The Designers’ Guide to Gallery Walls

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Let’s talk about the arranging process. What’s your method for working out the composition?

Fran: If I’m creating one for my own house, I’m throwing things up while I’m stirring noodles for hungry teenagers! When it’s for a client, I measure where it’s going to go and then put the tape measure on the floor to place the art in the same dimensions it will fit when it hangs on the wall. I sort through the pieces and see what works well together. I look at which pieces have a colored mat, or if there are several white mats, I want to make sure I’m not putting all like things together at the same end of the arrangement, but evenly distributing them across the composition. I start by placing the two or three largest pieces strategically spread out to make room for smaller pieces to be tucked in between the larger ones. Then I work my way out.

Ann: When I’m creating one for the gallery, I often begin with a triadic relationship, figuring out three pieces and why I like them together. I’ll start from the central point and then radiate out from there, depending on the overall size I’m trying to hit. When a client comes in, often with their designer, to work through one for their home, it’s collaborative. We’ll start arranging on the gallery floor, and then take off our shoes and get up on a ladder to get a look from above.

Chelsea: No two gallery walls are ever the same and the method varies. When all the pieces are good, there are multiple ways to put them together. We’re using so many new tools given many of our clients are no longer right around the corner from us. I’ll utilize Photoshop and AI-driven software programs to help me accurately portray how art installations will look in real spaces. Clients can send me a straight-on picture of the space, the dimensions of the wall and any furniture to be incorporated, and I augment in artwork to scale and show how it will be matted and framed. But just as often it’s still a hands-on approach and we’re arranging and moving pieces around on the floor with a client to see how the arrangement will take shape. Sometimes I take a bookend approach, starting left and right to establish the dimensions and make sure I’m staying within bounds, and then fill in in-between. And then other times the process might start with people who have multiples of things—15 botanical prints, for example—and we need to make it feel more interesting and fresh. Our first course of action often is to choose three or four of them (the rest will find a home elsewhere in the house) and add in other kinds of pieces to break up the idea of an expected grid.

Mallory: I know designers who make templates of every piece and tape them to the wall first, which is interesting to me, but not my method. When I’m arranging for a client, I lay everything out on the floor and start creating the composition. I usually don’t start in the middle, but I do begin with the anchor piece, which I’ll typically place over to the right, a little bit higher or lower than eye level. When I’m creating a gallery wall in my own home, I’m a little less studied. I’ll just follow my gut and start nailing things up. Without a doubt if you do it that way, you’ll end up having to move a few things around, so if you have beautiful wallpaper or freshly painted walls, it might not be worth the risk!

Laura: I usually begin with the largest work, but if I have a piece of furniture that anchors the wall, such as the desk in the library in the FLOWER showhouse, I’ll start with whatever I’m hanging over that and then go from there.

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