Art can help a space tell your story. Learn how to buy it, where to find it, and how to arrange it for a room that perfectly reflects you and your family.

By Leslie Corona and Stephanie Sisco
May 19, 2020
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Artwork brings so much good energy to a room. But getting from a blank wall to that happy place can feel daunting—even for the most confident DIYer. (If you’ve ever left a frame leaning against a wall in the den, you’re not alone!) Whether you want to curate a mix that encapsulates your family’s style or you’re an avid collector who simply needs a nudge to finally populate that big bare wall, here’s a guide through the process of creating a flawless gallery wall.

Bryan Gardner

1

If you have ever-changing tastes and an always-expanding collection, a shallow shelf lets you rearrange your display on a whim (without leaving holes in the wall).

Tips:

  • Set a color palette to tie your art and frame collection together, no matter the mix of mediums or materials.
  • Layer only two frames deep. More will look bulky.
  • The center of the composition should be at eye level.

To buy: Gold Rising II Wall Art by Bobby Berk (far left), from $424; luluandgeorgia.com. Holman Ledges in Seadrift, from $69; potterybarn.com. (Top ledge, from left) Confetti II Print, $40; juniperprintshop.com. Nielsen Alpha Brushed Bronze Aluminum Matted Frame, $75; michaels.com. La Poste by Lulu and Isabel, $48; minted.com. In Bloom by Sylvia Takken, $102; artfullywalls.com. (Bottom ledge, from left) Line Rainbow Print, $15 (digital download); bffprintshop.com. Gather Print, $20 (digital download); juniperprintshop.com. White Belmont Frame With Mat by Studio Décor, $17; michaels.com. Fine Feathered I by Debra Pruskowski, $89; minted.com. Peep Hole by Polly Mann, $102; artfullywalls.com. Blobby Calm by Svitlana Martynjuk, $254; minted.com. Project 62 Esters Wood Arm Chair (left), $300; target.com. Carson Carrington Yppersbyn Upholstered Velvet Accent Chair in Linen, $323; overstock.com.

Bryan Gardner

2

An assortment of large posters and smaller prints brings color and personality to a staircase wall. Stagger the frames parallel to the steps, and use the railing as a guide for the lower edge of the arrangement.

Tips:

  • The-more-the-merrier approach shown here also works in other clearly constrained areas, like the walls of a powder room.
  • In high-traffic areas like the stairway, pieces can easily get bumped askew. To keep art even and level, anchor the corners of each frame with removable adhesive strips.
  • Make the mix feel unique by including custom pieces, either kid-drawn or professionally commissioned—like this portrait of a first home.

To buy: (Top row, from left) Lawrence Slater Peace Art Print, $49; urbanoutfitters.com. Wow, That Is Bright! by Lisa Travis, $147; minted.com. (Second row) A Splash of Magique by Milou Neelen, $252; artfullywalls.com. Keep Going 1 by Jessica Poundstone, $178; artfullywalls.com. Red Sun by Jennifer Morehead, $31; minted.com. Einstein by Kate Gattey, $124; artfullywalls.com. (Third row) Fine Art Print, Abstract Colorblock With Pink and Blue, from $48; joreyhurley.etsy.com. The Wild Ones by Ophelia Pang, $124; artfullywalls.com. Fox Trot by Holly Royval, $44; minted.com. Roses Are Red by Mark & Suumin–Fox & Velvet, $130; artfullywalls.com. (Bottom row) Ok, Now Ladies V1, $45; chasingpaper.com. Custom Home Portrait, from $90; alenabergerart.etsy.com. White Belmont Frame with Mat by Studio Décor, $12; michaels.com.

Bryan Gardner

3

The secret to a cohesive gallery wall is patience—and a strong focal point. Start by hanging an anchor piece and build out from there over time. Aim to have at least one unifying principle (color scheme, frame material, art style) among everything you hang.

Tips:

  • Shine a light on a favorite or meaningful piece with a library-style sconce.
  • Add curved elements and sculptural objects to give the assortment dimension.
  • When thrifting, search for high-quality frames. If the art was special enough for someone to frame nicely, it’s worth a careful look.

