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DIY gallery walls

Easy to create on your own, a gallery wall lets you showcase art pieces and treasured keepsakes in an eclectic way

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You nudge a frame to the left, and then the gap seems too wide. You try sliding the mirror a little higher. Is there a frame tiny enough to fit inside that space on the right? Hmmm. Creating a gallery wall isn’t supposed to be this hard, is it? Interior designer Luis Roman, owner of Studio L Interiors in Charlottetown, P.E.I., laughs that the most common mistake when creating a gallery wall is simply “winging it.”

For the recent Mary Pratt exhibition at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, staff arranged a salon hang of various food paintings that chief curator Sarah Fillmore described as “a visual orgy of food.”

For the recent Mary Pratt exhibition at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, staff arranged a salon hang of various food paintings that chief curator Sarah Fillmore described as “a visual orgy of food.”

“When you’re doing one of these walls, you have to plan ahead,” says Roman. “You need to curate all of the elements, lay them out on the floor, and arrange them until you find a composition that’s pleasing to you. Then, at that point, you transfer it carefully to the wall.” Roman works mostly on commercial properties, and has designed beautiful gallery-wall arrangements in Charlottetown’s Prince Edward Island Convention Centre, including an intricate layout of starfish-shaped plates and glass beads. “Gallery walls have absolutely been more prominent lately, not just with framed art and photos, but with alternative wall décor and 3-D elements,” says Roman. “If you have a large empty wall, this is a very easy way to get a high-impact look without spending a lot.”

Most of the time, Roman says a homeowner won’t have a series of perfectly matching frames, which eliminates the possibility of a tight grid arrangement. But you don’t need identical frames to pull off a casual, asymmetric gallery wall, although it’s a good idea if they’re a similar tone. “Keeping the frames cohesive is a good way of uniting them, especially when you’re mixing a lot of different styles,” says Roman. “Try to keep them all the same colour or the same range. You wouldn’t want a maple frame next to a mahogany frame, for example.”

Start by arranging your most prominent items, and then fill in the gaps with smaller frames and accent pieces. Add interest by incorporating pieces other than frames, canvases, and mirrors, such as keys, clocks and hooks. “The trend seems to be very eclectic arrangements, with all sorts of different things, not just all frames or all mirrors,” says Roman. To keep your arrangement looking fresh, swap out photos seasonally, and update shots as your family grows older or brings in new members. You could update a hallway arrangement in November to showcase family holiday photos from throughout the years. In January, update it again with your collection of ski trip snapshots.

Interior decorator Katrina Giles, owner of Seaside Interiors in St. John’s, N.L., says a gallery wall can create a focal point in a space that lacks a natural one (like a fireplace, a picture window or a built-in bookcase). “It allows you to display a lot of pictures and items in one large group, which gives them more impact and adds a sense of drama to a room,” Giles says. “With a little planning, it’s not difficult to create a stunning, museum-worthy display of your own, starring the most important people and memories from your own life.” Her favourite trick for hanging a perfect gallery wall involves something she calls the “57-inch on centre” rule. To find the ideal spot for the centre of your arrangement, mark the centre point of your wall (exactly 57 inches or 145 cm from the floor) with a piece of painter’s tape.

This casual, symmetrical gallery wall created by interior decorator Katrina Giles uses vintage records and filmstrip prints. Photo: Seaside Interiors

This casual, symmetrical gallery wall created by interior decorator Katrina Giles uses vintage records and filmstrip prints. Photo: Seaside Interiors

There’s plenty of measuring happening at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia in downtown Halifax. A team of staff ensures every piece is hung perfectly, using mathematical formulas to centre the main work and computer software to position the surrounding pieces. Sarah Fillmore, chief curator with the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, says group arrangements are called “salon hangs” in the gallery world, dating back to the French salons of the 19th century.

“Galleries were trying to offer more space to artists, and this allowed them to show as much work as possible, from the floor to the ceiling,” says Fillmore. She says AGNS staffers often hear visitors oohing and ahhing over the salon hangs, and wishing they could achieve the same look in their home. “It can look so stunning, and it gives you a lot to talk about,” she says. “When you get it right, it’s very impressive.”

If math isn’t your strong suit, Fillmore suggests tracing each item on a piece of scrap paper or newspaper, and securing them to the wall using painter’s tape. You can move them around until you like how they look, and then simply replace each piece of paper with its corresponding item, without making dozens of unnecessary nail-holes in your walls. If you decide to skip the paper templates, you may find yourself making a few tweaks to the final

arrangement, but that’s half the fun. “Don’t be afraid to move things around once they’re up because you can always patch a hole,” says Fillmore. “I think our walls are half putty at this point!”

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