4 Tricks for Hanging a Gallery Wall

Create an enviable arrangement in four simple steps.

Caitlin Murphree Miller
Budget Decorating Ideas: Create a Gallery Wall with Art
Decorating Editor Lindsey Ellis Beatty arranged this striking gallery in her kitchen.
Photo by: Laurey W. Glenn, Styling by: Anne Turner Carroll

The key to a perfectly composed gallery wall is finding the right balance of art, framing, and spacing. Before you even think of tackling a project like this, first consider the art you’d like to display: A photo wall of vintage family photographs is a classic choice, as are children’s drawings, maps, line drawings, and smaller watercolors. Don’t rule out striking 3D pieces, as well—think fun antlers, vintage clocks, or uniquely shaped mirrors. Then, consider your framing options carefully: If you’re using photos or art that all have a similar tone (say, a grouping of black-and-white images or a collection of drawings), add interest by mixing up the size and finish of the frames. Alternately, if your pieces vary in color, scale, or medium, hang the collection in matching frames and matting. Finally, if you’re grouping items in a grid, try to display an odd number of pieces, like a uniform stack of three frames or a square grouping of nine pieces. Once you’ve got your art picked out, follow these four steps to nail a wow-worthy gallery layout.

Step 1: Step Away from the Hammer
Avoid putting unnecessary holes in your wall by crafting a gallery-wall game plan. Lay each piece on the floor in front of your empty wall, leaving at least 2 to 3 inches between each frame on all sides. From here, you can start arranging your art in a standard composition—a loose rectangle, diamond, or square shape—or a freeform grouping, allowing your pieces to come together in a more creative way. Start with the largest pieces and build around them.

Step 2: Cut It Out
Once you’re happy with the floor arrangement, pull out a roll of brown craft paper or old paper grocery bags; place each frame on top of the paper, trace it, and cut it out. You should have one piece of paper per piece.

Step 3: Test, Test, and Re-Test
Using painter’s tape, tack up your arrangement as you had it on the floor, starting at eye level for the larger pieces and moving out from there. Don’t cut corners: Be precise with spacing on all sides of each piece (using a ruler or measuring tape), and pull out a level to make sure everything is straight. Also, keep furniture placement and ceiling height in mind—if you have very tall ceilings, for example, you may want to shift the whole arrangement a little higher.

Step 4: Seal the Deal
Once your paper collage is complete, it’s time to put hammer to nail. If you’re using vintage or mixed-sized frames, figure out where the picture wire hits the back of each frame when taunt—this will determine where your hanger should go in relation to the top of each frame. Nail picture hangers through the cutouts in the appropriate spots, removing each paper cutout as you replace it with a frame. Then—voila! Stand back to admire your hard work.