Gallery walls are all the rage: This trend, which consists of hanging many frames all on one wall, close together, was once limited to the domain of legitimate art galleries. But somewhere after the turn of the 21st century, it spread to clothing stores, designer catalogs, and, yes, nearly every home in Brooklyn where I live.
I get it; hanging art gallery–style does indeed look cool—when done right. (I myself have never attempted the style because I know I’d end up with a gallery disaster.) But just like other hipster trends that need to die (hello, Edison bulbs), this one is so ubiquitous and overexposed it’s become the pumpkin spice of home decor.
And I can’t take it anymore. Here’s a rundown of the history of gallery walls, and why it’s high time to stick a fork in it.
For starters, what exactly is a gallery wall?
The gallery wall is a grouping of five to 12 pieces of art that often have little in common—and therein lies its eclectic charm, I guess.
“The art is usually centered over a sofa or on a dining room wall, hung 2 feet from the ceiling and 3 feet from the floor,” says Emily McCrary, brand editor at House Method, a site dedicated to helping everyone create better homes. The art can be anything from paintings and photos to collages and textiles.
Overexposed gallery walls always seem to include antlers, another fad that should be mothballed.
Why people flipped for gallery walls (at least at first)
“Gallery style is awesome for impact,” says Karen Gray Plaisted of Design Solutions KGP Home Staging and Interiors in Warwick, NY. “Think of it, you have a bunch of pictures but none are big enough to create a statement.”
Instead, gallery wall devotees find a key piece and build around it with other art to make a—cough—statement.
Another reason homeowners seem to flock to gallery-style walls is if the quality of their art is so-so.
“Hanging inconsistent art in a group can make it feel more important,” says Mark Cutler of L.A.’s Mark Cutler Design. “And hanging pieces in all different types of frames together can unify the group.”
Reality check: The paintings or photos that can’t command wall space on their own are usually meh pieces from a thrift store that should get tossed or sold. Not every piece of art you have needs to be hung.
Are gallery walls past their prime?
“Good heavens, yes, the gallery wall is so tired,” says McCrary. “There’s nothing wrong with this style other than that it’s been overdone. This look is not going to give you any unique edge.”
Cutler agrees the world has seen enough of art smushed together on a wall.
“It was part of a larger trend of ‘lived-in’ Brooklyn chic, and over time I think that’s beginning to pass,” says Cutler. “I think that the symptoms of overexposure of groupings is that it’s everywhere, from Instagram to every trendy restaurant.”
While the exact moment this fad peaked can’t be pinpointed, the restaurant chain TGI Friday’s rebranded a Nashville restaurant in August 2013 with—you guessed it—gallery walls. That’s not a good sign.
Fact is, grouping art takes a certain eye that many people (raising my hand, here!) simply don’t have. Often gallery walls just look like a hot mess of unconnected visuals hung higgledy-piggledy if you aren’t good at getting the spacing just so between the pieces.
“Laying out pieces of different shapes and sizes to make it look like an even composition is not an easy task,” says Cutler.
If gallery walls are over, what’s next?
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“There seems more of an interest now in a cleaner, simpler look that a grouping series like that simply cannot support,” says Cutler.
Painter Lina Alattar agrees. “My preference is that space is ample around a piece of art,” she says. “I see gallery style less and less nowadays.”
If you still love the gallery wall but want to keep your home from looking tired, go baroque and hang your art from floor to ceiling, says McCrary. Another option is to keep the gallery idea but go ultraneat and hang same-size frames in uniform rows.
Let gallery-style walls be a cautionary tale in the world of home decor. The lesson: Just because something is a trend doesn’t mean you have to jump on the bandwagon and #Instagram about it. Doing so may lead to its demise.
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