A split-entry gallery wall. Or not…

When I woke up on Saturday morning, this post was almost in the can. It went like this:

We knew right after moving into our split-entry house that we weren’t going to want any tables or coat racks or storage hooks in the entry. The space is just too small.

This (sorta) Old Life: Small split-entry entry

This shot was taken right before beginning our stair makeover. When you open the door, it barely clears the stair railing.

We did know, though, that we wanted to do something with the tall walls that rise to the top of our vaulted ceiling.

This (sorta) Old Life: Entry walls before paint

We didn’t know what we’d do with them, but we felt it was too big a space to leave bare. We want our entry to be welcoming, not sterile. When we bought this house it was hard to find anything online about split-entry homes, but we did find this from Lauren Liess:

It was great to see how it looked to fill these kind of large, tall walls with art, but there were a few reasons this particular approach wasn’t going to work for us. The biggest one was price. Even at $20 a frame, this wasn’t a cheap project (for us). She’s got almost 30 frames on those walls! (For more details on how she did this project, click here.)

Although the particulars of this project didn’t work for us, it got us thinking in the direction of a gallery wall (rather than making or keeping an eye out for some kind of singular piece of art).

We weren’t sure what we’d put in our gallery, but last spring when I brought home a large piece of thrift store art we began thinking about filling those walls with a collection of thrift store paintings and other art work.

This was great for us, because we love the kind of art we find in thrift stores, which we’ve shared before (here and here), and that gave us an excuse to indulge in getting some.

This (sorta) Old Life: Entry with paintings

The lower painting is the one that got us started on collecting thrift store art for these walls.

We didn’t have any kind of strategic plan. We’ve just been buying things we like as we find them.

This (sorta) Old Life: Thrift store art collage

We hung the large farm landscape up right away (which you can see above) just to have a place to keep it, but the others we’ve been enjoying in various places around the house. (The other paintings in the entry are Cane’s work.)

We didn’t want to go to the effort of creating a gallery on walls that we knew we wanted to paint–but as soon as we finished painting the walls during winter break, we started thinking about which paintings to put up and how to arrange them.

To help us figure it all out, I began looking at images of gallery walls online. I came to this brilliant conclusion:

It’s hard to do a gallery wall well.

I saw lots and lots and lots of images of gallery walls, but very few that I liked. Rather than outline things that (in my opinion) don’t work, I’d like to stick with the positives. As I started collecting images of walls that did appeal to us, a few principles emerged that we decided we want to follow.

1. Big pieces of art are good, especially if the wall is big.


I’m pretty sure I’d never think to put pieces like this together in this way–but there’s something about this one from oldblackcatboo that I really like. I think it works. (You can get to the original source of all the images we’re sharing in this post by clicking on them.)

Some galleries have lots of little pieces in them. Some have a mix of big and small. I liked best the galleries I found made up of mostly large paintings and photos–especially if the gallery is on a large wall.

A gallery with a few larger works really makes a strong, clean statement. It doesn’t look fussy or busy. I found that galleries with lots of frames seemed cluttered in a way that started to make me feel itchy. The wall above definitely doesn’t do that.

2. A mix of frames is good.

Wall gallery from Quite Continental

This small gallery from Quite Continental is one of my favorites.

I see lots of gallery walls in which all the frames are the same, or at least painted the same color. We get the appeal of that, but we really like a mix of frames.

We think it’s more visually interesting, and it preserves the history of the piece. In practical terms, leaving art in its original as-is frame means that we don’t have to spend money buying new ones or time painting old ones. It’s a win-win-win-win for us.

The mix of frames works best if combined with principle #1. Lots of small frames in lots of different colors and materials could work–but I sure don’t know how to do it without the whole thing looking like a cluttery mess.

3. A mix of types of art is good.

Our original idea (inspired by Lisa) was to create a gallery wall of painted portraits. When we found Edgar (named for his resemblance to Poe), we thought for sure we’d go this way.

This (sorta) Old Life: Bathroom art Edgar

Edgar (named for his resemblance to Poe) is currently hanging out in our master bathroom.

Unfortunately, we haven’t found any other portraits we like enough to bring home.

We are pretty enamored with paint-by-numbers, and we’ve seen some people do a whole wall full of those.

makely gallery

This collection from Makely School for Girls is unified not just in being all PBN, but they’re all dog portraits. (And can I add that I love that lamp base?)

 We’ve got some PBNs, but–as with the portraits–we’ve got to really like one to bring it home with us, and we haven’t found a wall full of them that we love (yet).

The more I looked at other people’s galleries, the more I realized I prefer a mix of pieces, anyway.

Canadian House and Home gallery wall

There’s lots of variety in this gallery from Canadian House and Home: A mix of subjects, mediums, and frames.

It’s more interesting, and it allows us to include all kinds of things we love (as well as avoid getting something just because it fits with some kind of theme).

How we applied these principles to our walls

The first thing we did is gather all the art in the house that we thought we’d like to include, and we started spreading it out on the floors. We’d love to be able to give you some clear, simple, step-by-step process to make this easy, but that’s not really how our process went.

