The 3 Biggest Gallery Wall Mistakes You’re Probably Making — And How to Fix Them

published Mar 30, 2022
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A gallery wall in a sunny bungalow's dining room

There’s a lot of advice about creating gallery walls, from where to source your art to renter-friendly ways of hanging pieces. What some people really need to hear (and may even be too embarrassed to ask about) though is how to fix a gallery wall. If you’re super-lucky, you’ll find perfect pieces that’ll make you happy every time you see them, and you’ll hang them correctly on your first try. For most people, however, the experience is the opposite.

As an interior designer, Lisa Galano, principal of Lisa Galano Design Consultancy, has had years of experience creating beautiful spaces featuring well-styled gallery walls; as an art consultant, Eli Cheatham, founder of EMC Spaces, spends her time sourcing truly unique, show-stopping pieces. According to them, plenty of reasons could be the culprit behind your gallery wall unhappiness, but these three issues below bubble up most often — and thankfully, they can be fixed with a little bit of extra effort.

1. You didn’t take enough time sourcing artwork.

“Too often, people approach their gallery wall as a design component to be checked off their list as quickly as possible,” Cheatham says. Think about how long it took you to obtain the pieces you’ve put up on your wall already or currently own. Did you pick out pieces deliberately when shopping, sight-seeing, or traveling — or did you scoop up anything you saw with dimensions that would fit the blank spots you had on your wall? Similar to that latter scenario, building your gallery wall too quickly means you miss out on the fun of collecting pieces that truly speak to you. “Give yourself time for treasure hunts and ‘arting’ adventures,” Cheatham suggests. “You’ll not only enjoy the process of creating your gallery walls far more, but you’ll add so much depth both visually and emotionally.”

Being patient about how you source art doesn’t mean you have to go entirely without things on your walls for long stretches of time. If you have a few prints or canvases that you do like, you can install a temporary arrangement on your walls. You can also buy (or borrow from a friend or family member) a few budget-friendly things to use as placeholders for those perfect pieces you haven’t found just yet. Think posters, prints in thrifted frames, handmade art, inexpensive textiles — look for something that’s about the size of what you might want someday. That way, you can get used to regularly seeing something with those dimensions, and you’ll train your eye to know what scale to look for when you are out “arting.”

2. You didn’t plan your layout properly.

The best gallery walls are the ones that look professionally installed, with every piece in a well-thought-out spot. That said, the final arrangement most people arrive on doesn’t happen magically without any planning or measuring. In other words, your gallery wall may not have the look you were going for because you didn’t consider your layout before actually hanging things on the wall. “The spacing of the pieces and establishing visual balance is a really important factor,” Galano says. “You want the art to feel cohesive and symbiotic, while retaining its individuality.” One way to emphasize that individually is with frame selection; unless you’re going for a truly uniform look, it’s often best to vary the matte sizes and frame finishes you’re including in your composition. Pick things that will complement the color palette, media, and size of each piece, and try not to place similar frame styles right next to one other in your larger configuration.

Another pro tip Galano uses when styling for herself and her clients is to start with less space between each work and move to more of a border in between pieces as you fine-tune the final, overall arrangement. Cut paper templates of your pieces out of kraft paper and play around with their placement using a ruler or a tape measure; use those templates to transpose your final layout onto the wall, long before pulling out your hammer and nails. You can also hang a smaller-scale arrangement, say, over a sofa, leaving room in the layout on both sides of the pieces for additional works down the road. Remember: Even if you have great art, the finished product can fall short if the works aren’t arranged properly, or worse — they’re crooked! Fortunately, there’s a cheap fix for wonky frames and canvases: museum putty, a wax-like, gummy substance that holds pieces in place without damaging walls or frames.

3. You don’t love every piece you decided to hang.

The simplest yet most important reason you may not love your gallery wall is that you don’t love the art you hung. “Always remember that if you don’t love a piece enough to display on its own, then it will fall short in a gallery wall,” Cheatham says. It might be tempting to hang pieces that you “kind of like,” but both experts agree you should resist the impulse to fill holes with things that just good enough (unless you’re deliberately using something very budget-friendly as a temporary placeholder, as explained above). “Ask yourself questions about why you are attracted to a specific style, color, or medium then build from that,” Galano says of the art curating process. “A mistake in gallery walls I’ve witnessed is when people lose focus of the content and are too concerned about the look.”

Chances are you decided to build a gallery wall because you saw one you loved and wanted to recreate that same feeling inside your own home. You deserve to have a wall of pieces that truly speak to your aesthetic, even if it take a little more time to get there. Honestly, Cheatham has the best outlook on this challenge, and don’t forget it. “Something special can always be found with patience,” she says.

This post originally appeared on Apartment Therapy. See it there: These Are the 3 Biggest Gallery Wall Mistakes You’re Probably Making — and How to Fix Them