Google+ House Revivals: The Secrets to Creating a Beautiful Heritage Gallery Wall

Saturday, November 2, 2013

The Secrets to Creating a Beautiful Heritage Gallery Wall

When I was thirteen, I got a new piano teacher.  Once a week, I would go to her home after school, take my lesson, then wait for my mom to get off work and pick me up. While I waited, I would explore her home. I loved her home. It was full of handcrafted items and mementos, all beautifully arranged.  My absolute favorite thing was the heritage gallery in their main hallway.  I loved how all the generations were sort of jumbled together and none of the frames matched, and yet it looked really cohesive. It even contained items that were meaningful, but weren't actually portraits or photographs.

I eventually talked my mom into letting me create a heritage gallery in our dining room.  I studied lots of shelter magazines and gathered up nails and hammer and, of course, lots of pictures.  I gathered some unusual things, too -- like a round copper shadow box that I filled with grains and stuck a little sepia toned school photo of my Dad into.  My mom thought that was a little weird, but she liked it in the end.

That was the beginning of my obsession.  

Over the years, I have figured out some secrets to creating a beautiful and cohesive Heritage Gallery. Here are a few design principles that can be applied to creating Heritage Galleries:

Choose a balanced silhouette for your arrangement.  It doesn't need to be a rectangle, and it doesn't need to be symmetrical, but it does need to be balanced.

Group pictures close together -- probably spaced between two and four inches apart, but that can depend on the scale of your room and your pictures.  If you have heard of Gestalt theory, you know that the mind sees items that are in close proximity as one unit. Interior designers use this trick all the time!

Create unity. It can be tricky to group lots of different types of portraits in lots of different types of frames together. In the case of a Heritage Gallery, one way unity is achieved is that all the items are part of your family's history, but you still may need to edit the frames a bit. In my case, I have several vintage dark wood and gold frames, and several distressed black frames. Basically, everything is somewhat neutral and has a bit of patina. Because nothing is glaringly different, they all work together. Trust me, there were a few frames that didn't make the cut!

Mix it up! Variety is just as important as unity. Variety is what keeps things from getting boring.  Now, with a heritage wall, variety is usually pretty easy to achieve.  You will most likely have old sepia toned photographs, faded color photos, and so on. Mix it up a little!  Use your grandmother's brooch  to disguise a nail head, or add other little mementos to fill in gaps.

Edit. Sometimes you will have an item that just doesn't work.  Either the scale is wrong, or the color stands out too much, or whatever.  If something is not working, don't try to force it. Just find it a different home.

Anchor the arrangement with your larger pictures, and fill in with smaller pictures. Your larger pictures are what is going to give the arrangement structure, while the smaller pictures will hold it all together so it's perceived as one unit.

Consider how the arrangement will be viewed.  While a floor to ceiling arrangement can be amazing in the right situation, it can be really awkward to view pictures that are very low or very high. For optimal viewing, the center of the gallery arrangement should be around eye level, which can change, of course, depending if your are standing or sitting or climbing stairs.  In my case, I made the center of the arrangement at standing eye level, as that is how it would be seen as you pass through the hall.  That said, you may choose to treat your arrangement as one large piece of art, not really meant for close up viewing of individual pictures, but as an art element in your total space composition. It's your space, it's your gallery. You get to decide how you want it perceived.

Do you have a favorite gallery wall you have created?  Feel free to link it in the comments section! 

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