This (sorta) Old Life: Gallery wall arranging

We shuffled things around, and talked quite a bit, and held some things up to the wall. In the end, we mostly just went with what felt right.

We’ve got one wall that’s narrow, and it’s one that we can’t go all the way to the floor with because we walk past it all the time. We tried hanging something low there back in December, and we kept knocking into it. For that wall, we’ve put together a nice mix of pieces that we like together.  All features houses/landscapes, and they all have a mellow color value.

This (sorta) Old Life:  Gallery wall entry in progress

(placeholder shot; need a better pic)

For the large wall above the lower level of entry stairs, we decided to go big and bold. Three large paintings with vibrant hues:

This (sorta) Old Life:  Gallery wall entry in progress

(need better pic)

And that left us with the most challenging space, the large and long ground-to-high-ceiling wall:

(insert pic)

And that’s where the post left off.

Our intention was to finish hanging the art on the big wall, take some awesome shots of the whole thing in good daylight to finish it off, and hit Publish.


We weren’t in love with what we had for the biggest wall. The arrangement you see on the floor above was what we had going, but…

We didn’t love it.

And if you’re a regular reader, you know how important it is to us to put things on our walls that we love (as opposed to just filling space). We really like/love the pieces individually, but we weren’t loving the gallery.

Still, we really wanted to get this project done. (We know you know this feeling.) We’re sick of having the ladder in our tiny entry (where it’s been for more than two weeks because we kept thinking we’d get this done in the next day or so) and we need a place to store all this art we’ve collected.

Our plan (on Saturday) was to have an in-town day on Sunday (a no-kid day), which might include hitting some of our favorite thrift stores and seeing if any great art should find us and somehow be just the thing to pull the wall together. If the thrift store gods weren’t smiling on us, well, we’d just go with what we have, knowing it would likely change later.

And this is where the project went off the rails.

(Why are we continually surprised by this kind of thing?)

On Saturday, Cane and Ella went into town and did a little of this and a little of that and ended up in one of our favorite Goodwill stores. I was sitting in a New Seasons grocery store miles away, waiting for Grace’s cheerleading competition to end, nursing a migraine that couldn’t stand the loud, heavy beat of a cheer competition, and working on this post.

I was in a place with bad cell reception, and Cane tried to call me. All I was able to make out was that he’d found some art he wanted to buy.

I texted:  I trust your judgment. If you like it, buy it.

After all, Cane is a cautious buyer of just about everything. He is usually the one shaking his head no at the things I’m holding up.

He came home with 10 pieces of art. (Yes. Ten.)

This (sorta) Old Life:  thrift store art

There are only 8 in this shot because 2 of the pieces are already hanging in Ella’s room. Also, these do not all follow our “don’t buy it unless we love it” rule.

You’d think that with 8 pieces of art, the situation would surely be better. We’d be able to make this whole gallery wall thing work–right?

Um, no. We couldn’t. We spent some time playing with it on Saturday night, but we went to bed no better off than we’d been when we woke up t hat morning.

Yesterday (Sunday) was our go-to-town day. We had breakfast out, went skating along the river, and not only went back to the same Goodwill Cane had been at the day before, but also hit up another one that we like.

We came home with 5 more pieces of art, a blown budget, and a blown-up project. Because one of those pieces shattered the whole gallery wall idea.

This (sorta) Old Life:  thrift store textile art

This, we love, and we love how it looks next to the piece we found in December that prompted the paint-the-hallway-right-now thing.

This (sorta) Old Life:  thrift store textile art

Clearly, these should not be part of a gallery.

This (sorta) Old Life:  thrift store textile art

Well, maybe not so clearly, as we can’t seem to get a shot of the wall/art that is very true to life. This one–taken from our couch, which is where we’d most see the art–probably captures it best. Imagine it with no painting above the flowers, no ladder, no screaming orange bookcase, and no bench full of crap. Focus on the way the colors in the art complement each other and the light fixture. Please.

Somehow, after determining that we most likely weren’t going to want to go with a gallery wall, we spent a good part of Sunday evening moving around just about every. frickin. piece. of. art. we. own. and debating what should go where and what our philosophy of art and decorating even is and getting fairly frustrated with all kinds of things.

And now, Monday morning, this is what our living room looks like.

This (sorta) Old Life:  thrift store art all over living room

Clearly, we have lost our way with this whole thing.

Fortunately, before it got too late on Sunday, we decided that the best thing to do was retreat to a tub full of bubbles (love that big, deep tub we put into our bathroom!), some great salami/cheese/olives, and a glass of wine.

There, with proper fortifications, we reflected upon where we are, how we got here, and how to get to a better place with this mess. (As opposed to, say, blaming each other for the whole debacle and going to bed hungry and angry.) We laughed at ourselves while doing this. A lot.

Today, we’ll be figuring out what to do with it all. After we do, we’ll share our solutions with you–along with the things we realized/learned in our bathtub analysis.

If you’ve got any great insights/ideas or just want to empathize, we’d love to hear from you.

This (sorta) Old Life:  thrift store art all over living room

The gallery might end up on this wall, which is now bare (save for two lonely picture hangers) after we decided last night that we didn’t like how it looked, either.

Update: You see how it all turned out by clicking here.