I wanted to make a family photo wall for years, and finally got around to it during the particularly strong nesting phase of my second pregnancy. I’ll be honest—it was a huge pain, took much longer than I expected, and made me temporarily resentful of the friends and family housed within the frames. (Lookin’ pretty smug there, Grandma. Don’t you judge me.) But once complete, it was happy and homey, and my kids both loved looking at the photos every day on their way up and down the stairs.
Here’s a step-by-step guide that streamlines the process, sans the stops and starts I had along the way.
1.) Gather family photos together. Printing digital photos is easy enough, but I wanted wedding photos and other old pictures from our parents and grandparents, which required borrowing, scanning, and re-sizing photos. Give yourself some time for this step. (Like maybe over the course of a month.) I stuck to printing photos in 4 x 6 and 5 x 7 to keep it fairly uniform.
2.) Buy frames. Home improvement magazines and design shows would recommend buying identical frames. This is fine if you are doing 15 or fewer frames, but is way too expensive if you need enough frames to cover a hallway. I chose a standard color (black) and bought all the 4 x 6 and 5 x 7 frames I came across over a period of four months. I mostly purchased from Michael’s, Garden Ridge, Bed Bath & Beyond, and HomeGoods, because they had the cheapest options. It created a less uniform pattern overall, but I think the random assortment is more visually interesting.
3.) Prepare the frames. Remove the stickers from the front of the glass with a razor blade and, if any of those you purchased were also table frames, remove the easel back so it fits flat to the wall when hung.
4.) Frame the photos. Place the photos in frames, being mindful of whether or not you want a standard pattern (for instance, all wedding photos in 5 x 7 frames) or if there are any other groupings you will eventually want on the wall. I printed all wedding photos in 5 x 7 and black and white, but varied the frame styles.
5.) Plan the wall. Decide roughly how you’d like the photos to look. I measured 1″ above our chair rail, and then eyeballed a distance above the chair rail as a top line for the photos. I placed painter’s tape down the wall to definitively show the top line; the bottom line I measured each time before hanging a photo.
6.) Plan the assortment. This step takes forever, so plan accordingly. My wall had three segments—two standard rectangles at the bottom of the stairs (pictured above), and then the long, diagonal part of the wall above the stairs.
For the rectangles, I measured a piece of butcher paper in the dimensions of the area I wanted to fill with photos and played with the frames until I was happy with the design (below).
For the part of the wall that included the rise of the stairs, I used an angle finder (below) and a piece of wood to mimic the angle of the rise at the height where I roughly wanted to keep the top line of the frames. (I ditched the butcher paper for this step because the area was too large, but that would work just as well.)
Then I started filling it in with frames, playing around with different combinations and varying the assortment between black and white and color photos, eras of photos and the family members pictured.
I used my bedroom floor as my workspace because it was the widest open floor space I had. I spent about a week experimenting with different photo combinations and drove myself crazy–for no good reason. Save yourself this unnecessary step by approximating a combination that you think you like, snapping a photo of it, and looking at the photo later to see if it is a pleasing assortment. For some reason, looking at it in a photo rather than staring at the arrangement itself helps prevent eye swim.
7.) Transfer the plan to the wall. Once you have the layout perfected, the next step is to transfer it onto the wall. My husband and I hung the photos together, and it definitely went faster as a two-man operation. We started hanging the photos from the bottom, using the chair rail as our guide, and systematically transferred the frames from our layout to the wall, two frames at a time. We measured the distance between the photos in our layout, mimicked it on the wall, and built the design slowly but surely. (This took about six nights of working an hour at a time. It was painstaking, so doing it in shorter bursts was less frustrating.)
8.) Hang the frames. Measuring the distance between the frames was much harder once
hanging hardware was involved. It looked perfect on my model, but then the hanging hardware was two inches below where we wanted the top of the frame to hit. The solution: Tape a nail into the hanging hardware so it is sticking out, line the frame up where you want it, and then push the nail against the wall so it makes an indentation. Then hammer into that indentation.