Emily Henderson

The guide to a well hung gallery wall

Gallery walls are hard. Heck, art in general is VERY hard. I find it to be the most personal, most difficult and therefore most fraught decision with my clients. Often I give them my favorite sources and make them narrow it down to what they like, and then with our approval we pull the trigger because if I shop for them they will end up being billed for hours and hours of my time to maybe find a print they might like. This is why I wish there were art dealers who specialize in more moderate art consulting for residential homes – someone who knows the market better than myself, but isn’t going to try to sell us $10k paintings when our budget is $1k. Know anyone? (I’m working on an updated version of ‘best online art‘ right now – stay tuned).

Anyway, once you have finally bought some pieces of art that you love then its time to curate them into a gallery wall (unless they are huge and can stand on their own). Just like we did in the January issue of Family Circle.

EmilyHenderson_FamilyCircle_January2015

So what really makes a good gallery wall???

Well, before I get in to the steps I want to preface it by saying something that might be perceived as discouraging – your gallery wall is only as good as the art you have in it. A really good gallery wall, like a really good living room, either takes a lot of money (art can be VERY expensive) or a lot of time scouring and collecting from different resources. It absolutely doesn’t need to be expensive – I’m a MASSIVE fan of thrift store and flea market art as well as prints of originals, but it takes a while to curate that.

So if you have some random pieces lying around and you attempt a gallery wall, it may not work. Be patient. The art below is a mix of my friends art, prints that I like, originals that I borrowed, some splurges and flea market art. But it did take me a while to curate it and I’m a designer and a shopaholic. This is not to discourage you – but instead to encourage you that it just takes a bit of time to curate the right collection, so have some patience and don’t just throw a bunch of random pieces on the wall.

Emily Henderson Gallery Wall Family Circle

Art (L to R): Oil Landscape with Clouds: Vintage | Abstract Neon Painting by Kate Smithson| Tree Collage: Vintage | Polaroid Collage by Jen Gotch| Flower Photograph by Jen Gotch| Blue Circle Sun Print: DIY | Pink Abstract Drip Painting Jamie Derringer| Beach Photograph by Max Wanger| Huge abstract Green and Blue Painting: Vintage | Abstract Shapes Sketch by Ken Horne| Pen Ink Drawing: Vintage | Pink and Purple Abstract by Kate Smithson| Man Portrait: Vintage | Blue and Purple Abstract  by Kate Smithson

OK, so the first step is to anchor the collection with a larger piece. Like so:

Emily Henderson Gallery Wall Instructions1

If you have one million smaller pieces it will look bitsy and messy. You need at least 1 piece that feels commanding to start the collection.

Emily Henderson Gallery Wall Instructions2

Vary the sizes and orientation of the art – You need both horizontal, vertical and if you can, square, to make it feel balanced. I bought that skinny tree collage 2 years ago at an antique store for $125  after eyeing it for 2 years. It was kinda expensive which is why it took me 2 years to commit. But I think it does something interesting to the collection – it throws it off in a good way. So if you see pieces that you like that are oddly shaped or sized, don’t skip those. That is a very good thing.

And while you want a big pieces to anchor, smaller pieces are really nice to fill in and keep your eye bouncing around. So big, small, vertical and horizontal.

Next – keep your rivers kinda even (they definitely don’t have to be exactly the same) – just make sure they aren’t too close (looking crammed) or floating too far away from each other (looking accidental).

Emily Henderson Gallery Wall Instructions4

What about frames, you ask?

Emily Henderson Gallery Wall Instructions4_

If your art is INCREDIBLE then don’t worry about your frames – just collect and hoard and it will most likely look rad because ‘pretty always looks good next to pretty’. Frame for the piece not the space, as they say.

BUT, one way to help make a collection look cohesive and still high-end is to curate the frames and keep them in your color palette. Here we used white and light wood tones. Had there been a black frame in here it would have been jarring. Of course if you had many black frames in here, and tied it in with the pillows and perhaps a rug, then that would look great and intentional. But I promise that a more refined curation of frames will elevate the entire collection. We used all Target frames except for the vintage pieces or the pieces that were already custom framed. I love the white or light wood ones from the Room Essentials line; they are super simple and their mats are surprisingly high-end looking.

