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Cherry-red picture frames, balanced by more classic black ones, bring a sense of ordered chaos to an otherwise spare stairwell in this Brooklyn home. The bright frames both heighten the vibrant hues in the brighter photos and complement the softer, more faded tones of others. Smartly, designer Nick Olsen left the walls white to let this visual dynamic play out.
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Full-color images immediately take center stage in this otherwise white stairwell in the Miami home of fashion designer Naeem Khan. Styling this gallery setup with larger-scale images, frames that disappear into the walls, and a floor-to-ceiling arrangement gives viewers plenty to look at as they ascend the spiral staircase.
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New project for a new year: Display your favorite images of loved ones for the most personal gallery wall of all
Fashion tycoon Tory Burch displays family pictures on bookshelves in her Manhattan office using her signature sense of style, a mixture of playful eccentricity and tasteful restraint. Images of family members mingle easily with books, artful objets, and natural materials, all creating a dynamic that speaks volumes about her loves and interests.
Make your memories stand out with a wall-size display. In a Tiburon, California, home designed by Ann Lowengart, a black-and-white photo of the client’s children was blown up and used as wallpaper in the media room.
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Basic steps: Decide where you want your photo wall. “Because they do tend to look busy, I like to locate them in more private spaces, such as a hallway or bedroom,” says Mughannam.
Personal touches are what makes a house a home, and nothing does that quite as well as family photos and artworks. But finding ways to incorporate a photo display into an interior design can sometimes prove challenging. Color schemes, other art pieces, and overall atmosphere must be considered, not to mention the images themselves. Here, we take a look through the AD archives to see some of the best options for displaying family memories, from a gallery wall in Michael J. Fox’s home, to an artfully arrayed bookshelf in Tory Burch’s Manhattan office. From the mats to the frames, or lack thereof, and the possibilities for creative arrangement, there is endless opportunity to exhibit the truly priceless artworks in your collection.
The breakfast nook of magazine editor Darcy Miller Nussbaum’s Manhattan duplex comes alive with family memories set in tones of sepia and grayscale. The mix of frames in black, white, and gold not only integrates seamlessly with the room’s decor but adds a sense that the pictures have been collected over time.
How to display them? Interior designer Emily Mughannam of EM Design Interiors in Sonoma, California, says technology may change, but the desire to surround ourselves with family images seems to stay the same. “An interior should tell a story,” she says. “A photo wall can show us where we have been and where we are going. Frankly, when I’m in a home without one, it can feel a little sterile.” Whether you choose to do it yourself or hire a professional, once the photos are 2-D, the process of creating a photo wall can be decidedly low tech.
In keeping with the aesthetics of this hallway in the Manhattan home of actress Julianna Margulies, the black-and-white family pictures are first given breathing room with clean white mats, then warmed up with dark wood frames. The gallery-style arrangement, usually prone to visual inconsistency, is unified by a single ledge shelf below, accented with soft pink flowers.
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A desk in the library of George Stephanopoulos and Ali Wentworth’s New York apartment displays family photos next to an Emmy awarded to Stephanopoulos for his 2009 election coverage. This careful mix of items, including books, pens, and a zebra-print box, sits in front of a window with a view of Central Park.
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Why: Crookedly hanging a haphazard collection of random family photos is akin to spreading the contents of your junk drawer across the wall. A little thought can make a photo wall a work of art.
A Joan Miró etching, a Francesco Clemente painting, and plenty of family photographs are displayed on the windowsill of Diane Von Furstenberg’s New York penthouse. The unframed grouping feels fun and adds a casual vibe to the display of blue-chip art.
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Typical project length: Creating your own photo wall could be done in a weekend. To have photos professionally printed, framed and hung could take several weeks.
The architects at Slade Architecture in New York gave a family the ability to display a large number of photos in an asymmetrical display by lining a stair wall in metal, which allows the photos to be attached by magnets. The fact that they are all color images brings them together and makes a very personal work of abstract art.
In accessories designer Fiona Kotur’s Hong Kong home, James, left, and Rex do homework at the kitchen’s Saarinen table, under the gaze of bold and bright Simon Birch oil portraits of their younger brothers.
Who to hire: Although it’s a project that could lend itself to a DIY weekend, you can get a polished look with the help of an interior designer or a professional art hanger. If you want to resize, reprint or change the color of a large number of photographs, a photography lab can make quick work of it. You might also consider using the services of a professional framer.
