wall 2.0?In its first internet-wide iteration, it felt like most art walls I was seeing felt like they came together in a weekend (start to finish, purchase to hang). I myself hung a “gallery” wall over my sofa in my first apartment after one trip to Home Goods and Michaels to DIY some canvas pieces with my initials on them. But the most striking gallery walls, I’m finding, are more than just “art.” I hesitate to say meaningless, but here’s the thing: the best gallery walls might have all been hung at once, but took a while to come together behind the scenes. Mementos, random collections, meaningful photography, curated art prints, that stuff takes time to trickle into your life, which to me, makes it worth displaying, right?

And I’m not just saying this because my own gallery wall (keep reading for that) has more than just art prints. I took stock of what some of the EHD team has done themselves over the last year and I realized, wait…there’s a lot of heart behind most of these walls. So, here’s my cry for you: if you have small little Polaroids, photo strips, kids drawings, movie tickets, postcards and the like sitting around in a drawer and you’re staring at a big blank wall you don’t know what to do with, read on because you’re about to get inspired.

photo by sara ligorria-tramp | from: the mountain house family room reveal

For a wall in the family room of the mountain house, Emily really leaned into her family’s personal mementos to fill the space above that credenza. She used a piece of “real art” (ha, anything is art if you want it to be!) to anchor the wall, and then wrapped other sentimental items around it. From Emily: “All the pieces in this room are personal to our family. I’m obsessed with this wall and it’s a total conversation piece. Everyone stops and stares and comments. It’s just so special to our family. I included our wedding vow cards, the kids’ ultrasounds, artwork by them, a special piece from Danielle Krysa with a collage of Brian and I incorporated into it, photo strips, Polaroids and the kids’ self-portraits from pre-school. It’s full of life and color and makes me SO HAPPY. It’s my favorite gallery wall I’ve ever installed and I don’t plan on changing it for the rest of our life here.”

photo by sara ligorria-tramp | from: the mountain house family room reveal

For the Atlanta showhouse, the team (Emily, Emily Bowser and Julie Rose) had to materialize a story to create the gallery wall in the living room because this wasn’t a room for a real family. So while this installation doesn’t have any real “history” to it for the non-existent resident, they pretended like it did…and there are some takeaways.

photo by sara ligorria-tramp | from: a budget and renter-friendly living and dining room (with 80% thrifted finds)

Bowser scoured Etsy for pieces like postcards, records, matchbooks and more that were specific to Atlanta and told a sort of history of the city, but for real, don’t we all have a lot of this kind of stuff ourselves, stashed away in some book, drawer, cabinet? Note how they displayed the postcards all together in one frame but the matchbooks in small individual frames. Play around with scale, too, as in, just because something is small doesn’t mean it has to go in a small frame. Those four ticket stubs from the first concerts you went to with your husband can be centered in a grid formation in a VERY large frame with tons of white space.

photo by sara ligorria-tramp | from: a budget and renter-friendly living and dining room (with 80% thrifted finds)

Oh, and don’t be afraid to mix-and-match art prints/paintings/fine art photography with your mementos either. The framed painting here really anchors this wall so it’s not just a bunch of small little frames scattered throughout.

photo by sara ligorria-tramp | from: arlyn’s moody dining room reveal

For the “feature” wall in my dining room, I knew I needed to do something with all the random art I had stacked on the floor of the guest bedroom but I didn’t want it to just feel like…well, I went to town with a hammer and nail with all the random art I had stacked on the floor of my guest bedroom, ya know? So I printed out some photos that my husband and I had taken of each other at various points of our relationship, used some binder clips to hang “word art” I bought many moons ago that inspired me, and displayed all the compliments (those little papers in that white frame at the bottom) my lovely, thoughtful coworkers had given to me on my last birthday. With all that, I was able to build out a wall that was filled both with just pretty things I enjoyed to look at, but also things that sparked memories and feelings when my eye landed on them (I walk by this wall dozens of times a day as to the left is the doorway to the hall that leads to my bedrooms and bathroom).

photo by tessa neustadt | from: sara’s living room reveal
photo by sara ligorria-tramp | from: arlyn’s light and bright living room makeover

Okay, so neither Sara’s old living room or mine technically has a gallery wall, but what they do have IS another fun way to think about displaying those small (flat) life souvenirs: get yourself a LARGE frame and put them all together. I think a clean grid is a way to elevate the look so it doesn’t end up looking like a scrapbook page you just tacked up on the wall but also, you do you.

So what do you think? Does the more personal angel have you convinced? Or are you already on the bandwagon and have some ideas of your own to share of mementos you’ve successfully used as art? I’ll be in the comments waiting to chat with you all about this!

  1. LOVED that gallery wall in the mountain house! It was so so special and def inspired me. Your gallery wall in your dining room is dreamy! Love that snap of your husband and now that I know a little more about some of the pieces displayed I love it, even more, love how sentimental it is!

  2. This post is inspiring me to finally take a stab at my own gallery wall! Could you share where Emily found that round frame on her gallery wall? I love it!

    1. That’s actually not a frame. It’s a custom collage art piece from Danielle Krysa. Sorry to not have an easy link!

    2. How about getting a round ply table top? They have different sizes, Home Depot, or anything round, and paint it and put your art on it. Or make you own painting. Love having that different dimension on the wall.

  3. We buy art whenever we travel, so our gallery wall is a mix of art I’ve done and memories of trips and places past. People always ask about it when they come over 🙂

  4. Emily’s mountain house gallery wall inspired me to add more personal mementos to my own—I framed a personalized matchbook from my wedding cigar bar and letters my husband wrote while deployed. Now it’s one of the most meaningful places in my home. Thanks for the inspiration!

