Designer Files: the glamour of gallery walls

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The past few years have seen wall decor trends lean toward a single statement art piece in a room (often dramatically over- or under-sized), or a small pairing: using one or two interesting choices rather than a full collection to style a room.

As a designer who loves spaces to reflect personality, I always struggle with picking the artwork that will be placed on the wall. Properly acquired art should speak to and reflect the person who owns it, and I therefore can’t help but feel like an important piece is being overlooked when tucking away the ones that didn’t make the cut.

As we move into autumn decor, and as living spaces are transitioning into warmer, cozier places to relax and gather, I’m loving the corresponding return of the gallery wall. This once faux-pas method of hanging art became slightly tired a few years past with seemingly every home displaying their family photos collaged up the staircase or down the hall; the return of the gallery style is seeing a much more playful approach and making a statement in a variety of homes, whether they are traditional, contemporary or completely eclectic.

I popped into The Cross, Vancouver’s ‘design darling’ of boutiques, to check out their art displays and see what pieces they are pairing to show off the gallery appeal. I was inspired by their use of a strong mix of styles to suit any decor; their take on art walls was diverse, ranging from minimalist-chic to quirky-over-the-top.

While many people consider the gallery style to mean a more random method of hanging frames intentionally misaligned, I’m loving how there is some opportunity for structure within the new take. Still playing with a variety of sizes, a uniform vertical hang of smaller canvases can be grounded by a larger piece. Although there is carefully planned placement within the smaller art, try hanging the larger painting slightly off-kilter to create visual interest and beat the ‘boxy’ feel.

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A gallery wall doesn’t have to include many pieces, either; some of my favourite collections are of just a few. I saw a number of different gallery inspired trios at The Cross and I’m loving how much versatility there is even within a small grouping. For example, a trio can be simple, chic and streamlined - when you play with a patterned or textured wall as well as the scale of the artwork, a slick trio can be a total statement.

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Or, if subtlety is more your style, think about unusual placement. Groupings of three often become aligned; the third piece either completes a straight hang, or falls in line with one of the others in a grid fashion. To break away from the expected, a third piece can be hung offside and seemingly unaware from the remaining two in order to substantiate the traditional ‘randomness’ of a gallery wall. In this case, consider using other items within the room, like an ornately framed mirror and a pretty bookshelf, to balance out the overall appeal.

If you want to go big in terms of the number of pieces used within the gallery wall, there are a few different approaches even still. To achieve a visually clean aesthetic while using a large collection, think about how the art is framed: using uniform frames and matting allows the flexibility to add varying sizes, colours and content to a mass of artwork without feeling too cluttered.

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On the opposite end of the spectrum with larger collections, there is a heavily eclectic approach that is super stunning. It amps up the organic, haphazard feel that gallery walls traditionally generate and brings in a dynamic new twist – found objects and mixed media. When you create a collection out of a blend of paintings, photography and found items, framed pieces and raw canvas, the draw is huge. The key to achieving a successful design rather than an overwhelming cluster is to play heavily with scale. Mini ornate frames mixed with oversized found letters or unexpected items keeps the eye moving and constantly engaged.

Whatever your approach to the gallery wall might be, I think the most important factor to keep in mind is having fun. Stay true to your own style; there is so much freedom within this new wave of gallery inspired walls that you can let your personality shine through.

Don’t be shy – go big or go home... or, in this case, get home and go big!