Living in an A-frame house, I have very few vertical walls on which I can hang art or photos. It makes me sad, but it also causes me to really appreciate the walls I do have.
One of these vertical walls is in my stairwell, and there is just enough of a ledge at the top for me to put an EXPEDIT bookcase from IKEA. I love to create seasonal displays on top of the bookcase, as if it were a fireplace mantel, and hang things on the bit of wall above it.
This was my stairwell decor last fall.
I liked it at the time, especially the round white vase full of fall leaves, but this year I thought, “Why am I hanging only one picture? I have so few walls for art, why not fill this space and make a gallery wall?” So, that’s what I did!
I started with the same horse head embroidery because my Mom made it for me and it’s too beautiful not to enjoy each year, and then fleshed it out with family photos and a great free printable. Check it out below!
I’m really happy with how it turned out! Even if I didn’t finish it until fall was pretty much. . . over. . .
These are the pieces I chose for the wall. To the left of the horse embroidery is a photo of the Mabry Mill in Virginia, USA; taken by my husband’s cousin, Jim Clark. If you really like it, you can download a slightly different version on Flickr here. Just download the original size, and then print it on photo paper with your ink jet printer. If you prefer the version I have (it’s less dark in person, I promise!), you can email Jimmy through Flickr and ask him to email you the Mabry Mill photo from 500 px. Tell him Sara sent you, and be sure to thank him for giving his art away!
The lovely “Give Thanks” print is the free printable from my friend Christina’s blog, The DIY Mommy. You can get it here. I printed it on a piece of canvas that I found in the scrapbooking paper section at Michaels, using this tutorial of the Freezer Paper Method. It worked great! The only thing unexpected was that the image and words should have been in black, but they are more of a dark brown on the canvas. I think that has to do with the colour of the canvas. If I had used a white fabric, it would have printed black. (Freezer paper can be really hard to find in Canada, BTW. I got mine at Safeway).
To the right of the “Give Thanks” print, I put pictures of my kids, taken outdoors in falls past. Aren’t they the cutest? I realize I may be somewhat biased. . .
The horse head embroidery was already professionally framed, and I bought each of the other frames at Michaels. They were having an awesome sale, so I paid less than half price for all of them! Don’t you love it when you score deals like that?
A few tips for a successful gallery wall.
1: The frames don’t all have to match identically, but they should coordinate. I chose all natural wood tones, two of which are warmer, and two of which are cooler.
2: In a grouping of four like I did, place like frames diagonally to each other, not side-by-side.
3: The same diagonal-placement-suggestion applies to mixing art types, like the way I arranged my photos, and my fabric art pieces. It also worked out very well that my canvas was the same colour as the mat around the embroidery!
4: Try to keep the same amount of space between frames, while realizing that it probably won’t all work out perfectly, and that’s okay.
Mixing the different types of art in this way helps the gallery wall to read as a cohesive whole. It just wouldn’t have looked as good if I had had, for example, only photos in the top row, and only fabric art in the bottom row, or only warm wood frames in the bottom row, and only greyish woods at the top. I also mixed matted art and un-matted art.
It sounds harder than it is! When you are actually looking at your pieces of art that you want to hang, it is easy to see when something is out of place. Just lay things out on the floor, try some different arrangements, and take a photo with your smart phone of the one or two layouts you like best. Write down the art measurements if you have too many pieces to remember, and when you’re at the store buying frames, just refer to that photo on your phone!
On to the bookcase decor. . .
I basically just filled the space with vases (some empty, some full), faux gourds, some books, and some plant matter. The owl was a last-minute addition, but I like him!
He was a Halloween clearance find at Michaels, and I bought him because my kids want Harry Potter birthday parties some year. Owls are definitely only available in stores at certain times of year, so I knew I had to buy one in the fall. I’ve decided to name him Errol, and he makes a great book-end for books that don’t need any support to stay up.
By the way, if you haven’t read Ogden Nash, you really should. He’s hilarious! Very witty and sarcastic. I got this wonderful vintage set of his books from my in-laws. They usually sit in one of the cubes of this bookcase, behind a closed door, but since red is a fall colour, I took them out and used them in my display.
Remember, odd numbers are best in decorative vignettes, so I started with this grouping of three pottery pieces. Next I added the faux fall leaves to the white vase (because I really liked how it looked last year), and finally, to make things more colourful, the three faux gourds. I also have a total of three elements in this grouping: the pottery, the gourds, and the leaves. Perfect!
We were not one of those couples who was blessed with large amounts of hand-made pottery for our wedding. We did get the orange and cream glazed bowl in the photo above, and an almost-identical twin brother to it (which I used to hold some of my fall jewelry on my bedside table – Thank You Justin & Bonner!). To improve our collection, I have spent the last several years buying vases that I love when they go on sale at the end of each season. Chapters/Indigo is a great source; but if you want one-of-a-kind, hand-made pottery with a nice low price tag, shop at Goodwill! I have already found two nice pieces there just this year, one of which is the black vase in the photo above.
On the right side of the bookcase, I put my favourite Acacia wood tray (from Superstore) and filled it with the rest of my fall-coloured vases. The two brown ones are from Chapters, and the green glass ones are from IKEA. I really like the tear-drop shapes!
I tucked more faux gourds in the spaces between the vases, and also added a few outside of the tray. This helps to visually connect the whole display, since it draws the eye in and out of the tray arrangement.
I put tall faux plant matter (clumps of grasses, wheat, and a few other seed heads) in the tall brown vase and some cute dyed burlap leaves in the smaller brown vase to echo the leaves at the opposite end of the bookcase, filled in the space between the two vignettes with some books and Errol to connect them, and I was finished!
Just as the gourds on the shelf act as a link between the tray and the rest of the display, the tall grasses and leaves draw the eye from the fall vignettes to the art on the wall. I made sure that the plant matter overlapped the bottoms of the frames, without obscuring the actual pictures.
I’d LOVE to use real wheat, leaves, and seed-heads from my garden in my decor. It would be cheaper, way more eco-friendly, and I wouldn’t have to store them, but I can’t do it. Why not? My cat would eat it, and then throw up somewhere that I invariably discover with my feet before my eyes. No thank you. . .
Now just in case you think this is effortless for me, it’s not. I spent pretty much the entire month of October working on this display; adding things, taking things out, rearranging, etc. You just have to play around with what you have, and you’ll eventually get something you’re happy with. It’s very fun for me though, and it’s nice to hear my kids say, “Wow, Mom! Nice decorations!” My sweet daughter J has even said, “Mom, can you teach me how to decorate someday?” Awwwwwwwwwwww! If that’s not the best compliment of all, I don’t know what is!
Happy Thanksgiving to my American friends and family!