How to nail a gallery wall

Put up things you like to look at, including plants or even a TV set, designers say

A gallery wall by online company Artfully Walls at a home in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
A gallery wall by online company Artfully Walls at a home in Ann Arbor, Michigan. PHOTO: MARTA X. PEREZ

WASHINGTON • Every now and then, a design blog will declare gallery walls "over" - a fad that has had its moment.

But they are a decorating staple, says Ms Susan Tynan, founder and chief executive of Framebridge, an online framing company.

"I get asked a lot whether I think the gallery-wall trend will go away anytime soon," she adds. "It's not a trend. It's been around for hundreds of years."

In 17th-century Paris, the paintings of recent graduates of the Royal Academy were hung floor to ceiling so as many as possible could be viewed, creating a sensation and inspiring grand salon-style museum exhibitions that continue to this day. This arrangement style eventually became popular with collectors and art lovers.

There is no end in sight. Some of America's top designers showed off gallery walls in this year's high-end Kips Bay Decorator Show House in New York. And for the more timid and budget-strapped among us, an army of experts, online tools and apps have popped up to help consumers curate artwork - and get over their fear of hammering multiple holes in their walls.

"Gallery walls give a visual wow factor," says Ms Paula Wallace, founder and president of Savannah College of Art and Design. "Lots of residences today are small. Instead of scattering postage stamp-size works of art all over, focus attention and care on one wall. With a salon wall, all rules are out the window. If it pleases you, mix modern and vintage frames, traditional art with contemporary. It's all fine."

A gallery wall (or salon wall) is loosely defined as a collection of items - framed artwork, photographs and personal treasures hung in a grouping.

Search #gallerywall on Instagram and you will see more than 890,000 incarnations, some hung in millennial-friendly symmetrical rows and some Bohemian assemblages in mismatched frames.

"You see gallery walls all through history, whether in grand estates in Moscow, at (former United States president Thomas Jefferson's) Monticello or in (late fashion editor) Diana Vreeland's iconic apartment in New York," says Ms Michelle Adams, editor and creative adviser at Artfully Walls.

The online company sells the works of more than 450 artists reproduced in digital giclee prints and has a collection for retailer Anthropologie. It also sells precurated gallery walls you can try on for size with an online tool that shows how they will look in your room.

"We see people mixing in a lot of personal photos, and even wall-hanging plants have become part of the gallery wall today," Ms Adams adds. "They'll even mix in Samsung's Frame TV that looks like a piece of art."

Interior designers say the gallery wall is frequently on clients' wish lists.

"When I start working with people, I ask them to send me photos of rooms that inspire them," says designer Miles Redd of New York firm Redd Kaihoi. "Invariably, they show me that one wall of eclectic art that everybody loves and wants to have."

Designer Sheila Bridges filled an entire wall with art in her tiny Kips Bay Decorator Show House room this year.

Her theme was the "many-faceted relationships between humans and canines". The gallery mixed portraiture, needlepoint and evocative photos from the civil rights movement.

"I usually start with the important work in the middle, sometimes a mirror," Ms Bridges says. "But for my show house room, I chose a photo of (civil rights leader) Martin Luther King. I like to combine different frames and textures and both horizontal and vertical."

There is no one way to organise a wall. Some walls have frames of the same style or in the same colour; some have artworks that share a theme, such as travel or a certain shade of chartreuse. Some just reflect the whim of the collector.

"It's a collage you are making and it's all about relationships," says Mr Redd. "You hold things up and if it feels good you keep going."

Grid styles that are popular right now, says Framebridge creative director Tessa Wolf, can give your place a clean look while still portraying your style.

"A lot of overthinking goes into choosing art and making a gallery wall, but it should be fun choosing things that you like to look at every day," says Ms Adams of Artfully Walls.

"It should show what your interests are to people when they walk into a room."


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 01, 2019, with the headline How to nail a gallery wall. Subscribe