Oh the Places You Go: Building a (Travel) Gallery Wall

My first night back in my again-permanent home in Maryland, after 6 years of living on my own, and fresh off the plane after 2 years abroad, I was laying in my bed trying to sleep off the jet lag when I realized something. I realized I was laying in a room that hadn’t been changed since I was in high school. The furniture, the layout, even the decorations were the same as they had been for years, and I had come to associate the whole room as the my old room, with old stuff I didn’t use much, the place I stayed when I was just home for a visit.

Clearly that would never do. This was to become my room again, the place where I actually keep my everyday items, and not just a place to store old things I didn’t take with me to my “real life” in London/Chicago/wherever. Even more importantly, I was a different person in high school with a completely different outlook. Even though I was wound up back in the same place, shouldn’t my room reflect the experiences I’ve had and the interests I’ve developed over the last 6 years? I made the decision that evening that I would redo everything.

I finagled a new, larger bed from my parents complete with a cotton white comforter set and made the decision to move out my big, bulky bookcases and old desk in order to open the space up. I painted my mahogany hand-me-down furniture off-white and navy blue. And I took my old shelves and pictures off the wall, leaving me with an entirely bare canvas.

And what to do with an entirely bare canvas?

untitled (21 of 36)This is what one does with an entirely bare canvas… and a lot of extra objects that needed displaying. The whole idea could have been a complete disaster but I think I made it work. Here’s my advice on building a gallery wall yourself:

1. Lay everything out before you hang it on your wall! I can’t stress this enough. (I took over my parents’ bedroom floor for an afternoon during my planning phase.) This way you save yourself from major disappointment and a million nail holes in your wall if it doesn’t look quite the way you want it.

2. Decide whether you want a centerpiece or not. I would have chosen to hang just one of the maps at the middle of the wall, but I really wanted the effect to be on the wall as a whole (and not just what was in the middle) so I decided to hang two maps to split up the center.

3. Vary the size of your pieces! I can’t stress this enough either. It’s nice to have a couple really big pieces to use as anchor points, with smaller pieces to fill in the spaces around them.

4. Keep your frames within a theme. I think part of the reason this wall really worked out is because the frames I decided to use were all the same shape and color. I’ll be honest, it was luck that I had some frames that were all square and black. There’s a small amount of variation in the color of the backing material and in the thickness and size of the frames themselves, but not enough to detract from the overall effect.

5. Not everything needs to be framed! I originally planned on framing everything on the wall, down to the tea towel and the small postcards, but when I planned it out on the floor all the frames seemed really overwhelming. Leaving some objects bare on the wall adds for a little contrast and visual interest.

6. Don’t be afraid to be asymmetric. Again, I wanted my overall wall to be the focal point of the room rather than one particular map or painting. I think I mostly accomplished that goal because not everything lines up. There’s an overall curve to the shape everything makes as a whole, and it’s more noticeable because not everything fits along clear lines inside of it.

Here are some more pictures of the details:

A detail of the right-hand side. The fan and tea towel are both from Insadong in Seoul (South Korea) and the Evil Eye was a gift from my friend Ben when he visited Turkey. The writing on the towel reads, "Let's go together!" in Korean.

A detail of the right-hand side. The fan and tea towel are both from Insadong in Seoul (South Korea) and the Evil Eye was a gift from my friend Ben when he visited Turkey. The writing on the towel reads, “Let’s go together!” in Korean.

My favorite gift anyone has ever given me- a drawing from my friend Danny of me playing my flute in front of the Chicago skyline.

My favorite gift anyone has ever given me- a drawing from my friend Danny of me playing my flute in front of the Chicago skyline.

untitled (26 of 36)

One of my free-hanging postcards: a souvenir I sent to my parents the second time I visited Turku, Finland. "Suomi" means "Finland" in Finnish.

One of my free-hanging postcards: a souvenir I sent to my parents the second time I visited Turku, Finland. “Suomi” means “Finland” in Finnish.

My authentic azulejo from Lisbon, which once hung on an actual building. The man in the store dated it to the 1800s. I used a plate holder to hang it.

My authentic azulejo from Lisbon, which once hung on an actual building. The man in the store dated it to the 1800s. I used a plate holder to hang it.

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A detail of a dried arrangement partially obscuring a gift from my friend Tierney at the far left side of the wall: cutouts of the three places I’ve lived (Baltimore, Chicago and London).

Overall I’m really happy with the way it turned out… and relieved as well, since it’s the main attraction of my room. I felt that it was a really great way to not only display the stuff I’ve collected over the years but also to remind me of the great experiences I’ve had and the wonderful people I’ve met along the way. It was really something I thought would pull together the person I’ve become since the last time I lived at home, and now the space feels much more like my space again.

If anyone has any more questions or tips about how I could’ve done it differently, let me know in the comments!

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2 comments

  1. Your posts are such quality, Kate. Your writing is so focused and easy to read. Sometimes I feel obligated to read my friends’ blogs but yours is always a pleasure.

  2. Thanks Cait! That’s such a compliment coming from you because I love your blog and writing as well. I always look forward to your posts about Indo! I know it’s probably such hard work sometimes, but I hope you’re having an awesome/ worthwhile/ fulfilling experience! 🙂

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