Frames: Wood Frame with White | 2 Opening Frame (similar, that one was custom framed when we bought it) | White Gallery Frame Large | White Gallery Frame Small: Target | All Other Frames: Vintage or custom framed.

Other tips that are fairly crucial –

Make sure to have a consistent color palette BUT don’t get OCD about it – give yourself some room to bring in small hits of other colors so you don’t look like a crazy uptight person.  We started with blues, pinks and whites but there are a lot of oranges, greens, purples, etc – it’s really just a smattering of colors but they all feel light and happy.

The more different mediums of art, the better. I this one we have abstract paintings, an oil painting, original photography, prints (the Ken Horne piece is a collage but we just have a print of it), abstract drawing, pen drawings, Polaroids and collages. Clearly you don’t need ALL of those, but a collection of just prints might look a little junior, and to help elevate it to looking more grown up grab yourself a painting or two from the flea market.

Pepper around the heavier pieces evenly on the wall – in other words don’t hang all the visually heavy (dark) pieces together.

Family-Circle-Gallery-Wall-1

I mean, I could watch that GIF all day. So fun.

Lastly lets talk about how to actually hang it up there. You either need a lot of patience or a lot of guts. If you are ‘anti-random accidental holes in your wall’ then you should go to the trouble of making templates of the frames and taping them up to make sure you like the composition. This takes patience and time but delivers a solid no-fail result. A lot of those frames actually have a template inside them (on the white backing paper) that tell you where the nail hole is which is very handy.

I don’t have the patience for templates. If I think its going to be a complicated job then I will lay it out on the floor in front of the wall with a rough idea of where its going to go, but most of the time I simple just go for it and if I have to patch a hole, then I patch the hole (lets face it I RARELY care enough to patch a hole). Most of the smaller pieces just need a tiny nail so the hole is really small and frankly usually get covered up by the art anyway.  The larger pieces might have a bigger hole or two holes but if you start with them and if you are intentional about where they go, you won’t need to move them.

gallery wall

And there I am, looking very satisfied with my art wall (and kinda snarky!) in the magazine.

Couch: Amsterdam Modern (vintage) | Blue Throw: Vintage | Side Table: Vintage | Ceramic Table Lamp | Brass Cup: Vintage | Pink Box

*Family circle photography by Daniel Hennessy. Hair and makeup by Danielle Walch, with extra styling help from Scott Horne and Brady.

In case you aren’t satsfied by ‘Gallery Wall Porn’ yet, here are a few others that I’ve done that have a bit of a different look, but you’ll notice the same tips still apply:

art-wall

Cup of Jo home makeover Shot By Ryan Liebe.  The art helps take the focus away from the TV.

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The Curbly family dining room makeover. Shot by Melissa Oholendt. A more modern family photo ‘grid’ where the entire collection fills a the shape of a square instead of an organic shape.

gallery wall

Oh Joy studio art wall (click for link/resources). Shot by Zeke Ruelas.  A wild smattering of fun art – floor to ceiling, wall to wall.

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And this one was in Orlando’s house (he designed it, I just helped style it and featured it on my blog).  Shot by Zeke Ruelas. This one is a more masculine art wall, again from sofa to ceiling and wall to wall. Watch this video we did about it.

There you have it. Keys to a good gallery wall. Any questions, folks?

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  1. I love this article because I am terrible with an eye for this stuff. The furniture I am stuck with right now because of finances are dark wood. I am trying to balance it out with a white sofa and chair. I love love love neutrals! My colors are whites, gold, and green (mostly plants and a tree). I hate how dark wood is over powering. What would you recommend for wood frame colors to balance out the darkness? You are amazing by the way!

  2. I really love the Huge abstract Green and Blue Painting, Abstract Shapes Sketch by Ken Horne| above.

    Can you tell me how big it is and where I could find it?

  3. What would you do on the opposite wall? For example, if I created a wall gallery around my TV-what would you do on the opposite, which is where my couch is? I don’t want it to be too much

  4. Hey!
    I loved the ideas you shared with how to design a gallery wall. I am attempting to create one myself in our office space, but I wonder if you might be able to help me with one thing: I am trying to find some kind of app or template online where I can drag-and-drop the PDF’s of the photos I’d like to print for the gallery wall. This way, I can see what they’d look like alongside one another concerning size, style, etc. Might you have any recommendations? Just a stranger out here in the ethers, seeing if a design-savy lady like you could help!
    Thanks very much!