Are Gallery Walls Over? | Architectural Digest

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Are Gallery Walls Over? | Architectural Digest

“So bad,” reads one comment under a TikTok declaring 2010s gallery walls over. “I feel attacked!” read another. “It’s us girls who used to make magazine collages for our binders that started it…and I’m still here for it!” read another one. It seems that the gallery wall—a group of art or decorative items strategically hung on a wall—has become almost as divisive as wood paneling and shag carpet. For fear of continuing an outdated trend, we must ask A.D‘s interior design friends: Are gallery walls out of style?

“Never!” declares Mary Patton, owner and designer at Mary Patton Design in Houston, without hesitation. Although Clara Jung of Banner Day Interiors in the Bay Area offers a much more tempered response: “I don’t necessarily think so,” she says. “However, I think they should be carried out thoughtfully and with intention.” Meanwhile, Molly Torres Portnof of Date Interiors in New York points out that gallery walls cannot go out of style, as they are timeless (yes, even further back than 2010) and more than a passing fad. “They have survived hundreds of years of changing design trends and for good reason: A wall full of art brings color, character, depth and style to any space,” she says.

So how did we get here, to the 21st century interpretation (or misinterpretation, depending on who you ask) of gallery walls? And how do we save them by curating collections with more intention, as Jung suggests? Let’s start from the beginning.

The history of gallery walls

“Gallery walls were first seen in France in the 1600s, when they were called salon walls,” says Jung. Salons, or cultural hubs, democratized art by abandoning the old elite way of hanging a few precious pieces and instead filling entire walls from floor to ceiling with works, mainly by emerging artists. Salons soon opened to the public, making art more accessible to all social classes, and eventually spread to other countries, with art dealers and collectors adopting their frenzied method of arrangement.

Although public gallery walls provide more access to viewing, it appears that only the elite created the display at homes well into the 20th century, at least in the US. This was probably because only the wealthy had the cash to hire interior designers and hang art in the first place. (Remember, Etsy prints weren’t a thing at this point.) But by the 1960s—the era of peace, love, and a DIY salon wall—everything would change. A 1967 newspaper article titled “Gallery Wall Good Way to Display Pictures” was syndicated around the country, giving everyday homeowners (not just serious art collectors) tips on putting together framed pieces.

In the 80s and 90s, gallery walls became all about family photos. Who hasn’t seen a house with a group of school portraits next to a staircase? Even more recently, 2013 was a signature year for the decorating scheme with another syndicated article, “Living Room Walls Tell a Story,” hitting newspapers from coast to coast. This time, homeowners were encouraged to hang “personal treasures” on their walls, including “exotic turtle shells, vintage medicine bottles and colorful plates.” Since then, it’s been a mixed bag, with design sites declaring one year “the year of the gallery wall” and another site asking in that same year, “are gallery walls over?”

So where did our walls go wrong?

Were 2013’s tortoiseshells a touch too much? It’s clear that at some point, an age-old tradition moved into the dubious collage territory called out on TikTok. In fact, the gallery walls that attract the most criticism are the ones that look like all the items were collected in a single shopping spree, generic wooden signs and all. As one TikTok commenter put it, “Ugh, it’s giving me craft store vibes.” And here lies the biggest pitfall of the gallery wall: rushing to make it happen. Fueled by the hype, some novice designers and DIYers may have been in a bit of a rush to make it happen. To fix slap-stick gallery walls that might appear as decor in a dentist’s waiting area, approach your wall like a true collector.

Tips for creating a good gallery wall

A chic gallery wall is always in style.

Photo and Styling: Louisa & Fyodor

1. Make it meaningful

“Biggest rule: Never hang anything on your wall that isn’t meaningful to you,” says Torres Portnof. “When salon walls were first popularized, the specific placement of each piece of art was very purposeful and, in certain cases, pointed and political.” She suggests choosing pieces that are “big, striking or most meaningful” to anchor your gallery wall, then fill the surrounding space with other pieces.

2. Mix mediums

Keep in mind that meaningful doesn’t have to mean fine art (hello, turtle shells!). The designers A.D spoken to encourages thinking outside the box. “Do a mix of art, textiles and baskets you collect on your travels,” adds Patton. Or skip the art altogether and group like objects, as Brittany Farinas and her team at House of One Interior Design in Miami do. “Sometimes we hang a group of vertical or square mirrors together on an accent wall by a window to visually make the space appear larger and to add interest to a space,” she says.

3. Go big

And if you’re worried that a gallery wall will feel chaotic, avoid too many small pieces. “I would suggest playing with scale and going too big,” says Jung. Four large paintings grouped together can cover an entire wall without overwhelming the look. Farinas echoes this by saying, “Grouping black and white large frames in an array can create visual interest and become an opportunity to play with scale in a space.” She also points out that small frames look out of proportion on a large wall.

Long live the gallery wall

A sigh of relief for salon supporters everywhere: According to the pros, the gallery wall will survive! Plus, if history has taught us anything, it will not only survive, but continue to evolve (are NFT gallery walls a thing?!). In the meantime, keep your art and photo shows going. “Keep in mind that gallery walls are meant to evolve and grow over time as you continue to collect and assemble pieces,” says Torres Portnof. “Think of the walls in your home as your personal gallery, showcasing your cherished memories, favorite artists, family heirlooms and travels.”

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