How to combine thrifted, found and purchased frames and art to create a vintage gallery wall that looks collected and intentional
I believe there are people who can take a random collection of art, eyeball the placement on the wall, tack it up, and a beautiful collage appears as if by magic. They’re in league with cooks who don’t use a recipe but intuitively add a pinch of this and a dash of that as they go, with a delicious meal as the result.
When I cook, I like to have a recipe as a starting point. Once the basic dish is together, I might make some adjustments to add more flavor or alter the taste to my or my family’s liking. Or I might follow the recipe to the t because it’s good as is. Hanging a gallery wall can follow the same process. Start with a “recipe” for a solid layout. Once it’s on the wall, you can make some tweaks to add your own touch within the basic design.
Vintage gallery walls vs. other styles
Vintage gallery walls can present challenges not found in other styles. You’re marrying collected objects–artwork, frames, mirrors, knick knacks. Finding pieces that go together–not matching perfectly, but blending in a pleasing way–can be difficult.
It’s easier to curate a wall of family photos, travel photos of a particular region or specific art collections (sketches, beach scenes, portraits, etc.). These kinds of collections lend themselves to modern frames, often purchased in a grouping of one, two or three styles.
Tips for curating a vintage gallery wall
When choosing pieces for your vintage gallery wall, you want to avoid a collection that appears to be a chaotic array of discarded art rounded up from grandma’s attic or a dusty storage closet. Applying some guidelines when choosing your pieces will result in a cohesive look.
What to look for
Color. Look for pieces that share similar colors. For my living room wall, I chose art that pulled in the teal greens and blues in the room.
Subject matter. My wall is a mix of still lifes, landscapes and portraits. I’ve seen beautiful walls that feature one theme–all landscapes, for instance.
Consistent timeframe. If you choose a mix of subjects, they should look like they are from the same era. I like an old world look. While all of my pieces might not be from the exact same era, they all have the same feel.
Mismatched frames that “go” together. Mismatched frames are a key element to a good vintage gallery wall, but I think they should have an element that ties them together. Mine all have some gold tones running through them. You might choose all wood or all black, but something should connect them.
Where to look
Thrift stores/flea markets/second-hand shops. Thrifting can offer a treasure trove of vintage art, but you will probably have to be willing to hunt.
• Some artwork will be visible and hanging on walls, but it is often stacked in bins on the floor. Make sure you go through the bins!
• You might love the art but hate the frame, or visa versa. Don’t discount a great frame because it contains a modern abstract print that doesn’t fit your theme. Alternatively, don’t miss out on the perfect piece of art because you can’t see beyond the ugly frame.
Online sites that offer downloadable art. If you have a good printer, this is a great way to add affordable pieces to your gallery. I found the perfect art for my wall on Vintage Supply and Collection Prints. Since I had two larger pieces of art, I didn’t need to print anything larger than 8 x 10. If you want to print them larger, you can do this at Staples.
Your house. You might have pieces that are not strong on their own, but would be a nice addition to a gallery wall. Again, don’t be afraid to separate art from a frame that has housed it for years. Each might find new life with a different pairing.
Tips for designing and hanging your gallery wall
Intentional alignment. I spent many years in a job where I was responsible for editing a magazine-size newsletter. The budget didn’t allow for a graphic designer, so that responsibility fell to me as well. I wasn’t trained in graphic design, but I attended a lot of seminars and professional development courses. I would never call myself a graphic designer, but I learned a lot. Because of that background, gallery walls always look like a big page layout to me. I find myself applying some of the same rules that I learned, and I think they work.
A way to keep a page interesting, but cohesive is to make sure that each element aligns with another element on the page. I did this with my gallery wall.
Consistent spacing. If you want your pieces to be more random but still want an intentional look, keep the amount of space between the pieces consistent.
Balanced size distribution. Mix large and small pieces and spread them out. My wall has smaller pieces on either site of the larger art, so the wall feels balanced.
Balanced color distribution. My wall is primarily greens and teal blues, but I added some pops of a pinky red. The pink tones in the flowers are balanced by the pink tones in the portrait on the other side.
“Cropping” of art. Just as you might crop photos or art in a page layout, you can apply the same principle to your wall. The two smaller floral still lifes on the bottom, right of my wall are actually made from one piece of art. Obviously, you shouldn’t cut up your art if it is an original or an expensive print. The print that I cut apart was downloaded and printed inexpensively. I could replace it if I wanted to. Cutting out the parts of the art that you want to showcase works great with downloadable art. If you make a mistake, you can print it again. Note: I have a nice photo-quality printer, so I can print at home. This would still be pretty inexpensive if printing at Staples, Walgreens or another print vendor.
You do you
Vintage gallery walls, any gallery wall for that matter, are very personal. Each one is unique and can really showcase your personality in your home. If you’re the cook-without-a-recipe type, go for it. It will be a beautiful expression of you in your home. If you, like me, enjoy some order and guidelines, I hope these tips are helpful. It doesn’t mean you’re not creative,–creativity can exist within structure–but your more ordered design will bring you happiness and welcome your guests to a home that is uniquely you.