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(Image: Kate Sigafoos / Seattle Refined)

Why gallery walls are the worst



I feel like such a sucker. I recently lost 2 weeks of my life to an online scheme. Looking back, I should have known better, but I wanted to believe it so badly that I don't think anyone could have stopped me from myself. What was the fraud? What prospect could make an otherwise cautious and reasonable person get suckered in?


I fell prey to the gallery wall. Yes, the gallery wall.


After years of reading and believing the one million online articles that tell you creating a gallery wall of photos and art in your own home is as easy as pie, I decided to try it. Why not? We just had our living room painted and there was a fresh, blank wall staring at me every day. I had stumbled upon a pile of great family photos dating back to the 1920's that were crying out to be put on display. I also had 1 weekday free - and by "free" I mean I wasn't working outside the house and only had one toddler to care for during the day. The articles all promised that even the lowest common denominator of the gene pool can whip up a gallery wall with no trouble in a few hours, so I embarked on this project with all the confidence in the world.


Here was how the whole the whole project was supposed to go down: I would pick the photos and art I wanted to use, go to Goodwill and get all the frames I needed for $1 each, trace outlines of the frames on paper, paint the frames, tape the paper to my wall to create the layout while my paint dried, then hang the newly framed photos and art in their final resting place on the wall. Sounded reasonable and totally doable.


Here is what really happened:


I started sorting through the photos I wanted to use. I spent about an hour smiling and laughing and enjoying myself during this trip down memory lane. Then I realized I had just spent an hour looking at photos and had made exactly zero progress. Not a great start.


I buckled down and started selecting photos to use. Apparently, there are 8,000 factors you need to consider while picking images. Did I get a photo of everyone that lives in our home? Are there too many funny photos from the 70's and not enough current shots? Did I include everyone in the family that might come to my home and be offended that they didn't make the wall? Did I find the right balance of the living and the departed family members? (I mean, you don't want the wall to be a visual obituary.) Is there the right balance of photos with non-photo items? Does the sizing of each photo work on its own and together in the gallery? You don't want to have to spend your days staring at an 11x16 portrait of the great great grandmother you never met while your own children get a 3x5 corner of the wall. I'm pretty sure that 80% of the cases that end up in front of the Supreme Court are less complex than figuring out the nightmare that is a gallery wall image selection. This "quick" step took me upwards of 5 hours. So much for a one day project.


The next step was to gather my child and head to Goodwill for frames. Per the interwebs, you can get in and out of Goodwill with all the frames you need in about 20 minutes. I'm sure that is true, unless you choose to go on senior discount day with a 3 year old in tow. Any special discount day at Goodwill means the place is packed to the gills and you have to pass by ALL the toys to get to the frames in the very back of the store. It took 20 minutes just to get to the frames. Along the way I was stopped by two separate people to help read child shoe sizes and acquired a broken firetruck toy. I was not winning. About 45 minutes later, we made it out of the store with about 75% of the frames I needed and a hideous wood plank image of a raccoon eating a slice of watermelon. Don't ask.


After the frame hunt, I had to stop at the hardware store for paint to make all the frames match. That was the only step of this process that went as planned. White and black spray paint were mine in under 5 minutes! I was totally on track and ready to start hour 72 of my 4 hour project.


Back at our home, I looted all the other picture frames we had it the house to get the rest of the frames I needed. While I was sure the gallery wall was going to look great in the end, the rest of the walls of our home looked like a team of unlucky art thieves had ransacked the place. Just to add to the general crime scene motif of our home, this is the point where I got to pull out gobs of paper to trace the frames so I could plan the layout of this easy as pie gallery wall. You know what is not a Pinterest worthy image? The shot of you on all fours crawling around the floor, sweating, tracing empty frames onto all the packing paper from the last 19 Amazon shipments you have received, all the while trying to keep pets and children off the paper. But, that is how you get a gallery wall done.


Next up came painting the frames. You know how easy it is to find appropriate spray painting weather in Seattle? Let's just say that it can take upwards of five days to find the required 40 minutes of temperature, wind, and sun required to slap two coats of paint on some frames. Good luck with that.


As the frames were drying (over the course of two days) I taped the paper outlines on the wall in various configurations until I got a layout that worked. Basically it was me staring at a wall, moving a paper, leaving for an hour, then coming back to it with fresh eyes. There was no sweating, swearing, or heavy lifting involved in this task so I count it as a win.


After about a week of work, I finally had all my frames painted, photos selected, extra mattings cut, and layout finalized. It was time to hang the pictures. We have a 100+ year old home, so hanging anything on the plaster walls takes about 4 extra steps per picture. Also, the ratio of certain types of picture hanging hardware to types each picture needed was off. There are more than a couple images that are currently teetering on the edge of a straight nail waiting for me to go to a hardware store and get the right kind of hook. Let's be honest, that is never going to happen.


Heed my warning about the gallery wall: They are a total pain to create. There is no fast and easy way to make one. By signing up for this decorating plan you are basically pledging to give away two weeks of your life. Wait for this decorating trend to pass and blow two weeks on a Man Men marathon. You will feel just as stylish at the end and you won't have 92 wall holes to patch up in a year.


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