Text by Jura Koncius, The Washington Post
Every now and then, a design blog will declare gallery walls "over" - a fad that's had its moment. But they're a decorating staple, says 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," Tynan says. "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's no end in sight. Some of the country'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 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 and arrange your works of art and collectibles. 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'll see more than 865,000 incarnations, some hung in millennial-friendly symmetrical rows, some Bohemian assemblages in mismatched frames.
"You see gallery walls all through history, whether in grand estates in Moscow, at Monticello or in Diana Vreeland's iconic apartment in New York," says Michelle Adams, editor and creative adviser at Artfully Walls, an online company that sells the work of more than 450 artists reproduced in digital giclee prints and has a collection for Anthropologie. It also sells pre-curated 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," she says. "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 someone, I ask them to send me photos of rooms that inspire them," says designer Miles Redd of the 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 2019 Kips Bay Decorator Show House room. Her theme in her "Le Salon Des Chiens" was the "many-faceted relationships between humans and canines." The gallery mixes portraiture, needlepoint and evocative photos from the civil rights movement. "I usually start with the important work in the middle, sometimes a mirror," Bridges says. "But for my show house room I chose a photo of Martin Luther King. I like to combine different frames and textures, and both horizontal and vertical."
There's no one way to organize a wall. Some gallery walls have the same style frames or all the same color frames; 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," Redd says. "You hold things up, and if it feels good you keep going."
The grid styles that are popular right now, Framebridge creative director Tessa Wolf says, can give your place a clean look while still portraying your personal 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," Adams says. "It should show what your interests are to people when they walk into a room."
Not sure what is really you? Help is everywhere.
West Elm's Design Crew offers free in-home consultations on how to arrange your wall. Then to install, the store charges $129 for hanging up to 10 pieces of art.
Framebridge started selling framing online in 2014 and started a gallery wall consultation service a year later. This year, it opened its first two brick-and-mortar stores, in Washington and suburban Bethesda, Marylandd. "It sounds like it should be so easy, but people just struggled so much," Wolf says. For $199, an online Framebridge consultant will help you organize your artwork into a gallery wall and provide one custom layout mock-up and $39 toward your framing order.
Last year, the company launched a pre-designed gallery wall collection that includes three to 12 framed photos made from digital pictures customers upload. "We heard from people that they wanted a very specific look that they'd seen on Instagram and Pinterest," Wolf says. Each pre-designed gallery wall comes with a life-size template to tape on your wall so you'll know exactly where to hammer.
Framebridge customized a hallway gallery wall of 14 framed photos for Alexandra Sullivan's Winchester, Massachusetts, home using mostly pictures stored in her iPhone. They printed them, framed them and gave her a layout. "This hallway is in view from our back stairs, kitchen and front door, so it's a high-traffic area," Sullivan says. "It was a great spot to showcase the images that make me happiest - photos of our babies, wedding, honeymoon and dog."
As for installation, David Kassel, who owns ILevel art placement and installation company in New York, recommends enlisting a second pair of hands to hold things up before you hammer, mix up sizes and use picture hooks, as plain nails often aren't strong enough in the wall by themselves. He's not a fan of adhesive hooks, either, which he says can't hold the weight of most framed artworks and can discolor walls. "Fret not" is his mantra: You're not causing any structural damage if you hang something and later want to move it.
If you still can't bring yourself to put nails all over your perfectly painted walls, and you're not exactly sure of placement, there are always photo ledges. "As someone who lives in a perpetual state of redecoration, I love the flexibility ledges offer," Wolf says. "Be sure you get the proportions of the pieces right; frames on a ledge need to be different enough in height so that they stand out when layered."
Feature Image: Marta X. Perez