How to hang a gallery wall

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The year 1667 marked an iconic moment for the presentation of art – the birth of the salon wall. More widely known now as gallery wall, it all began at The Académie des Beaux-Arts, Paris, which hosted the first official Salon – a pioneering annual art exhibition presenting a selection of the finest European academic artists. This collective approach to hanging allowed for a practical and cohesive showcasing of many different artists’ work on one wall. But the buoyant displays had such character and energy that the walls became works of art in their own right. To this day, galleries, museums and individuals choose to adopt this style of hanging in order to bring together a myriad of moods in one breath.

Creating a gallery wall at home can seem daunting, but there is no right or wrong way as it works in a multitude of different styles and spaces. If you love each picture individually, there will be a natural balance dictated by your own personal taste. That said, you might find that some paintings argue with one another and just one picture can throw the whole ensemble off kilter, so it can be helpful to have more pictures than you need in case one just doesn’t quite work.

To get you started, we’ve created a step-by-step guide to hanging a gallery wall in a basic cross formation.

Embrace a theme, then try mismatched frames and media

Varying your theme, and variety in general, is the key to a satisfying grouping. Mismatched frames look really enticing and you can have a lot of fun hunting for them. Contemporary prints also look great in old frames so always be on the lookout for gems in your local second-hand shop/auction/flea market. By mixing up the genres and periods, you can create an interesting and eclectic contrast.

Be prepared: know your walls and bring a buddy

Get everything ready before you start. Make sure all of your pictures have secure fixings on the back and that you have the appropriate hooks for your wall. Different wall materials require different hooks so, if you don’t know what your wall is made of, test it with a steel pin. If that does not go in easily then use the white plastic ‘hard wall’ hooks. It can be helpful to have someone to assist you who can hold the pictures in position, allowing you to stand back to get some perspective.

Map things out: measure the space, play with formation and take photos

Measure the space on the wall that you would like to adorn – top to bottom and left to right. Then transfer those measurements onto the floor using masking tape to mark the perimeter. If you have a busy carpet or floorboards you might want to lay down a plain sheet. Choose a painting to put in the middle as a focal point – ideally the largest one – and assemble the other pictures around it one by one. Play around with different configurations until it clicks and, once you’re happy, take a photo of the formation to refer to later.

Start with a cross, hanging the middle painting first

By starting with a cross you can get some anchoring control over your formation. You want to start with the middle picture first, so measure the central point in your desired area, making a light mark on the wall with a pencil or painter’s tape. This mark is roughly where you want to put your first nail/hook, but hold the picture in place to make sure. Next, hang the other pictures directly underneath and above your central picture making, a straight line of three. This is a good time to adjust them if necessary but, if you’re happy with the height, then you can go ahead and hang the left and right pictures.

Trust your eye – don’t get bogged down with the measuring tape

From now on it gets easier! You’re aiming for roughly the same distance between each picture, but don’t worry if they are not totally equal. This is not an exact science and irregularities can be charming. Once you’ve got your cross on the wall, it’s just a matter of going around the clock and filling in the gaps.

Be brave – embrace experimentation and don’t be afraid to make mistakes

There will undoubtedly be a bit of trial and error in this process, but don’t worry! If you’re unhappy with a picture’s placement, a great way to adjust its height without moving the nail is to tighten or slacken the wire on the back of the picture.

The beauty of this style of hanging is the versatility. As your collection grows and changes, you can keep adding to the gallery and moving pictures around. You can even alter its look entirely by swapping in pictures of different shapes and sizes. The possibilities are endless, so just go for it!

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