Beyond the Gallery Wall: Ideas for Displaying Photos

Beyond the gallery wall -- Ideas for displaying photos

My friend, Jen, recently asked me about some of the best ways to display photos if you’re not a huge gallery wall fan.  She’s definitely on to something: family photos can pose a bit of a decorating challenge.  You want to display the pictures of your loved ones, but many people fall into the trap of lining up a bunch of framed photos on a buffet in rows like students in a class photo.

Like this…


It looks cluttered, and — if you’re honest with yourself — how often do you actually look at each of those photos?

Here are some fresh ways to display your treasured pictures.

Display photos in groups.

Group photos in small groups.jpg

When you put pictures in long rows, it’s hard for the eye to decide where to rest.  Instead, cluster photos in small groups of 3 or 4.  Hang them or place them close together.  This way, the eye reads the whole display as a cohesive group, rather than a confusing assortment of individuals.

Display pictures on a picture rail.

Photo Rail

This is a great strategy for people who like to change out their pictures often because you don’t have to put nail holes in your wall.  Ikea sells a very inexpensive picture rail, but you can also easily make one out of a couple of trim boards.  I’ve even seen one made out of a gutter.  (The one in my picture is from Ikea).

When I put photos on a picture rail, I follow a couple of basic design principles:

First, the furthest left and right pictures should feature people who are either looking the camera face-on or who are facing inward.  If the picture of the person on the right is looking right, everything looks unbalanced — at least to me. (This tip actually comes from my high school journalism adviser, who taught me that photos on a page need to face inward.  Thanks, Mr. Ypma, I was listening!)

Secondly, it usually looks best if you vary the height of the frames.  I’m sure there is a design theory reason for that, but I don’t know what the reason is; for me, it’s instinct.

Finally, I like it if the pictures or the frames to relate to each other in some way.  Black and white frames tend to look good together and a pop of gold can also add a bit of spice to that palate.  Similarly, I have found that black and white photos are best displayed with other black and white photos and full-color photos are best displayed with other color photos.  It helps the display look cohesive.

Decoupage photos onto a piece of furniture.

When my mom commissioned me to make this bench a few years ago, I was very skeptical.  You want me to glue our faces onto a chair…that people will sit on?  No way.  But, because I love my mom, I did it anyway.  You know what?  It turned out pretty cool!

Decoupage photos onto a piece of furniture

Decoupage photos onto a piece of furniture2

Basically, I took photo copies of old photos (thin paper is easier to decoupage) and used a mixture of about two parts water/one part glue to attach them to the bench using a paint brush.  I brushed the glue/water mixture over the top of the bench, waited for it to dry, and finished off the whole project with a couple of coats of varnish.


Think outside the living room.

Think outside the norm.jpg

Take your pictures out of the living room or hallway.  A well-placed photo can be the perfect accent in a kitchen or even in a bathroom.  One of my favorite of our wedding photos is displayed on our bathroom counter.

Make photos into a garland.

Make a garland out of photos

When you have a large group of prints, it can be fun to make them into a garland.  Just hang up a piece of twine and attach photos using clothespins.  I especially like doing this with Christmas cards and pictures.  It’s quick, simple, and cute!

Well, Jen, I hope I answered your question!  Thank you for the idea for a blog post!





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