Architecture and Design

Building a Gallery Wall with Jennifer Nestlerode

Southwestern décor doesn't have to be all terracotta and turquoise. Just ask local blogger Jennifer Nestlerode, an ASU student and Phoenix transplant who's determined to prove that you don't have to stock up on cacti and cowboy hats to channel Arizona's signature outlaw earthiness.

Nestlerode's latest home project, a Southwest-inspired gallery wall, fuses a major decor trend with a modern desert theme. 

We asked the crafty blogger to show us how she assembled the distinct (and inexpensive) display.

1. Decide on a theme. 

The pieces on your wall need to have some connection, whether it's a color or concept. If you don't quite know what your décor style is, Nestlerode recommends taking quizzes from Ethan Allen or HomeGoods. She collected inspiration from IKEA catalogues and, yes, Pinterest

The rule to remember: Begin the process with a vision. Even if the colors or concepts in your pieces are dissimilar, pick a standard color or concept for the frames. 

Nestlerode took us to Goodwill to show us how she picked her frames. (Hint: Watch Goodwill's Twitter and Facebook for frequent 50-percent-off-everything sales.) 

Stay focused on your theme, she says, but don't limit yourself. Nestlerode wanted all her frames to be gold or wood grain, but she knew that if she found a blue frame with a great shape, she could just spray paint it. 

2. Plan out how you want your wall to look. 
Going for a classic, elegant style? Plan a square or rectangular layout with flush edges, Nestlerode says. If your style is more eclectic, you'll want a free-form organic display. Decide what kind of frames you want -- you can go big, small, round, square, rectangular, or create a combination of shapes. Decide whether you want to include 3D objects, like Nestlerode's awesome skulls (nabbed from her relative's antique shop). 

​Do you want to hang the objects right onto the wall, or are you going to need a floating shelf? Try sketching out your plan ahead of time, and take an inventory of your pieces before buying their frames so you know what sizes to look for. 

3. Assess what you can use from what you already have. 
"Planning ahead of time certainly helps, but some of the best ideas come from being spontaneous and using what you already have," Nestlerode says. 

Go through knick-knacks and old family photos to see if any can fit your theme. Use your artsy friends as resources. (Nestlerode's fiance, an ASU School of Art graduate, traded work with some of his classmates.) 

The couple made a serious, budget-conscious effort to build their wall from materials they already had; the whole wall cost them less than $30.

4. Thrift for the frames and pieces. 
Go to Goodwill. Then go to more Goodwills. (Aim for the East Valley or Sun City.) Don't stress if you can't find a frame for a particular photo or print, Nestlerode says. You can always float it on fabric, canvas or paper backing. 

"Try not to see an object from Goodwill in its current state -- think about the potential that it has," she says. 

Nestlerode also recommends taking day trips to Globe or Jerome to explore antique shops that aren't as picked over as Phoenix shops. She's even purchased pieces from 20x200, the online mecca for inexpensive art. 


5. Lay everything out on the floor before you put any nails in the wall. 
Don't nail anything into your wall until you're sure of the layout, Nestlerode says. When you're planning the display, start at the midpoint and spread out. Make sure the arrangement is balanced in shape and color -- unless you're going for a gradient-style layout. 

Here are her steps
Lay the frames facedown on the floor. Cover them with a sheet of butcher paper, and use a pen to mark where the nail holes need to go on your wall. Tape the butcher paper on the wall, drive nails through the pen marks and pull away the butcher paper when you're done. 

Then, hang 'em up. 

Check out Nestlerode's blog for more details on her pieces and method.

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Jessica Testa