How to Hang A Gallery Wall

I’ve always wanted to hang a lot of picture frames as a gallery wall in our house, but I’ve been too intimidated by figuring out the layout and actually hanging so many frames. In college, my roommate and I spent a good 20 minutes trying to hang our dry erase board perfectly straight on our dorm door (we were a great match!). The idea of hanging 15-20 frames sounded like too much for me to handle, so I’ve always had frames standing on tables, bookshelves, etc. Now that I have young children who would be very interested in playing with displayed picture frames, I’ve kept my picture frames in a paper bag in the back of my closet. I wanted them on display and was tired of having them take up closet space, so decided to throw perfectionism out the window and try to hang a gallery wall in our new home.

During naps one afternoon, Beach Dad and I gathered all our black picture frames and laid them out on the floor. I found this great Pinterest board of gallery walls, which helped us discuss what we each envisioned. We knew we wanted the display to be 8 feet wide and roughly 5 feet tall (our wall measures 9′ X 9′). We wanted things fairly balanced, but to look as though they were randomly hung, rather than in orderly columns. We tried a few different arrangements and took pictures of each on our phones, so that we could compare them all side by side once we had come up with all our options.

Everything I’ve read about hanging gallery walls has recommended cutting out pieces of paper in the sizes of your frames and then arranging them on the wall with painter’s tape before hanging anything. That was a great suggestion as far as actually hanging them, but I felt like it was more helpful to us to arrange it all roughly on the floor first, especially since many of our frames were collage frames. We wanted to make sure to distribute the collage frames and individual photo frames fairly evenly across the display.

After trying a bunch of possibilities, we settled on this layout: 

Once we had our layout, I took some big pieces of packing paper, left over from our move, and started to cut out the shapes of each frame. I realized partway through that if I folded the paper along the edges of each frame, I could rip the paper to the right size, which saved a lot of time.

My biggest time saver, however, was that after I cut/ripped the shape of each frame out of paper, I turned the frame over, laid the paper on top, and marked where the picture hanger was on the piece of paper. I wasn’t sure this would even work, but it worked beautifully and probably saved me hours of measuring and remeasuring. To hang 19 frames, I pulled out the measuring tape only one time – to find the center of the wall’s length so I could hang the mirror fairly centered.

At this point, we needed to put all the frames away so the girls could play in the living room once again. I labeled each of the papers so I could easily match them with their corresponding frames when we later hung them. We made sure our photo was good enough to refer back to and stashed it all away until we could hang them.

A few days later, as the girls ate lunch, I was eager to finish the project and decided to at least hang the papers. I used painter’s tape to hang each piece of paper, referring back to the photo of our floor display to remember exact layout and rough spacing.

I was glad I started off with hanging only the papers because, as I began to tape the papers on the wall, I realized I was hanging them all too low and the girls would be able to reach everything. I bumped it all up a good foot or two and taped all the papers where I wanted them.

I hung the mirror itself first because, as the center of the display, I wanted to make sure it was exactly where I wanted it.  For some reason, it took me 4 tries to get the mirror hung at the right height, but once I got that done, everything else was super easy from there.

Then, using the dots I had marked on each cut-out, I hammered a nail or hook through each piece of paper and into the wall.  (I also had written which frames needed hooks rather than nails on the paper, so I could hammer without having to look at each frame first.) For the frames that required two nails, I hammered the first nail and then used a level to get the exact spot for the second nail.


I waited to hang anything but the mirror because I was worried my hammering might knock any frames off the wall.

Now, I’m certainly not the fastest picture hanger and I was also feeding and entertaining a toddler and a baby while I did this. But, from start to finish, actually hanging the papers and then the frames themselves took me just under an hour. I couldn’t believe how fast it was!

I’ve already filled a few of the frames with things I had on hand – from family photos to Beach Girl’s artwork – but am excited to find fun stuff for the rest of them.  I have a feeling filling the rest of the frames will take me a lot longer than hanging all these frames did! I have some ideas for fun and meaningful “frame fillers”, so I’ll update you once I’m done.  In the mean time, Beach Girl has been busy adding her own touch of decor to the wall.

Have you ever spent way too long on something silly like hanging a dorm dry erase board? Have any DIY projects you’ve been intimidated to do? Any suggestions for what else to fill my frames with? I’d love to hear from you!

3 thoughts on “How to Hang A Gallery Wall

  1. Gini July 25, 2012 / 12:53 pm

    This is genius! As a fellow perfectionism sufferer I’m going to try this. 6 months & one pic hung on my new (ish) walls. Until today. Thanks!


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