The Long, Dark Hallway
When designing our home, we knew we didn’t want the very popular open-concept floorplan. We wanted the kitchen to be its own space with a separate living room, dining room, etc. just like an old farmhouse would have. So, in order to do all of these separate rooms, it was clear early on, that we would have to have a long, potentially dark, hallway. Like 20 feet long. I did everything I could in the designing phase to bring natural light into the space which helped, but it was still somewhat dark and a lot of empty wall space. We added three pendant lights and decided that it would be the perfect spot for a gallery wall. This long hallway is now one of my favorite spaces in our home.
When I started on the project, I knew I wanted it to look like a wall my grandmother had in her ranch/farmhouse. In my memory, the wall was FULL of photos from important times in their family and charming pictures of my mom and her seven siblings as children. I spent so much time as a child and young adult, looking at those pictures and imagining life “way back then”. Eventually, as we got older, pictures of us as children were added. After she had passed on, I felt a longing to have something similar in my own home.
How We Did It For Less – Step One: Collect Frames and Mats Like a Hoarder
So, how did we do it? It became clear right away that if I wanted enough pictures to fill up our 20 ft. wall, I’d have to find a way to get frames and mats on the cheap! I went back and forth between purchasing cheap frames online that were not of very high quality or going the thrift store route. I decided that I could get quality frames if I were picky and figured it would add more character if they weren’t all matching and had a piece of history themselves. So off to the thrift stores I went. And went and went and went. By the time I was done with this project, Jeff was convinced I was a hoarder and all of the cashiers at the thrift stores knew me by name.
Step Two: Dismantle Frames and Collect Mats
After I collected my frames, I took everything apart. I piled the mats into one spot and piled the frames with the glass still inside to another spot. I then wiped all of the wood frames with Old English wood oil to bring back their beauty and shine. Then out to the porch I went with the mats…
Step Three: Spray Paint Your Multi-colored Mats
At first, I worried that this may not work, but I’ve tried this method in past with great success, so I took my chances. I used Rustoleum’s Satin Antique White for this project. When I was finished, the mats looked brand new! My bit of advice on this step is to take your time and not get too close with the spray paint. I’d say stay at least 12 inches away from your mat as you spray and give them at least three good coats. If you do it in the summer months like I did, they will dry very quickly between coats so this shouldn’t take long. I let all of the mats dry outside for a few hours and then brought them inside. It was amazing seeing old, ugly mauve or hunter green mats turn into beautiful, classic antique white before my eyes!
Step Four: Print Your Photos
Like I said before, I had hundreds of photos I wanted to frame so this was quite a job. I knew that I needed to have control over the size and quality of my photos so I opted to use my Canon home printer. I purchased glossy photo paper and plenty of black ink (I decided to make all of my photos black and white) and printed away. This option worked for me because if I wanted to change a photo to fit into a specific frame or just wanted to focus on one person in the photo, I could make the changes easily. It would have been such a headache to try and have the photos printed professionally. I saved a lot of money and stress doing it this way and the photos look great!
Step Five: Clean Glass and Assemble Your Frames
Now the fun begins. I first matted all of the photos and found frames that fit in each one. There is probably a more organized way to do this but, this is what worked best for my brain. Once all of the pictures were matted and framed, I quickly washed the glass and put them into piles according to their size and shape. Finally, it was time to hang them!
Step Five: Hang Your Pictures
This is the point that I thought I might have a panic attack. Had I done too many pictures? Was it going to be too busy? How in the world was I going to hang all of these things?! After breathing into a paper sack and rocking back and forth in my closet for an hour (I’m kidding- that is a great description of how I felt), My sidekick Brittany (who is my sister-in-law and has to love me even when I am psychotic) started with a plan to space out the largest frames first and then build on from there. If you are planning to do this, you may want to be more strategic and really plan it out. I knew that I wanted it to look like an old gallery wall that had been added on to over the years. So, that meant that the pictures did not need to be spaced or lined up to perfection. We used a level to make sure the pictures went on straight but beyond that, we did most of it by what we thought looked good.
Step Six: Enjoy Your Meaningful Wall
What used to be a long, dark hallway has turned into one of my favorite spaces in our home. As I walk those twenty feet multiple times throughout my day, I can’t help but feel that those who have gone before me are cheering me on. I glance at pictures of my mom as a young mother and smile knowing that if she did it, I can too. I love to see pictures of Jeff’s family. One picture in particular of his grandpa as a young man looks just like him! Our kids naturally want to know about all of these people so talks about our families’ history happen all the time.
This summer we hosted Jeff’s family for a reunion and had the unexpected treat of hosting Jeff’s Grandma (affectionately known as Great Grandma Lawrence). We watched as she roamed the hall, tears streaming down her face, looking and laughing as memories flooded back. She happily shared stories from many of the photos with us. It is now such a beautiful memory for all that were lucky enough to be there!
I hope this has been helpful to you! It was a lot of work but seriously worth it. I figured that if I had bought each frame and mat new, I would have easily paid a couple thousand dollars. The total for this project including ink and photo paper was just over $300. Not bad for something that has become priceless for us!