How to Hang a Picture Gallery

February 5, 2010

Photo courtesy of Pottery Barn

Hanging your artwork or photographs gallery style is a daunting task for most home owners. Our clients frequently request that we arrange and hang family photo galleries or collections of framed art work for them because they are terrified of doing it themselves! It is difficult for most people to create these compositions and they are not even sure where to start. Here are a few tips to give you confidence to create a gallery wall.

Photo courtesy of Pottery Barn

The first thing that you need to tackle is rounding up all of the photographs, mementos, and artwork that you would like to group together. A gallery may contain only photographs, art or a combination of both. Collections that contain both photos and art are more intriguing then just one or the other and draw the viewer in. Including personal mementos or unusual objects makes the arrangement more casual and individual. Comic strips, children’s art, love notes, four leaf clovers, funny want ads, postcards, and concert tickets are examples of items that our Calgary interior design firm, Corea Sotropa Interior Design, has included in amongst the galleries of our clients. This creates a really personalized, quirky and fun gallery that has special meaning to our clients.

Photo courtesy of Martha Stewart via Under a Paper Moon

Your next step is to decide how all of your items should be framed. Using the same frame for each piece can be dramatic, but usually only works if you are solely planning to display photographs. If you are planning to display both photography and other items then frame all the photographs identically and select frames for the other items that complement the object. Pottery Barn and Ikea have a great selection of basic frames for photographs. A framing shop can help you to select the color of matte and frame that highlights the art or memento. Selecting an ornate frame is a whimsical way of drawing attention to items that are special or very different from the rest of the collection.

Photo courtesy of Pottery Barn

Galleries may be displayed in a random fashion or in a very ordered layout. When all of your framed pieces are identical in size a grid pattern layout is extremely dramatic. It can be tricky getting all of your pieces lined up straight, but the result is a simple, unified arrangement. If your collection has a variety of different objects, frame sizes and frame styles then an asymmetrical arrangement is your best option. These layouts are more difficult to organize on the wall, but result in a very personal display that is charming and more casual.

Photo courtesy of West Elm via Apartment therapy

Before hammering into your wall, arrange all of your pieces on the floor and create a layout that is balanced. Then start in the center of the composition and hang that piece first. The center should hang at around 5’ off the ground at eye level. Then, piece by piece hang the other pieces moving from the center outwards. Sometimes it is very useful to draw a plan of the arrangement which measures the spaces between each item so that you have a reference point. Be prepared that you may need to make more then one nail hole to get it just right!

Photo courtesy of  Steven Gambrel via Coco + Kelly

The trick to laying out an asymmetrical arrangement is to have a common axis which the pieces are lined up on. Lining up the frames along the bottom is a great way of keeping some order to the chaos. When displaying a collection on a staircase, the composition of frames should mimic the steps of the stairs. The above sketches featured on the blog Design Formula detail how this can be achieved.

Photo courtesy of Martha Stewart via Under a Paper Moon

Keep your frames close to one another. Depending on the arrangement, somewhere between the width of the frame and 5” is more then enough. The arrangement should read as one unit and limiting the spaces between the frames keeps the composition pulled together instead of looking scattered.

Photo courtesy Beth Webb via Desire to Inspire

If you are including family photographs keep in mind that you may want to add new photos to the grouping as your family grows up. Including frames that enable you to replace the photograph is a good way to accommodate for this. Another idea is to add more photos to the edges of the compositions at a later date.

Photo courtesy of  Domino Magazine via Under a Paper Moon

Gallery walls are interesting and showcase the personality of the homeowner. They can be delightful and quirky collections of photographs and beloved treasures or a dramatic grid creating repetition and rhythm. Have fun gathering your items together and creating your composition of favorite things!


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17 Responses to “How to Hang a Picture Gallery”

  1. Boyd Says:

    I always wondered how to do this correctly, my attempt just never really cut it.


  2. Thank you for taking the time to put this interesting info together. I am going to definately bookmark your blog to revisit again. Continue the excellent job

  3. Love this post! My fav is the pottery barn tiffany blue! :)

  4. judy Says:

    I learned a lot from reading your site. Thanks so much for putting it all together.

