Designer Ashley Gilbreath shares her top tips for re-creating this look in your home.

By Grace Haynes
July 08, 2020
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“It’s a repeat of what you see out the windows,” says designer Ashley Gilbreath of the framed botanicals hanging along the stairway of her Montgomery, Alabama, cottage. Situated in the foyer, the staircase (designed by architect Chris Tippett) is the focal point of the entryway, with the living and dining rooms set on either side. To fill the stairway’s big blank wall, Gilbreath took a cue from nature and hung a monochromatic arrangement of pressed botanicals. “Stairways are easy spots for gallery walls. Here, it’s essentially used as one piece of art that takes up the whole space. Even though it’s a series, the pieces read as one in a lot of ways,” she says.

“Botanicals have been around forever. They’re not overly trendy or overly fussy. They’re timeless and classic,” says Gilbreath, who sourced these framed pieces from Blackwell Botanicals. This style of organic artwork using pressing techniques to preserve the beauty of natural flora and fauna. Here, the designer shares her top tips for re-creating a gallery wall-style look in your home. (Find a full tour of Gilbreath’s cottage in our August 2020 issue.)

1. Sketch it out.

Before picking up a hammer, plan out where the pieces will hang. “A trick of the trade is to stand back, take a picture of the space, print it out, and then draw on top of it. This helps you begin to understand what proportions will look good. We do this in our client’s homes, whether it’s a gallery wall or not. It helps us get a good visual,” says Gilbreath.

2. Find the focal point.

“You don’t want to have too much going on in a space. You need a focal point; you don’t want a million smalls. Our focal point is the piece with two big tobacco leaves. It’s visually the most impactful and has more depth to it,” says Gilbreath. Smaller botanicals trickle off from the tobacco leaves on the right and left (not pictured) sides.

3. Choose smart materials.

“We framed these botanicals between glass. They’re cool on their own, so they didn’t need anything over the top to bring them to life. Framing in between glass can be a little more expensive, but it takes the questioning out of choosing a mat,” Gilbreath says. “We went with simple golden-brown frames. In this house, things don’t always live in the same location for very long. I knew there may be a chance these could go in a different room one day, so I tried to make the frames universal for whatever setting.” To preserve botanicals, especially in sunny spaces, choose UV-resistant glass. “Because botanicals are natural, the sun will eat through them like it does everything else,” she says.

4. Enlist an extra set of hands.

“Hanging is a two-person job. One person has to hold and one person has to stand back and adjust. Doing it by yourself is the key to error. You definitely need a little extra help,” Gilbreath says.

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5. Pick your plants.

Gilbreath suggests Blackwell Botanicals and Lauren Lachance for sourcing authentic pressed botanicals. For a more cost-efficient option, try creating pressed botanicals at home with flora and fauna harvested from your own yard. You can also find prints, watercolor studies, or sketches from home-furnishings retailers like Ballard Designs or online vintage sites like Etsy.

6. Add the finishing touches.

A natural fiber runner from Dash & Albert add softness to the stairway. “Another quick trick of the trade—you don’t see all the junk if you have dark base moldings. Stairs are typically traffic-heavy spots. Painting them is a good way to hide the wear and tear, and the color adds a little bit of depth,” Gilbreath says. She carried the gray hue (Sherwin-Williams Anonymous SW7046) throughout the house.