Cost: Mughannam says a DIY installation can cost $300. A larger installation involving reprinting photos and having them professionally framed and hung could cost as much as $3,000 or more.
This photo wall, by Hufft Projects, for a home in Kansas City, Missouri, includes a wide variety of frames, but it has discipline because the outermost edges are aligned and the frames are spaced equidistantly.
In the family room of her Manhattan home, actress and model Brooke Shields displays photos of herself and her children, taken by photographers Annie Leibovitz and Robert Mapplethorpe, next to fine art photographs by the likes of Richard Avedon. The cabinets beneath the arrangement provide a wide ledge perfect for creating visual depth by overlapping frames of different sizes.
In this project from David Rausch Studio in Zionsville, Indiana, black and white family photos framed in the same scale and grid pattern as the nearby windows make a big architectural statement.
Mughannam has achieved similar results with magnetic paint, a primer with very fine iron particles that allows lightweight magnets to stick to the wall after the topcoat is applied. “This kind of paint can be tricky for homeowners to apply, because it takes many, many coats,” says Mughannam. “If you are doing it yourself, it is easier to deal with if you apply to a board and hang that on the wall.”
Ruby-red frames instantly pop against the teal walls of the top-floor office in music consultant Andrea Anson’s Manhattan townhouse. Family photos, set in monochromatic sepia hues, are saved from being mere wallflowers by the interplay of the two vibrant colors, as well as the absence of mats, which brings each picture’s subject that much closer to the bold chromatic the interplay of the two vibrant colors.
Next decide whether you want a grid or an asymmetrical display. No matter which you choose, Mughannam says uniting the pictures through a common element will give them a sense of order. That common element could be photograph color, frame color or image size. For example, you could have a lot of photos of different sizes together on a wall if they are all black and white.
How: To avoid having to constantly make room for more photos, and to create an instantly finished look, Mughannam will create a display using frames whose contents can be easily changed. “I hang all of the frames the family wants to use, even if I have to insert a landscape photo as a placeholder,” says Mughannam. “As the family grows and changes, they can add or swap out photos.”
No strangers to portraits, models Cindy Crawford and Rande Gerber hung four pictures—one of each family member—in a simple, equilateral grid on the wall of the sitting area of the master bedroom in their Baja, Mexico, home. Taken by Brian Bowen Smith, the black-and-white portraits are visually set off by strong black frames, a classic choice for grayscale images.
More: “When I hang photos myself, I use an easy trick,” says Mughannam. “I arrange the photos on a big sheet of kraft paper. When I have them as I want them, I trace them. I tape the paper to the wall with painter’s tape and use a nail to mark the spot where I want to place my hangers. I take the paper down and nail the hangers into the wall. It works great!”
The irregular arrangement of family photos in this living space mimics the lines of the rugged stonework to their left. This home, a farmhouse on Martha’s Vineyard, was designed to foster a light and airy feeling, an aesthetic mirrored by the wide, white mats on the photos.
Brooke Shields commissioned portraits of her daughters by the artist Will Cotton. The paintings hang on either side of the fireplace in the living room of her Manhattan home.
A gallery-style wall of family pictures is the focal point of this minimalist hallway in the Manhattan home of Michael J. Fox and Tracy Pollan. Using warm wood frames and clean white mats—an effective way to visually unify a wall of photos—showcases their collection of full-color and black-and-white images with elegance.
Family photos aren’t limited to living rooms. Why not put reminders of your loved ones in the kitchen? Family photos decorate the wall above a bar cart just beside the kitchen in Spencer Gervasoni and Austin Mill’s Hell’s Kitchen studio apartment.
Although Mughannam personally likes to use frames of the same color and size, she says it’s not the only option. “You can certainly hang a collection of vintage frames,” she says. “But I think it looks best if they are all the same distance apart.”
For this room in a San Francisco decorators’ showcase, Mughannam created a sweet asymmetrical display by using cool thumbtacks to affix pics directly to the wall in a heart shape. “The idea was that it was a room for a teenager. I thought that a teen would enjoy the ability to frequently and easily change her photos,” she says. “These days there are so many high-design thumbtacks on the market, it makes it easy to make a cool project where the tacks become part of the art.”
In the digital photo age, not only do most of us have cameras on us at all times, but we have printers that can turn them from pixels into paper. There’s been no formal study I can find, but it only stands to reason that people have more photographs of friends and family in their possession now than at any other time in history.