How to Build a Unique Gallery Wall
The Idea of a Gallery Wall Possessed Me
…until I finally took the time to build one!
This is the story of how I built my 8-foot gallery wall. More importantly, this is a tutorial of how you can build your own unique gallery wall.
Where it all started
I was trying to figure out what to do with this big open wall in my living room. It’s where I’d always envisioned a single big ‘just right’ canvas of some sort.
But I hadn’t found it yet. Then I did a Pinterest search for living room ideas and came across gallery walls.
BAM, I was smitten.
A word of warning – this is a lengthy tutorial. To skip around, here are links to the headings:
1. Measure your space
2. Determine your budget
3. Decide on a design tool
4. Decide on a wall type
5. Find an anchor piece
6. Shop, shop, adjust
7. Laying out your design
8. Create a template
9. Gather your hanging materials
10. Hang your wall
11. Fill in the holes – if necessary
12. Fix your walls
13. Share your results!
I became a planner possessed
I looked at hundreds of gallery walls (yay Pinterest) and starting narrowing down what I liked and didn’t like.
I settled on a style.
I researched how to build it.
I became a shopper possessed
I started looking for things to hang on the wall.
The more I browsed, the more I realized I had to come up with a system or I’d never be able to re-find the favorite things I kept coming across.
I started saving screenshots of my favorites on my iPhone but it was becoming unwieldy.
But then I discovered Evernote, a little piece of organization heaven.
And managing my wish lists became a breeze.
My Wall Started to take Shape
At least it did in my head.
So, I enlisted the aid of my Photoshop skills to design it.
Like Frankestein, the wall started coming to life ‘on paper.’
This was a mission.
Finally, two months into my crazy mission…
I had hung the wall. I had done all the things, filled in all the empty spaces and moved things around to the point that –
I blessed the wall as DONE.
I had originally thought the mission was all about the creating. It was pretty exciting (silly of me, I know) to find the perfect piece to fit into the perfect spot.
And, it was so rewarding to see something that had just been a thought become a treasure.
But the real gift…
Turned out to be the finished product.
It’s not about the wall, itself. What’s important is the meaning behind it.
Every time I glance over, I reflect on at least a few of the individual pieces and why they are significant to me. And, I’m reminded of the sense of accomplishment I felt in having created something special for me and my family.
It’s like having 33 pieces of my on my wall.
How to build your own
If you adore this idea as much as I did, you can build your own wall with the handy instructions and tips I’ve included below.
And you can feel your own sense of joy in having created something that is uniquely you.
Warning – a project of this scope does take time (for me, 2 months).
A smaller, less complicated wall would obviously happen quicker or you may just work faster than I did.
However you go, the word of the day for a project like this is ‘patience.’ It probably goes without saying that for me, this project was so worth the time spent.
Follow the steps below for instructions (please note that none of the links are affiliate links).
To view my gallery wall shopping list, view the Tour My Living Room page.
1. Measure Your Space
My first step was figuring out exactly how much space I had to work with.
So, step 1: Measure!
2. Determine Your Budget
Budgeting THIS project is important
Shopping is a multi-billion dollar industry. Marketers offer deals, create enticing products, and they work really hard at persuading you TO BUY.
That’s all they do, and they’re good at it.
It’s easier to stick to a budget when you are shopping for a functional item. But home decor serves a more heart-touching purpose, which changes the game.
The challenge is that you might find your heart being touched a few times too many.
If you ask yourself, “is it a need or a want,” the answer will always be “it’s a want.”
So, you have to keep your wants in check and the best way to do this (IMHO) is with a budget.
My budget for this project: $700
How I got there
- My wall measures 96 inches (8 feet) x 48 inches (4 feet) so that’s 4,608 square inches.
- If each piece was approximately 12 in x 12 in (144 sq in), I would need 32 pieces.
- If I kept to an average of approximately $20 per piece, that brings me to approximately $700.
What I actually spent
I actually spent $855, so more than I planned. I compensated for the overflow by adjusting the budget on another project.
What I spent may seem like a lot to you, it may seem like a bargain. Money sure is a subjective and personal thing.
- If it seems like a lot, you may choose to spend less per piece or use fewer pieces.
- If your budget is bigger than mine, you can go with pricier pieces or more of them.
My point – my budget certainly doesn’t need to be your budget. The important thing is to determine how much YOU want to spend on YOUR project.
3. Decide on a Design Tool
It’s the only way you can see if the individual pieces are fitting together , and it will help you determine where else you need to add.
Lucky for me, I have Photoshop in my back pocket .
Here’s the guide that I built with Photoshop and just below it is the completed version of my actual wall.
They look a lot alike, but you can see that things did change as I went along.
You don’t need Photoshop
It’s a great app, but it’s not something the average person uses.
You certainly can get by without it, by laying out your design physically on a bed or floor. You just need to designate a good-sized space to work in.
4. Decide on a Wall Type
You have permission to spend hours browsing. Just type “gallery wall” in Search and you’ll see a lot of examples.
There are lots of choices, you don’t need to do what I did.
Here are a few possibilities for you. Click the links for examples:
5. Find an Anchor Piece
I knew that I wanted my anchor piece to be a big clock in the middle of the wall. I looked at dozens of clocks and finally settled on this one from Magnolia Market.
I added that to my layout, then found my Gather sign.
Once I had those base pieces, I began adding other things around it.
Having a couple of anchors made starting a lot easier.
6. Shop, Shop & Adjust
First, have a plan
Most importantly, make sure you have a plan before you start to shop (see previous steps).
Initially I thought I would wing it, spent $100 at Hobby Lobby. I got home and nothing fit together well.
