How to Plan a Stairwell Photo Gallery

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There is nothing that makes a house feel like a home than photos on the walls. We have lived in our house for about a year now, but were just getting around to hanging things on the walls. It just always seems to take a back burner to other projects! This past weekend I committed myself to getting it done (finally!). Scott really wanted a stairwell photo gallery that had a mishmash of different frames and photos (like in Modern Family). I personally prefer a more cohesive and uniform look, but I think we reached a good compromise.

We used a majority of black frames, with only a few colored or metallic frames thrown in. We varied the sizes, but we anchored the project with 7 uniform frames that were larger than the rest. I think the final look turned out great! Plus it leaves room for growth over the years as our family grows we can add more frames without it looking unbalanced.

It feels great to have photos on display instead of hidden in my phone or in a shoebox. As much as I love my photo books, I rarely take them out and flip through them. This way I can reminisce on my memories all the time! Plus I love the statement they make when I walk through the door and that guests can see them too! This technique will work for a photo gallery anywhere in your house!

For more family posts, check out how to create your Family Culture!

How to Plan a Stairwell Photo Gallery

So how did we accomplish our stairwell photo gallery? Normally with projects like this I tend to wing it and hang as I go. This time however, I really wanted to have a more precise finished look. So I decided to plan out our stairwell photo gallery the right way before I started putting holes in the walls.

Step 1: Measure your space and gather your frames

Measure out the space you are planning to use. You want to make sure you have/buy enough frames, but not more than you need. If you already have your frames go ahead and lay them out. Then take inventory to see what you still need. I went to my local dollar store to pick up a few more small frames and 7 larger frames. Each of my larger frames was about $4 because the measurements for the photo aren’t the standard size. I definitely couldn’t afford paying $20-30 per frame! So a small size discrepancy is fine by me!

This set from Amazon has a mix of 2 sizes with black border and white mats. It’s also very affordable!

Once you have all of your frames, try laying them out on the floor to get a sense of the placement you want. I also browsed a lot of Pinterest trying to find inspiration for the layout I wanted.

Step 2: Use paper cut outs to plan your layout

This step actually took a little bit longer than I thought! I used wrapping paper because that is what I had lying around. Craft paper would also work really well too! Measure or trace out each of your frames on paper and cut them out. Try and be exact, but it’s okay if you’re slightly off. I also measured and marked halfway for the length and width of each frame. This step helped out a lot when I was trying to get my spacing right!

I also used post it notes to number off which frame corresponded to which paper cut out. I wrote the color of the frame on the paper and noted the direction it should be oriented. That way it would be easy to match up the proper frame to the paper cut out at the end. I mostly had vertical black frames, but wanted to make sure that the other ones looked balanced.

Step 3: Hang your paper cut outs on the wall

I started from the middle of my stairway and worked outwards. Since my large frames were going to be my anchors I decided that those were what I would hang first. I used painters tape to hang the Craft paper on the wall to see how things would look all together. I decided that every second step would have a large frame centered on it. The bottom of the frame is about 4.5 feet from the step.

I probably could have gone higher and done a full five feet, but I wanted to make sure there was lots of room to grow upwards as our family grows. I am sure that true designers will have an exact measurement for how high to hang your photos, but I couldn’t find it so I improvised. Once all my large paper frames were taped in place, I marked the bottom center of the frame on the wall using a pencil.

Next I filled in the other frames around the large ones. For spacing reference, I lined up the center width of the smaller frame with the edge of one large frame and the center length of another large frame. Then I adjusted from there if I felt it looked too close or too far. Because my frames were different sizes, I felt that using a uniform distance wouldn’t look as balanced. It tended to work out that there was usually about 4 inches between the frames, but not every time.

This is how my wrapping paper frames looked spaced out on the wall
How to plan a Stairwell photo gallery
Plan your stairwell photo gallery with paper cut outs before nailing in your frames!
How to plan a Stairwell photo gallery
Achieve a balanced look by spacing out frames of different sizes, colors, and subject matter!

I also tried to ensure that I had balance throughout the stairwell. So if I had one frame on top of an anchor frame, I tried to place an approximate equal size/color frame on the bottom. You could also do two small frames to balance out one medium/large frame. Don’t forget to balance your photo subjects as well! If you have some black and white photos, some landscapes or many of the same subject, make sure they aren’t all clumped together!

Using painter’s tape allowed me to adjust several times without ruining the paint on the walls. Once I was happy with the placement, I marked the bottom center of each frame on the wall using a pencil.

Step 4: Mark where to hang the pictures

Okay so I had my placement of where I wanted to hang the pictures, but now I needed to know where to place the nail. To accomplish this I first measured the middle of each frame and marked it with a whiteboard marker on the glass. Then I put a dab of toothpaste on the back hook/clip of the frame. Next I lined up the bottom center of the frame with the bottom center of the paper cut out. Smush the frame onto the paper so the toothpaste will leave a little blob on the paper. Wipe off any excess on the frame then place the nail in the paper where the blob is. Once the nail is in you can take off the paper, and hang and level the frame.

If you are using command strips, simply place your command strip on the frame, line up the bottom center of the frame with the mark on wall, remove the paper and stick! It’s definitely easier (and non damaging), but more expensive than nails.

Step 5: Hang, Level and Enjoy!

I like to wait to hang the photos until all the nails are in so that the hammering doesn’t disturb the other photos. Whip out your handy dandy level (or phone level app) and hang your pictures. Enjoy your stairwell photo gallery every time you walk up and down your stairs! I have to say it makes such a statement right when you walk through the door now! In this photo, I hadn’t gotten all my photos printed from Staples yet, but at least the frames were all hung!

How to plan a stairwell photo gallery
Enjoy your memories every time you take the stairs!

So that is how to plan your stairwell photo gallery the right way! Less mistake holes in the wall, a more cohesive look overall and well spaced out. As much as I love a random photo collage, having some symmetry and balance creates a more aesthetically pleasing look overall.

Comment Below if you’ve tried this method and how it worked for you!


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