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Design Therapy – How to Create an Awesome Gallery Wall

Ok…let’s get this out of the way from the beginning. Yes, I am a counselor and life coach. That’s how most people know me. So you may be thinking, “Why in the world is this woman writing about gallery walls!?”

Well consider this my “coming out” of sorts. The people who are closest to me have heard me say many a time, “If I didn’t go to school for counseling, interior design be my second choice.” 

The reality is, I love it! I love to create with my hands. I love to see the “before and after” of a project. I don’t get the same luxury of seeing a person from beginning to end in my regular profession (because let’s face it, we are all a constant work in progress). One is black and white, and the other is very gray. What most people don’t know is that I used to have a business where I got to design, paint, sand, stain, repurpose, saw, glue, and all the glorious creating things! Just writing it makes me excited. Are you with me?! Do you feel it too?! 

Ok, deep breath…back on topic. So, my coaching, writing, and helping people job really started taking off and I had to give something up. The repurposing of old flea-market finds was shoved off the plate. My little booth space was closed and I marched on. The two professions felt worlds apart. I struggled with giving it up totally and searched my brain over and over again for an idea to bring the two together…and then it HIT me!

I love taking old things and bringing them new life. Stripping them down, getting rid of the old yuck, and helping each piece find new purpose. Sounds a whole lot like therapy and growth to me! There is a lesson in everything and what a better metaphor for life than the designing of our space – both inside and out. 

So for my first “design therapy” article, let’s start with an easy one: a gallery wall. To me, a gallery wall is a mishmash of all your favorite things displayed in an intentional way that works. I’m not a personal fan of the minimalist “art gallery” look where you have one tiny picture on a big empty wall. I’m also not a fan of lots of tchotchkes everywhere and clutter either. So the gallery wall is a great balance. It’s warm, but not overwhelming. Here, my friends, is a design example of the balance we are always searching for! 

I needed to create a gallery wall for the space behind the couch I sit on to record my weekly Sunday live videos (I’d love to have you join me sometime). I thought this was the perfect opportunity to walk you through the process with me. Let’s get started…

Here are 9 things to think about when creating an awesome gallery wall (with a few life lessons along the way):

Start with a strong foundation

As in life, our foundation is essential. The first thing to think about is the color of the wall you are putting your gallery on. How do you want your items to look against the wall color? If the wall is white and your items are white, they are just going to blend it. The base color is huge. It determines how your pieces will “pop.”

Sherwin Williams

It’s easy to want to just slap the pieces up there and not think about the background. It doesn’t matter what you build if the foundation isn’t solid. Take the time to do the work and create a solid foundation. In this example I painted my wall with “Tony Taupe” (SW 7038) by Sherwin-Williams. This is my favorite go-to neutral paint color. It seems to pair well with anything.

Make sure you have the right tools

We really can’t grow or move forward if we don’t equip ourselves with the right tools. What tools do you need for your gallery wall? 

  1. hammer
  2. nails
  3. levelT (this will be your BFF)
  4. clear thumbtacks – not all things need nails. Thumbtacks are easier. 
  5. paint – wall color
  6. wall spackle 
  7. gallery-wall pieces

Take stock of what you’re working with

gallery wall

You don’t have to buy new pieces for your wall. I would start with laying out everything you have to work with. I grabbed pieces from other rooms as well. Even my garage. Some pieces I bought recently and some I’ve had for a long time.

Pile it all up and then you will start to eliminate. We should be taking stock in our lives REGULARLY. You’re also going to take stock of the space you’re working with. What will fit? Not all spaces are created equal. 

Know what you love

Ok ladies, this is where it gets a little tricky. Far too many women have absolutely no idea what they love. You ask their favorite color, they tell you all of their children’s favorite colors. I’m talking about YOU here. Yes, YOU. You’re not going to put monster trucks or superheroes or princesses on your gallery wall. At least you better not (unless you are making it IN your child’s bedroom).