    I am an artist, and I hung a group of paintings by different artists of various frame styles, sizes, and finishes the other day. I THOUGHT I was doing “gallery style.” One of the artists told me that my way of hanging the paintings was not gallery style at all, because I did not line up the top, sides, and the bottom (as the third diagram shown here). She said that in order to call a gallery style, all sides have to aligned, or chaos is created. However, I have seen different examples with all sides aligned, bottom aligned, center aligned, or not aligned at all here (not in the diagram, but in sample pictures) on your website, as well as other places. Yes, it does look more orderly when there is an axis like you mentioned. I admit that it DOES look better and calmer. However, I don’t think that hanging art HAS TO BE so STRICT in order to be called “a style.”

    What’s your input? thanks

    • coreasotropa Says:

      Hi Judy,

      Thanks for your comments. I think that any grouping of paintings, photographs or other framed pieces can be hung in any manner of ways and still be called “gallery style”. I don’t think that there are strict rules that must be adhered to. Grouping pieces together is more about creating an overall composition. Some of these collections are better suited to a layout that is lined up or symmetrical and others look better with an asymmetrical arrangement. It just depends on the personality of what you are displaying. In terms of a central axis, or lining up at the top or bottom, this is the easiest way for someone who has not done a gallery arrangement to start. Creating compositions of frames can be very tricky, and lining things up is the simpliest way of getting it done. We have used many different layouts when we are hanging gallery walls for our clients – some have been lined up and others aren’t. That’s just my two cents! Hope it helps!


  5. Judy Says:


    Thanks for your reply. Everything you said makes so much sense. I appreciate your artistry and senses.

  6. Tom Says:

    Very interesting and helpful article! I have one question though. I see that many of your examples have some sort of piece of furniture, and then the photos are arranged above the furniture. in my scenario, i have a completely blank wall and want to arrange a series of photos and maybe a bit of art. I REALLY like the top layout, the one with the brown frames. If you were doing this against a blank wall with an 8′ ceiling, how close to the ceiling would you go and how close to the floor? Again, there’s no piece of furniture there to gauge the lower limit.

    Thank you so much.

    • coreasotropa Says:

      Hi Tom,

      Great questions! When you have a wall with no furniture below the best option is to center your arrangement at around eye level (or 5′-6″). This is just a general rule, but it works well. If you are planning to go all the way up to the ceiling, then I would also recommend going low towards the floor too. Just keep the center of the entire arrangement at around eye level. Good luck with your layout!

      By the way, sorry for the tardy response to your question. Actually, our blog has moved to a new location – We’d love it if you stopped by and checked it out!


  7. Kathy Picketts Says:

    Is it ok to hang two pictures of the same style staggered on a wall?

    • coreasotropa Says:

      Hi Kathy,
      Thanks for your question! I find that pictures always look best if they are hung symmetrically. Leave a couple of inches between them, and line them up along the bottom.

  8. Diane Says:

    I have a collection of crosses (20) that I have collected for years and want to hang them all together on a wall. They range in size from 4″ to 16″ top to bottom. Can you give me some tips. All I can find is how to group pictures but nobody does a cross collection.


    • coreasotropa Says:

      Hi Diane,
      Thanks for your question about how to arrange a grouping of crosses on a wall. Grouping all the crosses together will create a great display! Since the items in your collection vary in size, you should not try to line things up on the bottom or the top. Instead, start in the middle with a few different sized crosses and work out from there. Layout your asymmetrical arrangement before you start putting them up to make sure you come up with an arrangement you like. Try to keep the distance between each cross consistent. Also, if you search images for “crosses on wall” or “cross gallery” on Google you might come up with a few examples to guide you along.
      Best of luck to you on your project, and thanks for writing in!

  9. Lynda Clark Says:

    I am in the process of creating my own gallery of my family on a blank wall in my dining room that I have fauxed. The color of the sponged wall is a mixture of muted tones of grey, lavender,and a soft rose. The frames I have gathered are all black, and I have two collage frames that hold nine photos each. The frames are in a geometric pattern both horizontal, and vertical.Would it be too much to hang both of those frames together as my focal point? I was thinking of hanging one below the other and working my way out from them with the other frames. Would this look too busy? or should I just work with one of the collage frames? I don’t want to confuse
    the look by making the gallery look unbalanced!!


    • coreasotropa Says:

      Hi Lynda,

      Thanks for your question. I would be inclined to use something other than the multiple photo pieces as the focal point. Use those pieces off to the side, where each individual photo can be viewed more easily. The multiple photo frames have a busy appearance, so you are better off using a simple, large image as the focal point. Select something that can be viewed well from across the room and center everything else around it.

      Good luck on your project,


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