Before we all had smartphones in our pockets, capturing memories had to be somewhat planned and thought out. (“Don’t forget to pack the camera for the hayride, honey.”) Now, we’re able to easily take a ton of family photos, chronicling our experiences no matter where life takes us. And with social media outlets like Facebook and Instagram, sharing family memories with friends and loved ones has never been easier.
Don’t get me wrong, I like to post the hayride family selfie with the best of them. But I also like to use family outings as an excuse to take more artistic shots of our adventures. I’m not proficient with a “real” digital camera (That my husband’s area of expertise.) but my Samsung Galaxy Note does a pretty good job of taking high-resolution photos on the fly. And over the years, I’ve amassed a collection of images of our family’s journeys, just waiting to curate them into a gallery wall.
I fell in love with our new house for many reasons, but topping the list was the openness and loft feel of the main living area. With high ceilings and lots of natural light, the space is modern, but warm and inviting at the same time. And all of this wall space is just begging for some artwork. Our dining room is actually the only room that is more enclosed than the rest of the living area (9ft ceilings opposed to 18 ft!) and the first room you see upon entering the house, so I decided to focus my first gallery wall in here.
Oh decisions, decisions. Gallery walls come in all shapes and sizes. I tend to gravitate to layouts with large photos and clean, symmetric lines and focused my Pinterest inspiration search in this area. These are a few of my favorites from Pinterest.
The floor-to-ceiling layout of these large frames really balance out a clean, white wall, but I think the gold frames with black and white photos are a little too “fancy” for our taste and may clash with furnishings once we get the room fully decorated.
This wall is cool too. Two rows of large (probably 18x24″ poster size) frames spaced close together with coordinating sepia style prints create a dramatic look. However, it’s just a tad too Pottery Barn for my liking and think our wall is better suited for prints with a little more color.
Ahh, now this is what I’m talking about. I love everything about this gallery below – the bold, colorful prints, the large but simple frames, and symmetric but doesn’t-look-like-it-took-a-ton-of-planning wall layout. I found this design while browsing my favorite online printing company’s website, Social Print Studio. These guys started out originally focusing on printing Instagram photo squares, but are continuously developing cool products for printing and displaying all kinds of photos. Some of their more unique items include Instagram posters, giant photo strips (we have 2!), and metal prints (can’t wait to order a few of these). They also print high-resolution digital photos in large sizes.
I knew I’d be ordering my gallery wall prints from Social Print Studio, but first I needed to try and mimic this layout and find the perfect frames. The wall layout was easier than I expected. I created this mockup in Adobe InDesign.
Next, it was choosing our favorite family photos to fit this layout. If you’re not confident using design software, at least sketch out your design on paper. It makes choosing the specific photos and the layouts you’ll need (portrait vs. landscape) much easier. Most of these are spontaneous photos taken over the course of the last three years with a cell phone that I enhanced in Photoshop – roasting marshmallows in the backyard, taking a peek from the screen porch, shopping at the local farmer’s market. Using InDesign was helpful as I was easily able to switch photos in and out of the virtual frames to see what looked best. My photographer friend and co-worker Julee once told me a little tip – to keep a viewer’s attention toward the center of your image (or in this case, the wall) have subjects face toward the middle of the frame. I’ve used this trick in countless work graphics and it works for this gallery wall too! Notice the top right photo and lower left photo. These would not look as visually appealing if they swapped positions.
We needed ten, 11″x14″ prints. Social Print Studio offers four prints in this size for $30. We ordered twelve prints, getting two duplicates to give to Grandma and Grandpa (Can you spot a duplicate?)
Now, on to finding the perfect frames. This was easier said than done. After searching at several big box craft stores, I realized it was hard to find modern looking, matted frames at a reasonable price. And ones like this from West Elm are nice, but the mat opening is way too small and at $50 a pop (with shipping), it would cost over $500 for the frames alone. Luckily I found this gem of a post on Emily Henderson’s blog. I took her advice and checked out the Framatic Woodworks frames in Natural Blonde from online retailer A.I Friedman. I loved the look of this natural blonde wood and the large mat opening. We decided that 16″x20″ frame sizes would be a good fit for our wall and liked the $30 price tag. But before biting the bullet and ordering ten frames at once, I ordered one first to make sure we’d like them. Like Emily says in her post, the online photos do nothing for these frames. They are really beautiful and unique in person. The wooden frames angle sharply inward toward the glass, creating a shadow-box like effect, while still looking modern. They are also light and designed to make installation of photos a snap. We quickly ordered another nine! (Currently, it doesn’t look like the blonde wood color is available on A.I. Friedman but have seen them on Amazon for $20 more/frame).
Once our photos were framed and ready to hang, the fun could really begin. To prevent unnecessary holes in our freshly painted wall, we used our son’s Crayola easel paper as guide. The paper is 17″x20″ – an almost perfect mock-up of our frames. We were not happy with our first layout (below) and played around with moving the sheets in and out, up and down, several times before settling on the final arrangement.
This first layout included even spacing across the entire wall, but we decided that the arrangement was best with the frames clustered more closely together. After getting a rough estimate of the spacing with the easel paper,
we Nate calculated the exact layout for each nail hole on both the top and bottom rows. We Again, all Nate here (Ladies, just do yourself a favor and marry an engineer. It makes carrying out DIY projects so much easier! There’s no way I would have shown up with a pencil and paper, calculator, and level.) first marked the center-line of the room with a piece of painter’s tape on the wall. Then we located the position of each frame, working outward to ensure that everything was centered and symmetric. A 3-foot level was helpful to keep each hole in line. Remember to measure twice before pounding the nails!
This photo really captures the unique depth and color of these frames. I initially thought about staining the wood a walnut color but the natural wood is a good balance to our dark wood floors and furniture.
I wasn’t going to include this last photo, because, quite frankly, the rest of the room isn’t that presentable. This is the room in its current state but more clearly shows the scale of the wall compared to the rest of the room, so it was important to include. It’s also a good reminder that it’s OK if every room in your house isn’t magazine worthy all at once. We’ve been in our house almost a year and have focused on furnishing and decorating the rooms we use the most. We eat most of our meals at the bar in our kitchen or a small breakfast nook, so up until now, there’s been no rush to buy dining room furniture. The addition of this gallery wall has warmed up the space considerably though. Hopefully I’ll be back soon with updated dining room photos that include getting rid of the lumpy old chair (solely used as kitty nap spot now), switching out the blah light fixture that came with the house, getting new dining chairs, and fixing our vintage dining table so we can actually eat at it. In the meantime, I’ll dream of eating in rooms as mouthwatering as this and this.
UPDATE (May 2016):
It’s been six months since the above picture was taken, and about a year and a half since we moved into our home, but we finally have a beautiful, usable dining room – a room where we actually want to spend some time and enjoy looking at our family pictures. Since hanging those prints last Autumn, I have thought about switching them out for newer pictures, but I can’t bring myself to it. All of these images have special meaning, mainly because it reminds us of our son as baby and memories at our old home. So those pictures will stay put and I’ll just have to start scheming new designs for gallery walls in other rooms of the house. Take a look at our dining room below and then check out the entire reveal here.