To buy: (Clockwise from top left) Orange Tree by Rachel Roe,$198; minted.com. Girl Reading, $15 (digital download); bffprintshop.com. Gold Pompeii Frame, $33; michaels.com. City of Paris Canvas, $249; potterybarn.com. Light Rods LED Art Sconce, $179; westelm.com. Golden Girl Print, $110; teilduncan.com. Float Frame by Studio Décor, $40; michaels.com. Flowers in a Glass Bowl by Rachel Ruysch, $260; 20x200.com. Black Thin Float Frame, $18; michaels.com. Ship at Sea Vintage Art, $325; brookeandlou.com. Plate 431: American Flamingo by John James Audubon, $250; 20x200.com. Formulations 11 in vintage frame, $350; skleinstudio.com for info. Vintage Astronomical, from $99; potterybarn.com. Paint: Revere Pewter (HC-172) in Regal Select, from $59 per gallon; benjaminmoore.com for info.

Bryan Gardner

4

Give meaningful pictures (and people!) a special spot in your home within a clean-lined arrangement—a grouping of smaller pieces creates an intimate collection that invites guests to come in for a closer peek.

Tips:

  • To unify your collection, convert photos to black and white and use identical frames.
  • A gridded layout fills a wall without appearing too busy.
  • If you’re placing art over a piece of furniture—be it a sofa or sideboard—the arrangement should span two-thirds its width, with the lowest frame edge at least four inches above it.

To buy: Modern Metal Frames in Graphite, from $69; artifactuprising.com. HomeGoods Cane Console, $499; homegoods.com for stores.

As you gather a collection, consider this advice from a few professionals.

Buying

Art should complement, not compete with, your room’s focal point. Look at your rug, for example. If it has a busy pattern, stick with one large piece instead of a gallery wall.

Incorporating sentimental ephemera (like cherished kids’ drawings or ticket stubs) instantly brings character to a collection. In your display, aim to have one out of every five pieces feel homemade or autobiographical.

If you like the look of paintings but are on a print budget, search for words like “giclée” or “artist enhanced” in the description. These techniques give a suggestion of brushstrokes.

Framing

Frames can get expensive (especially custom ones), but they’re worth the investment because quality options elevate the look of the entire room and last longer than bargain versions.

Aside from your local framer, the pros also recommend Framebridge, Michaels, and Simply Framed for custom jobs.

If you plan to hang something across from a window, consider matte paper without glass or a canvas print to prevent glare. Alternatively, museum glass is relatively glare-free.

Bryan Gardner

Hanging

Even the pros can have a hard time getting different frames to line up evenly. That’s why they swear by this trick: Stick painter’s tape across the back of the frame and mark or poke a hole where the hook or nail should go. Then transfer the tape to the wall and attach the hardware in the right spot on your first try.

If there’s an architectural element in your space (like a fireplace), display one large piece of art-work above it and hang a gallery-style arrangement on the opposite wall.

Art Appreciation

If you’d like to start a collection beyond family photos and kids’ art, check out these sellers.

etsy.com: Consider this your go-to for options in a variety of styles and price points. You can even request customized pieces from the many talented artists.

20x200.com: The affordable, limited-edition artworks mean you likely won’t find the same piece hanging above your best friend’s sofa.

juniperprintshop.com and bffprintshop.com: These sites offer art on demand—they’ll email you a digital file to print at home in whatever size you like. Plus, they curate a relatively small collection of art, which is great if you find yourself easily overwhelmed by endless options.

minted.com: With thousands of fine-art prints, starting at $31, this site lets you pick from multiple sizes, frame styles, glass types, and matting to personalize your selection.

Thrift stores and flea markets: The beauty of shopping secondhand is twofold—you’ll find one-of-a-kind pieces to make your home feel extra special and you’re upcycling.

Our Experts

This article originally appeared in the May 2020 issue of Real Simple.