How To Make A Gallery Wall

First of all, thank you so much for all the lovely compliments on our DIY stairwell makeover and the new gallery wall. Hoo boy, that is a sentence 19-year-old me could never have imagined typing, I'll tell you that. 19-year-old me would probably only have been able to imagine typing "thank you for all the lovely compliments on my DIY peroxide highlights and my new butterfly hair clips" or something. Except that sentence would never actually have existed, because nobody, ever, in the history of the universe has ever been complimented on their DIY peroxide highlights. Or at least they shouldn't have been.

So I promised you a tutorial on how we made this gallery wall, and that is what I am here to provide. I am sure there are countless other tutorials for how to make a gallery wall on the Internet, and you may wish to follow those if you like, because probably the people who made those gallery walls didn't teeter on the verge of a nervous breakdown while making them, and we, my friends, did. When I say that our gallery wall was made with blood, sweat, and tears, it is not just a thing that I'm saying. Our gallery wall was made with actual blood, sweat, and tears. To wit: I cut my little finger pretty badly on a smashed IKEA picture frame, neither of us took a shower for the entire first day we worked on this thing, and while Sean will not admit to the tears of frustration I swear I saw in his eyes around hour seven, he will at least give over to the fact that he was "crying inside [his] head."

Regardless, we are really pretty pleased with how it turned out. In case you need a reminder, it looks like this:

Ready to make your own? Here's how you do it. 

1. First of all, find a bunch of stuff that you want to frame.
It sounds like a no-brainer, I know, but if you're going to create a gallery wall that packs a big aesthetic punch, you're going to need a lot of stuff. I just went and counted how many pieces we've got hung on our wall and the total came to 32. That's a lot of stuff, and we're actually not even finished yet. It took a little while to collect, but I amassed things slowly and spent a few evenings a week getting it all in frames. Speaking of frames, we decided to go with mostly white (and mostly IKEA), but we hung a few black and silver ones in there too, pretty much because we already had them and didn't mind a little bit of a mis-matched effect.

2. Next, lay everything out on the floor all at once so you can see what you have.
This is actually kind of the fun part. You want to get everything in one place where you can see it, just to make sure that there's a modicum of cohesiveness to the whole thing. Don't get bogged down with trying to figure out a layout or anything—I mean, you can, but we didn't, mostly because we were going to be hanging everything in our stairwell, which is a tough shape to mimic. (If you're just hanging things on a regular rectangular-shaped wall, you don't have a huge number of frames, and you want to get a headstart on yourself, you crazy overachiever, you could probably start playing around with a layout here, if you want, or at least taking note of which pieces you think look nice near each other.)

Either way, for a little while your living room floor is going to look like this:

And then very quickly afterwards, it is going to look like this:

But that is okay, because that is the cue for your hand to start looking like this:

3. Draw around every frame you want to hang, then cut each one out.
I'm not going to lie, this isn't really the most exciting part ever. You know how you have to tape before you paint or squeeze ten thousand limes before you make a key lime pie? This is kind of like that. Basically, you want to put every single frame you're planning to hang on a piece of paper, then draw around it and cut it out, so that you'll have a paper "stand-in" for it when you're deciding what to hang where.

Now, this is not a novel idea when it comes to making a gallery wall; in fact, I only knew about it because I'd read it on about ten different decorating blogs. What I will say, however, is that I learned a few things that make it a whole lot easier.

For a start, about the cheapest thing you can use for making your paper templates—unless you happen to have a bunch of old newspapers hanging around, which we didn't—is a roll of brown masking paper (like this one, which is $2.47, and which we already had in our garage because it's useful to put down when you're painting.) Second of all, if you're drawing around white frames, use a white pen so that you don't accidentally get any color on the frame itself (yep, learned that the hard way.) And thirdly, as soon as you've drawn around your frame, write which picture it is, whether it's color or black and white, and what frame it's in. Trust me, when you're trying to arrange things on a wall in a little while to see what would look good together, this will be really, really, really helpful.