This is about you making a beautiful display of the items that make your heart sing. In your own way. Gather pieces that you love. This is an external representation of the internal masterpiece that you are. You are a work of art! Now let’s make your wall one, too. 

Eliminate what doesn’t serve you

gallery wall

It’s time to remove the pieces you don’t love and that aren’t serving a positive purpose in the creation of your wall. We can’t shove EVERYTHING up there. That doesn’t work. You’ve got to prioritize and have boundaries. It is necessary to cut out the excess and things that just don’t fit. Lay out what you have left in a way that feels good to you. 

Think outside the box

gallery wall

When creating my gallery I had two empty spots I knew needed to be filled. I didn’t want to go out and buy something so I rummaged through my garage and found a vintage wheel and an old gate hinge. PERFECTO! I love them. They both have character, are outside the box, and fit the space exactly how I wanted. 

gallery wall

When it comes to wall art I think most of us without a background in design tend to gravitate toward square and rectangle pieces. This was so true for me! Thank goodness one of my dear friends is an awesome designer and has taught me a thing or two about thinking outside of the design box.

Search for different textures and shapes when making up your wall. I used two clipboards because 1. I love how they look, and 2. It’s super easy to change out the picture that’s on them whenever you want to mix it up. I also grabbed a boxwood wreath I had and put it on a wicker placemat that was sitting in my basement. I love the combination!

Allow yourself to learn as you go

gallery wall

It’s not going to be perfect the first time. You’re going to screw up. You’re going to put things up, and they are going to be in the wrong place. You will create many holes. It doesn’t have to be all perfectly uniform (which I LOVE) and most of the time your eyeballs and a level do the trick. Just not ALWAYS. If you are armed with the right tools from the beginning, you will allow yourself to fail and be okay with it. Pull out that paint and spackle girlfriend and fill those holes. It’s part of the creating process.

gallery wall

One way to help you stay on track and give a little structure is to put your top and end pieces up first. That way you can be flexible with the inner pieces and you will spend less time on spacing in the end. The biggest thing is that your edges end where you want them to. The inside is free game. 

Stay within budget

Two things I don’t like: being wasteful and paying designer prices. Thrift stores and estate sales are like treasure hunting for big kids! A lot of the items I am showing you are from flea markets, thrift stores, estate sales, social-media marketplaces, and yes, even the dollar store. My gold mirrors are from the dollar store friends. None of my items were bought at full price. If I did buy it at a craft store, you better believe I was armed with a 50% off coupon! I think the saw and the lotus hand-lettered piece were the only two things I bought that weren’t on sale. Both are made by local artists (one is my daughter). Who could pass that up?!

gallery wallWhen it comes to the budget point, I want to show you another gallery wall I have in my home. When I made this wall I had almost no money to decorate. A lot of the items on this wall were free or very low cost. The shelf is an old dresser drawer that was going to be thrown away. Some scrap fabric and spray paint made it the perfect gallery-wall shelf. The tire, wood tray, and canvas were thrifting finds. The wood with our wedding date painted on it was taken from the scrap wood in my garage. The bench was found on a social-media site for a steal of a deal!

I promise… you don’t have to break the bank to create something you love. Plus, it gives your display much more variety, uniqueness, and character. Perfection is way too boring! 

Admire the finished product

The very best part of the creative process is when you can wipe off your hands, stand back, and admire the finished product. This is something that represents you. You’ve put your heart and soul into it. It’s been hard, confusing, and frustrating at times. You’ve done A LOT of spackling…but it was all SO worth it. You know exactly what it took to get you to this place.

Are you catching my drift? Our life is exactly the same. We are creating every single day a life that we will someday stand back and admire. The beauty is that you get to decide what you create. Whether it’s a gallery wall, relationships, love, learning…it’s all good. And each little piece is a part of the big beautiful picture.

gallery wall   gallery wall

So go out there and create; design the life you love!


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