A Guide to Making a Stairways Gallery

The staircase wall is an excellent place for a gallery. It provides a large amount of empty wall space you can play with.

A picture frame gallery display can provide more texture and visual interest to an otherwise empty (and wasted) space. However, a stairways gallery has its own unique challenges. You are decorating a wall that needs to be angled to follow the slope of the stairs. You also have to check the frames’ position with respect to the other frames.

Here are some tips in helping you create a gallery on your staircase wall:

  • Balance unity with variety. One of the issues in a gallery display is how you can use varying pictures (often from different eras) and unite them into one cohesive look. You can choose an element that can tie these pictures or images together. This can be done by using similar picture frames with similar shapes and sizes. For instance, you can go for using rectangular vintage picture frames for all the photos. Or, you can pick a color motif that can run through the display in various ways – in the matting, on the frame’s molding and in other decorative pieces. Another option is to use black and white pictures only for the entire display. To add some visual kick to the display and prevent it from getting too monotonous, you can also add some breaks in the pattern. For example, in a black and white display, add a picture where the main color is bright red. If you are using all black or all silver picture frames, introduce different shapes. You can also use pictures from different times and unify it by using the similar or complementary mat and frame colors. Play with the traditional alignment patterns. What is important is that you are able to find your preferred balance between unity and variety.
  • Use a baseline. There should be an imaginary line going up the wall that is parallel to the angle of the stairs. Ideally, the height of this baseline should be around 1.65 meters from the step just below that section of the line. This makes it easier to create a harmonious looking display. As long as the centers of the frames line up, the display will look cohesive, even if the rest of the frames’ tops and bottoms do not line up. When using a baseline, be sure that it is a bit higher than the banister so that the banister does not block the view from the display.
  • Start with cut-outs. Before you start pounding on the wall, create paper cutouts of the frames so that you can switch them around and plot their overall layout. This way, you avoid drilling unnecessary holes into your wall.
  • Choose your “anchor” photos and frames. The frames and pictures at the top and bottom of the baseline or the display should be the highlights. Ideally, these are the largest frames in your display. Once this is set up, you can now plot the other frames in between, as well as above and below these anchor frames.
  • Fix any lighting issues. It would be a waste to have a well-planned gallery, and then place it in a dark stairway wall. Look at the lighting. If need be, put additional overhead spotlights along the wall. 
10th Jan 2015 Eric Morgan

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