4. Hang yo' stuff.

Now that you have a bunch of paper squares and rectangles, it is time to let someone take an unflattering picture of you with a roll of tape in your mouth. Wait no, that's now how that goes: it is time to figure out a placement on the wall for all your pictures. We did this mostly by trial and error, taping things very lightly to the wall and then moving them around here and there as we went.

As you can see, we started at the bottom of the stairs and worked our way up: first, we considered what a person would see from the doorway as they walked in the front door, and then we put one of our most striking pieces—the "I Have Always Known It Was You" print, which is from here—in the bottom right-hand spot. We progressed up the staircase, hugging the banister pretty tightly, and making sure to alternate color and black and white pieces, and also to space out the black and silver frames very evenly among the sea of white. As we were deciding what to put where, we also found it helpful to measure frames that we hadn't found a home for yet, then write their dimensions on their corresponding template—this way, we could see at a glance which pieces looked about the same size.

When you are done taping all your pieces of the paper to the wall, you will probably already have booked a session of couples therapy. Also, you will have grown a beard, had a child, and sent that child off to college already. This part takes a really, really long time.

5. Hang yo' stuff, part B.
Okay, so now you have all of your paper templates on the wall, right? You are probably getting pretty excited right about now because you can see—finally!—that all your hard work is paying off and your gallery wall is taking shape.

Hate to break it to you, but now comes the worst part of all. You have to hammer that stuff in. I say this is the worst part because a) I am really bad at hammering stuff in—I know, right? HOW HARD COULD THAT BE?—and b) if you are going to break some frames, this is probably where you will break them. Several times, we had a frame on the wall already that didn't like the reverberations of the hammer a few inches over and decided to just jump off the wall and shatter. If this happens to you, just pretend that this is because you have difficult walls or something. Difficult how? I don't know. Maybe, like...thickness. Concrete? Left phalange? Whatever, they're just difficult. Stop asking questions.

So first of all, you will want to locate your real frame and place it on top of your template frame. Figure out where you want the nail to go, using your paper template as a guide, then break out your laser level because it is shiny and pretty and also makes things nice and straight:

Hammer the nail in, with the paper template still there, then place the actual frame over the paper template to check that everything lines up and you have indeed hung your real frame where you wanted it to go. (If not, just adjust so that it lines up with the paper template.) Keep working like this until all your real frames are hung.

6. Take away your paper templates!
You have been victorious, you clever craftswoman! You are basically the next Martha Stewart! Hark, is that your cell phone ringing, with HGTV offering you your own show? Ah no, it is just some telemarketer trying to sell you a vacation to Disneyland, which is really strange because you could have sworn you put yourself on every last do-no-call list known to man, but whatever, who cares, you have a gallery wall and now you must rejoice!

Taking away your paper templates is pretty easy. Just lift the frame off the wall, rip off the template, throw it in the recycling bin—you do have a recycling bin, right?—and replace the frame.

Now, if everything has gone according to plan, your gallery wall looks like this...

.....your hair is always going to be shiny and thick, and George Clooney himself is going to appear tomorrow on your doorstep holding a handwritten note from your husband that says you have a free pass.

Okay, not those last two. But hey, your gallery wall still looks pretty great. Congratulations! Any questions?

Aug 28, 2011

You're gallery wall looks fantastic!

and your reference to 'left phalange' made my day.

Aug 29, 2011

Beautiful! I think I would have smashed all my frames out of frustration long before I got to the completed stage. Start to finish, how long did it take you?

Aug 29, 2011

Wow! Looks fantastic! And your approach was so disciplined! The times I have made gallery walls- in smaller spaces than a whole staircase- I just kinda winged it. But I am mostly lazy and mostly happy with haphazard work so go figure.

