how to plan and hang a gallery wall

bed | brass frames | sconce | bedside table | striped sheets | linen duvet + shams

Years ago, Scott sent me a link to these Audubon prints, which are free to download. He said, we need to find a place for some of these. I joked in our guest room reveal post that he needs his own bumper sticker that says ‘will brake for birds’, and I meant it. We can be driving down the highway, and he’ll spot an eagle overhead a mile away, point, and exclaim, look! Or maybe we’ll be talking over breakfast in the kitchen, and I’ll catch him staring over my shoulder – at a bird in our planter boxes. Or we’ll be front porch swingin’, and a constant chirp from our neighbor’s yard will have him saying, do you hear that? Or we could be at Tree House, and, well, forget about it. Birds everywhere! It’s simultaneously one of his most endearing qualities and yet, it makes me all grumbly when it halts an entire conversation.

In any case, we knew that Tree House was the perfect candidate for these prints – a collection of over 400 watercolor paintings that have been preserved digitally – and we spent hours narrowing that list down to our top 20. And then our top 10. And finally, the top 6! You guys, every last watercolor is so stunningly beautiful. We had so many we loved, but our goal was to stick to native Michigan birds, since that’s where our Tree House lives. (Although the American Crow is common everywhere, it’s definitely my favorite of the bunch.)

Why + When a Gallery Wall Works

Are gallery walls on the way out? It seems like this is a debate we’ve seen go around (and around), but I think the way in which the wall is curated matters. They’re an awesome solution to create big impact on a smaller budget. They’re also a great way to grow a collection over time, and there’s less guilt in swapping out a small photo for something new, just because you feel like it. That said, we think a gallery wall works best when you can decide on at least one unifying factor. Maybe that means all of the frames are of the same 1-2 finishes, or maybe all the artwork displayed are similar in color or theme. In this case, all of our Audubon prints are in the same theme, but we also chose these brass frames in varying sizes. Because our guest room is so small (it’s barely 8′ x 10′), we wanted our large scale wall of art to feel calming and captivating – never chaotic. Side note: We recently shared a round-up of all the gallery walls in our Chicago home, including our go-to frames.

Decide on Frames + Map it Out

We always approach a gallery wall with a plan, which makes them feel less overwhelming (and also saves our walls from unnecessary holes). Because we were working in such tight quarters, I mapped out the art wall in Photoshop, taking into account the size of the wall from side-to-side and floor-to-ceiling and the height of our beadboard. And because both of us are such visual thinkers, I also included our bed and end tables. To do this, I simply created a new file in Photoshop using the exact dimensions of the room; for example, my file size was 102″w x 105″h, and I kept the resolution at a low 72 ppi to keep it from being too large. From there, I used the line and rectangle tools to create the furniture shapes.

Finally, I created additional rectangles to mimic the brass frames in the three sizes offered!  I numbered each of them for my sanity (so the largest frame was 1, medium was 2 and smallest was 3), and I played with several layouts. Once I had a handful that I loved, Scott chose his favorite, and we ran with it:

Add Screenshots to the Layout

Although the step above might feel daunting, it was worth the extra 30-or-so minutes of my time. It allowed us to see the wall in its entirety; we could take a step back and see it stripped down. It also allowed us to hone in on which images needed to be horizontal versus vertical, making our art selection process that much easier, too. I took screenshots of our top 10, added them to my file, and I moved them around and swapped them out for others. Our top 6 was finalized based not only on the ones we were most attracted to, but it was just as important to pay attention to the movement of the art wall as a whole.

Order + Frame

After downloading the high resolution files, I had them printed on matte fine art paper and framed them at home. I really think that matte paper makes all the difference when it comes to creating prints of art (as opposed to, say, a photograph), but I’m typically Team Matte any day of the week. We work with a company that prints to the trade, but I also saw that Artifact Uprising offers matte paper. Although printing on thick art paper will cost more, I’ve never once regretted that decision after receiving my prints in the mail. Other places worth checking out: Mpix, Shutterfly, Snapfish – and did you know Amazon offers printsTip: Always choose the lowest sheen available for a higher-end look.

(Literally) Lay It All Out

We brought a print out of our layout plan to Tree House, and then we (literally) laid it all out – on the floor. In doing so, we were able to play with the gaps between each frame (about 1.5″), and get everything just so. We were happy to see that the computer mock-up translated so well to real-life!

