Artwork How To

Gallery Wall 101

March 28, 2016

Ah, yes: the “gallery wall.”  One of those phrases designers throw around constantly but offer little instruction on how to achieve.  Though I have had no expert training in the gallery wall (does such a thing exist?), I’ve picked up some tips and tricks from my own experiments that should be helpful for the everyday nester.  Let’s explore a quick list of the pros/cons of the GW before we dive into the how-to’s:


  1. Inexpensive wall art hack
  2. Great for awkward or large spaces
  3. Can mix in some personal photography or collectibles
  4. Easy to hang/arrange on the wall
  5. Great for commitment-phobes:  can add/rearrange wall decor with ease


  1. Will put a bunch of holes in the wall
  2. Need to find the right pieces.   Your collection doesn’t come together overnight.


I had great sucess on my latest gallery wall project when I decided to tackle a massive above-the-bed space that had gone too long without any love.  I had two prints of photos I recently took while on vacation in Europe that I knew I wanted to incorporate, but I also wanted to mix it up with some paintings and other collectibles.

empty wall space

sad, empty wall space

On a random Saturday afternoon, I hit up a local flea market and dug through boxes of wall art.  As I worked my way through an overwhelming amount of inventory, I took pictures of the pieces I liked so that I could reference them while I continued to shop.  Budget was a bit tight for this project, so I focused most of my attention on the overlooked, untagged items in the back.  Aside: the best, most unique stuff is ALWAYS covered in dust in the back of the flea market.  

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some options

some options

After about an hour of searching, followed by 20 mins of price haggling with the cashier, I walked out with two framed paintings and a carrot needlepoint for <$50.  WIN.

the paintings and carrot needlepoint

my flea market treasures

The paintings cleaned up well after applying Windex and Goo Gone.  The needlepoint needed a new frame altogether, so I scooped up a fresh white one at Target for about $15.  While I was at Target, I grabbed a cool mid-century style clock and a mini marquee sign that I just couldn’t walk away from  (the Target Home section is DANGEROUS!).  Finally, I added in the two aforementioned vacation photos and a little round mirror my parents brought me from Morocco years ago.  Piled all this stuff on the bed and played with different arrangements until I found a grouping that worked:

final arrangement

the final arrangement

Hanging seemed like a daunting process, but I just started at the bottom with the carrot and worked my way to the top.  It’s important to take a step back after each piece is hung and assess your progress from the other side of the room.  But don’t sweat it too much:  the best part about a gallery wall is that you can break all the rules about aligning wall art.  You really can’t mess up!

 voila! finished wall

voila! finished wall

I love the finished product, don’t you?  It came together in a perfectly imbalanced way that makes your eye want to keep staring.  The positioning of the circular objects on opposite sides creates a nice “frame” around the rest of the rectangular pieces.  I can’t wait to add more!

lady sandwich approves

lady sandwich approves


looks great from all angles

lookin’ good from all angles


My first foray into GW-ing was after I returned from a South African safari and wanted to showcase some of the photos I took.  I didn’t have a solid plan of how the wall was going to come together, so I printed a variety of my best shots in both 4×6″ and 5×7″at Walgreens and laid them out on the floor to decide which photos looked best together.  Photo printing is very inexpensive nowadays, so I suggest printing more than you need so you can play around with arrangements and sizes.  Once I settled on a layout, I picked up some inexpensive plain black frames with white mattes and threw those babies on the wall.   Behold the result:

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safari wall complete

Typically I would suggest mixing up the frames in order to add a little visual intrigue.  But this room already has a lot going on, so I’m digging the sleek look of matching black frames here.



I learned a lot through trial and error in putting these arrangements together.  Here is a list of my biggest takeaways:

  • Ignore every rule you’ve ever heard about hanging art.  The most interesting gallery walls feature pieces that intentionally don’t align where they are “supposed” to
  • Asymmetry is the best
  • A variety of shapes creates visual interest
  • Play with scale
  • Mix mediums.  Photography + paintings + typography + mirrors = interesting wall with lots of eye-candy
  • If possible, create your arrangement on the ground right in front of the wall where it will hang.  This makes it really easy to visualize and transfer to the wall, and hopefully will minimize the number of re-do’s


Have you ever designed a gallery wall?  What are your favorite tips and biggest lessons learned?  Share your insights in the comments below.

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