  5. I love this take on a gallery wall. I did one in my home office that has a couple of photos from when I was little, my boys’ first passport photos (they were both 6 months old!), boarding passes from our honeymoon, cards my dad sent with flowers on my birthday when I was away at college and newspaper clipping of our wedding and engagement announcements. I agree…my most favorite gallery wall I have done.

  6. Good ideas- yes, I have lots of those things tucked away! I like all of these examples, but especially yours on the dark wall.

    1. Yeah, the ones on the white walls look so floating, and the art tends to nearly disappear. I like a bit more contrast.

  7. My gallery wall is in need of a makeover. I did it 10 years ago when matching frames were the way to go. While I love all the photos, they only show my daughter’s first five years, and I want to incorporate personal artwork and memorabilia. The Mountain House gallery wall is such an inspiration! I’ve already started pulling together my collection. It’s just a matter of sorting through boxes, printing some new photos, and finding the right frames (Of which I already have a collection). Just time, in other words.

  8. I love the sentimental gallery wall! However, I cannot afford to buy custom frames from Framebridge. What ready-made frames would work best for displaying polaroids, wedding vows, vinyls, etc?

    1. I rarely buy custom frames, but I find a lot of cool, vintage frames on eBay. Some are surprisingly inexpensive, and, personally, I think they provide a lot of bang for the buck.

    2. Goodwill! Pull out the old art and replace with yours! Ikea. Even TJ Maxx and Home Goods have good options!

    3. Hey Alison! For the gallery wall consisting of the matchbooks, vintage postcards, vinyl, etc. that Emily B. and myself put together, we sourced all those frames from IKEA and Target!

    4. A budget trick I’ve used it to get frames from Ikea, then have a matte custom cut at Michael’s, if it isn’t a standard size print. Alternately, you could just get a piece of board that fills the frame and float mount your mementos.

  9. I live by a simple motto:
    Hang what you want, how you want.

  10. I framed a bunch of vintage paperbacks with covers done by one of my favourite illustrators and I have to say it’s one of my favourite wall hangings in the house.

  11. Great ideas!

    In my Marie Kondo’ing, I’ve thrown out pretty much anything like ticket stubs and other memorabilia that may have looked cool on a wall! I’ll have to look and see what I still have!

  12. Great post! I find this so much more interesting than a ton of links to print collections from Minted or Framebridge. Lots of great ideas to think about – ideas I can actually afford, too!

  13. You guys and your consistently great ideas. Love this post! Would it be possible to let us know where the cute black and white “rainbow-like” sculpture on the credenza is from?

    1. Thanks Wendy & the sculpture is by M Quan!

  14. That’s what it’s all about, Emily! Love, family, personal journey. Perfection!

  15. I couldn’t agree more about personal mementos! I had a pristine old honey label from when my great grandfather made and sold honey and I had it matted and framed to add to my gallery wall along with other pictures and letters from ancestors! I mixed in some Janet hill art work and antique finds and it turned out great!

    1. This is super cool. Makes me think — my granddad owned a Texaco station, maybe there is something like his old name patch from his Texaco overalls I could do this with.

  16. This makes me laugh a bit, because…my gallery wall is (in its current and past iterations) very much a collection of personal items, with perhaps only two items that can be called ‘art’ with a capital ‘A.’ Framed textiles (embroidery, lace) made by ancestors, an art postcard picked up in Amsterdam airport, a greeting card image of a Christopher Marlowe beetle installation that I’ll never be able to afford in real life, the house’s original 1927 plumbing permit that we found nailed to a stud when we remodeled…I guess we all come into fashion if we wait long enough! I am ALLLLLLL for the personalized art wall.

    1. PREACH. I honestly didn’t know people did gallery walls with non-personal items… I also come from a pretty artistic community, so I’ve never had to think about purchasing items to fill a gallery, they all just appeared in my home as if by magic. 😉

  17. Yes, I think you are on to something. I had a gallery wall 6 or 8 years ago but as I kept learning and doing decorating, I discovered I prefer the calmness of a few large pieces of art to a gallery wall… especially one with high contrast black frames like I used!
    But I do have a few special mementos in a 2-frame grouping and I think it’s the very personal nature of that wall art which brings me joy when I look at it. It’s different from the fake collected feel of random art prints that look good together, which is how gallery walls often strike me (and how I did my first one).

  18. I AM SO INSPIRED! I had to pull down our first floor ceiling a couple years ago from a washer leak. We had to move everything out of our first floor. When we moved things back in, I went with light walls, and still have no art on my walls. I have had a hard time figuring it all out. So, my style usually leans more toward architectural pieces over pictures. This started my mind turning, and I believe I’ll be able to approach my walls with my combination of architectural items as as well as postcards and personal moments from my family. Thank you so much for the hard work to offer these teaching posts. I truly use them and save them to help with my projects.

  19. My first gallery wall was all black and white family portraits/snaps from great grandparents to my kids. I finally tired of it and retired it, but I loved it at the time. Now on my stairwell, I’ve got just this kind of collection, art and photos from trips, antique brass harness ornaments from England, framed shells/sand from New Zealand, a yard-long pic of my grandfathers ship steaming in the harbor in Havana–all interspersed with my initial (I just like my initial). It’s all very eclectic and every piece is meaningful and it’s taken decades to accumulate. Now I need another staircase–cause you know, more trips are on the horizon.

  20. Great post with wonderful ideas, thanks for sharing! I love the gallery wall from the mountain house dining room. 🙂
    XO Anna From Italy

    https://society6.com/sierraf31?curator=sierraf31

  21. Looking to do a gallery wall in our master bedroom…maybe…and this was helpful, thank you!

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