Measure for Center+ Hanging

The reason why we lay it out exactly how we want it to look on the wall is to prepare us for this step – measuring. This doesn’t have to be an exact science (hear me out), but there is one measurement that’s the most important, and that’s the center of the gallery wall. Below, you can see that we took the entire width of our layout, and we marked the center point on the bottom frame with a piece of tape:

Next, we marked the center of our wall at the height where we wanted the bottom of our gallery wall to begin:

Finally, it was time to hang our gallery wall! We started with that center point by lining up the tape on the frame to the tape on the wall, and we hung the frame on two drywall screws. (Two screws means that you’re never fussing with crooked frames again, hooray!) Once the first frame was hung, we moved to the frame on the right, then the left, then above – well, you get the picture (punny much?). Each time, the most important thing we kept in mind was keeping the 1.5″ gap consistent. When the very first frame that gets hung is centered, the rest always falls into place:

how to plan and hang a gallery wall

The longest part of the process is everything leading up to the hanging itself. But like any project, setting yourself up for success – before you even get started! – is always key. Happy gallery wall making!

PS .. We’d love to know: Are they in? Or out? Or is it complicated? (Ha!)

Bedroom Sources:

wall color: Sherwin Williams Jasper | beadboard trim + ceiling color: Valspar Ultra White | queen bed | linen duvet + shams | striped sheets | ivory eyelash coverlet | white (folded) coverlet | green velvet pillow | taupe velvet pillows | sconces | black + white cloth wire | floating bedside tables | white frame | brass frames | wood + black hangers | clothing rack | jute rug | Audubon bird prints

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14 replies on “How-To Plan a Gallery Wall”

  1. I’m happy to know someone else is married to a guy that’s as bird-obsessed as my husband! We were driving down a road (at like 50mph) and he pulled a u-turn to see a blue bird! Conversations are regularly interrupted because he’s looking at birds or telling me which birds he sees (living in the country this happens ALL THE TIME). I’d say 90% of the art in our house is birds. He has a deep love of birds that I just have trouble matching.

  2. I love a good gallery wall! I think they are IN when done purposefully and correctly. Your gallery wall is spot on and makes a lovely room perfection. Love seeing all the great things at the Tree House (and your house and the Garden Apartment).

  3. This is the best gallery wall I’ve seen. How do you decide how high to hang them from furniture or the floor?

    1. Thanks, Claire! This was just our personal preference, but we wanted them weighted closer to the beadboard rather than centering them exactly on the green part of the wall. If the gallery started too high, it might feel like they were floating. By bringing the whole gallery closer to the beadboard, it helps to make the room feel grounded. A pet peeve of mine is when galleries start too high! I’m a shorty, so maybe that’s why – ha!

  4. This might be a dumb question, but you skipped right over the part that always causes so much stress and frustration when hanging more than one thing (full on gallery wall or not). Do you have any tips for figuring out exactly where the screws go relative to your bottom center point – especially if it’s not a grid of identical frames? It seems like we always think we have it figured out, only to end up with the second frame/item juuuust a little off. We’ve tried paper templates, the “paint stick” trick, just using the laser level and more. I’d love to add a couple more curated (great word to explain the ones that still feel on trend!) galleries to our house but I’m not sure our marriage would survive. :)

    1. Hi Anne! The paint stick trick has always been our best friend – we’ve used it for every gallery wall we’ve done! Maybe a combination of the paper template with the paint stick trick would be helpful? Something that I’ve noticed some companies doing is actually including a paper template for their frames, which would come in so handy! I’ve seen West Elm and Pottery Barn do this.

      Does anyone else have a suggestion?

  5. Gallery walls 4eva!!! This looks fantastic!

    I dont care if they ever go out of style, I will always have them in my home. I love being surrounded by family photos and art. In our house we have LOTS of wall space and very little surface area for furniture, so walls are our only option really, for photo displays. I love your tricks and tips to create them! They will come in handy for my next challenge: our stairwell….

    1. I’ve always loved a beautiful stairwell full of family photos! That’s definitely a gallery wall in our future, too.

  6. At the risk of hijacking your post with more bird-nerding…you mentioned the American Crow, but which other species did you choose?

    I don’t think you could have picked a better wall colour to highlight this gallery, BTW. It turned out beautifully!

    1. Thank you! The birds are:

      American Crow
      Pigeon Hawk
      Great Blue Heron
      Golden Eye duck
      and a wild card – the top right is a handful of birds that believe to never have existed, or maybe they were from Audubon’s imagination!

  7. OMIGOSH…those prints are simply GORGEOUS! Thank you for sharing the link to the Audubon website; I’m absolutely going to print some of these and frame them.

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