Those beautiful summer vacation photos are in a cardboard box. Somewhere.
The souvenirs you picked up on that overseas trip years ago are jumbled in a drawer.
Your collection of (fill in the blank) is in the kitchen cupboard.
Why not showcase these personal treasures and create great art at the same time?
One clever way to do it is to mount shelves or frames on a wall and fill them with whatever pleases you. Decorators call it a salon wall, and it has origins in 17th century Paris, when the Royal Academy held exhibitions, or “salons,” to showcase student work. Their art would be mounted in a closely knit configuration.
A visually balanced arrangement is what you’re after, says New York interior designer Elaine Griffin.
“It’s the eclecticism – photos with found objects, for example – that makes it beautiful and stylish,” she says. “Every element should speak to you or tell you a story.”
To create a salon wall, plan carefully. Lay out the arrangement on the floor first, and then transfer it from the floor to the wall, piece by piece.
“Start at the center of the composition and work your way outward, a little bit in each direction, left, right, up, down,” Griffin says.
Spacing doesn’t need to be the same around all objects, but it can look better when it’s equal around an individual element. Use a geometric shape – square, circle, triangle or diamond – as a loose basis for your arrangement. Create an axis in the center of the wall, a focal point from which all the elements radiate, Griffin advises. Laying the idea out on a template – a piece of art paper on which you draw the shapes – will help consolidate the finished look.
“It’s nice if you have the entire collection for a wall ready to hang at once, but you don’t have to – you can install as you collect,” Griffin says.
David Kassel, a collage artist in New York City, creates salon walls for designers like Bunny Williams, Jamie Drake and Jeffrey Bilhuber. Through his company, ILevel, he’ll put up anything a client gives him, but also offers his own collections: exotic turtle shells, vintage medicine bottles, colorful plates, even a framed set of 1940s Rorschach ink blots.
“For small objects you can use shadow boxes. Sconces are a wonderful way to display bottles, vases, rocks or any three dimensional objects. You can choose from simple contemporary wall wedges or more traditional options like carved, gold-leaf sconces,” Kassel says.
If you want to turn your wall into a photo gallery, hanging the pictures without frames creates a clean look that lets the pictures pop, says Jeff Southard, a spokesman for Collagewall.com, which helps clients create photo walls. Avoid hanging several versions of the same picture, he says; instead, use a variety of close-ups, action shots, etc.
“Given the choice between a perfect bland photo and a flawed, energetic one, go for the lively one,” Southard says.
“Don’t be afraid to exhibit your passion. Cars, kids, architecture – even good food. When guests come over, you can talk about something you love.”
San Francisco photographer Jason Rodman, for example, mounted a series of black-and-white images of the city on his wall. In Seattle, Sara Shrader’s pride in her two baseball-loving sons led her to take photos of their various team caps over the years. She created a collage wall that included pictures of the boys in action.
A company like Picturewall.com provides templates for rectangular and stairway displays, and sends a kit that includes wood frames and acid-free mats. You just drop in your photos.
Kassel says such displays should continue to evolve.
“Families grow, important events continue to happen, collections change over time,” he says. “A great salon wall is never finished.”
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