Aug 29, 2011

Wow. Seeing that this project STARTS with a trip to Ikea, I am completely admiring of the strength of your marriage. This looks just great!

Aug 29, 2011

Damn, you're wayyyy more organized than we were when we made ours. Our gallery wall process went something like this, "Hang that there. DAMMIT! That looks awful! Let's nail more things in the wall!"

Looks lovely. We're moving soon and I'm definitely going to use this as inspiration.

Aug 29, 2011

I've never done this (because my marriage isn't that strong) but the one tip I have seen that seems like it would eliminate the smashing part, is to also trace where the nail should go on your templates. So after it's taped to the wall, "all" you have to do is put the nail in where the template says it should go. And I'd do all nails without any frames on the wall at all -- hammering a nail into a wall with something hanging nearby is begging for the other item to fall, isn't it? Anyway, it's beautiful and you are far braver than I am. I just hung shelves and put frames on that so I only had to hang one thing. ;)

Venita Michelle
Aug 29, 2011

It looks fantastic! My husband and I attempted to do this very thing in our own stairwell. Our efforts ended in him sleeping on the couch for 2 days and me breaking a frame his grandmother hand carried to America when she emigrated here 100 years ago. GO US!

Aug 29, 2011

Your kitty looks very pleased with his contributions, too.

Aug 29, 2011

This couldn't come at a better time! I am currently in the final "collecting" phase for my own living room gallery wall (more like 12 items hung, not 32, I hope George Clooney will still show up).


Nothing But Bonfires
Aug 29, 2011

Ris -- the collecting/framing part took a few weeks, but that's basically just because I did it so sporadically. You could get the framing done in a couple of hours, for sure. The rest of it, we started one Saturday afternoon -- in a few hours, we drew around everything, cut it out, and hung about a third of the paper templates. The next day, Sunday, was the bear: we started around 9am and probably didn't finish everything until 4pm. Even then, we had to wait a few days to FINISH it finish it, because we needed to glue back together some of the smashed frames and also build a platform on the stairs to hang some of the higher artwork. You could knock this out in a weekend for sure, though, if you were organized enough.

Krysta, Amy -- that's funny because that is NORMALLY how we have done all our other gallery walls. ("Eh, this looks good here, just hang it.") But because this was a staircase, it seemed to make it a lot harder, so I had this real motivation to Do It Properly with the paper templates and all that.

Sarah -- that's a brilliant idea, wish we'd thought of that. I think part of it was that we were so eager to hang the picture and see our hard work come to life!

Venita Michelle -- you have no idea how much better that makes me feel.

Aug 29, 2011

This was the Organizing Tip of the Day from Martha:

Great minds!

Aug 29, 2011

This is perfect timing as all but the last two frames I ordered for our photo gallery are in! Thanks for the tips.

Aug 29, 2011


I'm Rick from Seattle Show Posters / Row Boat Press, and I'm totally honored that our "I Have Always Known It Was You" print gets such a prime spot! Thank you and nice work!

Aug 29, 2011

This isn't the point of your post, I realize, but where did you get that glass coffee table? It is exactly what I've been looking for and unable to find. Please tell me it's still available somewhere!

Aug 29, 2011

It looks great, Holly. I guess we could've done our stairs using the templates, but I went the frustrating "let's try it here...and here...and here" way. It turned out great until we realized that the lower photos were too close to the handrail and my Mother needs the handrail to use the stairs. And so everything went up the wall by three inches and I went through a bottle of bourbon.

Aug 29, 2011

Holy cat balls, that's a lot of steps! Your finished wall looks great. I would really love to do this in my staircase someday, but need to collect some neat items like you all did. Anyway, fantastic job to you and Sean!

Aug 30, 2011

I am starting this process right now! I, too, have a crazy huge stairwell that I am finally decorating. Right now is the 'cut templates out of paper' stage which is not particularly exciting. Your finished product is great inspiration and I am hoping mine turns out as well. I do not have a laser level- did you guys find a decent one that costs less than $100?