Luckily Hobby Lobby has a great return policy. 🙂
That’s when I backed up a bit, settled on my anchor pieces, started a layout and things went smoother from there.
Here’s a picture of my Hobby Lobby mis-adventure. It was not a total loss, I kept a few pieces.
My shopping Rule of Thumb: I have to LOVE something to buy it. I only want things in my life that bring me joy.
How I found my pieces
For me, the wall evolved.
I looked for ideas all over the Internet, I even shopped locally and if I visited somewhere I shopped around there as well. I was initially just browsing.
As I started to find things I loved, I kept adding them to my wish list on Evernote. If I found things I just had to have, I checked first to see how they fit into my design.
Then I basically kept shopping until I had filled in all the empty spaces.
It all happened one piece at a time.
The shopping was fun AND painful
As my needs got more specific, it became more difficult to find EXACTLY what I wanted.
Example: Try finding a bronze arrow exactly 8 inches long and no wider than 3/4 of an inch, and one that I loved. Hmm.
If I couldn’t find something I really loved I’d adjust the design.
Occasionally the opposite would happen – I would fall across something amazing that I had NOT been looking for. In that case I would adjust things to fit the new, ‘can’t possibly live without it,’ item.
There was a lot of adjusting that went on. And small, magical discoveries.
I started coming up with so many learnings that I created a separate post about them. Click here for my shopping tips post.
7. Laying out your Design
If you’re using an app
Every time you select a new item, pull a picture of it into your design and place it where it best fits. Make sure that you’ve sized the item appropriately.
If you are physically laying out your design
I would suggest adding each piece to the design as you receive it. Or, if you order online, create a template of the item from Kraft paper and lay it out in your design until the real thing arrives.
That way you can always see how things are progressing.
My own strategy
I mentioned that my design grew as my shopping continued.
You don’t need to do things that way.
For instance, if you are going to be hanging all family photos you’ll have a good idea of what you’re going to hang right away, once you select them. Then all you need to do is shop for frames.
Tip: Keep track of your purchases! When you are purchasing a lot of small items, it’s easy to lose track if you just use your head.
I used an Excel spreadsheet.
It would have been very easy to get confused if I had not written everything down. Plus, it made me really keep tabs on how much I was spending.
8. Create a Template
Don’t Skip this Step!
Even though I used Photoshop to plan my design, I decided to do this ‘just in case.’
I’m so glad I did, because once I actually got things on the wall physically, they looked a little different, and I made some changes.
In summary, once you have all your items, create a template out of Kraft paper. You can pick up a roll at your local craft shop.
a. I layed each piece on the Kraft paper, traced around it and then cut it out. Easy peasy. You don’t have to be exact, it’s best to err on the side of bigger.
b. Then I used blue tape to tape all of them to the wall in their assigned places, given my Photoshop guide.
c. Once I did that, I saw where I had to move things around. I even found that there were some empty spaces.
This required – you guessed it – more shopping!
But the majority of the items were ready and waiting in boxes at this point. So, I felt comfortable moving on to the next step.
9. Gather your Hanging Materials
Don’t forget a level, hammer, and – if you need it – stepladder.
Here are a few tips:
- I love the command strips and yes, they doggone really work. But be careful not to use them on a freshly painted wall. Give it a week or so to really cure. You can get the command strips at Amazon here.
- To hang most pictures, even heavy ones, we almost always use attach-its.
- Some items did just fine with a nail.
- Others pieces came with their own hanging material and we used that.
I went through every item before we started to be sure that I knew how we were going to hang each item so installation would go a little smoother.
10. Hang Your Wall
We started at the left hand side and moved out. If my design had been centered above something like a TV, I would have started in the middle.
To hang yours, you need to find the critical point in your design and start there.
Here’s my wall, partially built:
Once you’ve hung everything on the wall, stand back and take a look.
- Does it all fit together the way you envisioned?
- Do you dislike any of the pieces?
- Do you dislike the way any of the pieces fit together on the wall?
- Are there any open spaces? White space is a good thing but only you can decide if it’s too much.
- Did something get damaged while you were hanging it?
If it all looks great, you’re almost done.
If, like me, you had some changes/additions to make, there’s a little more work to do!
11. Fill in the Holes - if Necessary
When I finished the previous step, I realized that I had a few empty spaces that were crying out for something (see my notes below in red).
A little more shopping and I found the few pieces I needed to fill in those empty holes.space
While you’re at it, take a look at the rest of your room. Do you need to balance anything out?
Once my gallery wall was almost done I realized that the walls on the other side of the room looked REALLY bare.
So, I designed a couple of canvases (thank you once again, Photoshop skills!). Those two pieces filled the empty spaces, you can see them circled below.
The two canvases circled in red are available as free printables!
You can download the files and have them printed yourself. I’ve even included instructions on where and how I printed mine. To download the free printables, click here.
There’s actually another step called ‘return everything you did not use.’
I had a lot of that, but I returned things immediately, as I went along. If you have things still hanging around that you didn’t use, though, now’s the time to send them back.
12. Fix your Walls
But it felt more complete once I shared it with the world.
Trust me, if you build a gallery wall everyone is going to want to see it. Including me! So use whatever social media platform you usually use and let people know! We’ll all be glad you did.
See below for another peek at my final gallery wall.
For more information
- Click here for my gallery wall shopping list.
- Click here to Tour My Living Room
- Click here for 10 Tips for a More Delightful & Successful Shopping Experience
How about you?
I would absolutely love to hear from you if you have the opportunity to build your own wall, whether or not you use my instructions!