Aug 30, 2011

wow thanks so much for sharing! it looked like a huge undertaking but i didn't quite imagine it to require this many steps (and so many opportunities to mess up!) so glad your efforts turned out so wonderfully. there's nothing you and Sean can't face together now :)

Aug 30, 2011

The large fireworks pieces: are those framed prints or giclees (sp?) or what? They look marvelous. And mysterious. And festive, obviously.

Aug 30, 2011

P.S. It's stunning. Now I just need a house with a stairwell...

Aug 30, 2011

thank you so much for the tutorial! I never would have thought of using a white marker to trace around white frames. also, if all all that was one with only one really are the next martha stewart

Aug 31, 2011

Holly, I love this! I love how it looks, but also that you framed so many personal little tidbits - that's really what makes a home, in my mind.

Thank you for always sharing your ideas & projects. It's fun and inspiring to see. Although I think my husband may hate you, as I don't often need encouragement for my mountain of Projects. ;)

Aug 31, 2011

It looks great!

As for #5: Hang Yo Stuff, part B - if you are going to remove every framed picture to pull off the template anyhoo, why not just put the nails in, hang the picture to make sure it's in the right place, then put the picture back on the floor? This way no frames are jumping off the wall when you put new nails in, because there are no frames on the wall - just templates. Then, after all the nails are in, hang the frames, ripping off the template just before you put up the corresponding frame. This eliminates two problems at once and shortens the whole shebang.


Nothing But Bonfires
Aug 31, 2011

Julia -- I'm pretty sure our laser level cost NOWHERE NEAR that much; I'm sure it was just a cheapie from Home Depot or Lowe's and it's worked great for all our hanging so far! (All of our hangingS would be a different story....sounds very morbid!)

Edith-Nicole: The fireworks prints are wrapped canvases. We used a company called Canvas On Demand -- we sent them three photos that Sean had taken of the fireworks over SF one July 4th, and they print them on canvas and wrap/stretch them around frames. They were delivered perfectly and are really light to hang!

Marcheline -- that makes total sense! Okay, for the NEXT gallery wall.....

Sep 01, 2011

Simply GORGEOUS! You guys have outdone yourselves on this one. I'd love to do something really similar, but (here's where I admit that I'm a weenie) the thought of dusting all of that terrifies me.

Sep 02, 2011

Splendid job! Hard work pays off. I understand perfectionist pros and cons too well. Question: Did you create any of the matting for your frames? Specifically, about your smaller frames, I've never seen small frames sold with matting. How do you make them? Thank you!

Sep 03, 2011

We did a similar wall by our stairs. I, however, did not want to be continually straightening pictures that got knocked crooked by us as we used the stairs, so I decided to take a cue from restaurants and drill screws directly through the frames into the walls. Then I took some matching craft paint and camouflaged the screw heads. We only had a couple of casualties (drilled too close to the glass and broke it), but they were dollar store frames anyway.

Sep 16, 2011

Just a thought to avoid breaking frames- get them all perfect and lined up on the paper, but then take them down for the rest of the hammering and placement. :) Maybe not as instantly gratifying and easy to make sure things are looking good together, but probably worth it.

kari machal
Nov 29, 2011

great job- totally want to do one in my house... i am pinning this :)

Dec 29, 2011

Excellent instruction. I have a question regarding proportions. I am going to do a gallery wall on the same wall my sectional is against. Should I align with the gallery wall with the dimensions of the sectional or, is it okay if the gallery wall is slightly wider than the sectional?

Appreciate any thoughts you may have.

Feb 27, 2012

Wow, I was so impressed to how organized the wall was with the pre-determining and pinning of papers on the wall for the actual frame!

This is off-topic for this post but I noticed the fireworks art pieces that you guys have and have been looking ALL over for something like this. Can you let me know where you guys bought them and are they canvas?


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