Displaying Photos at Home: The Dining Room

Guest blogger: Allison Patel


Everyone has their favorite vacation spot. Whether it’s OBX or Smith Mountain Lake, Atlantic City, Key West, or Myrtle Beach, you know that certain place that makes your soul happy every time you visit. That spot for me is New York City. As cliche’ as it is, I really do heart NYC. I love the architecture, the distinctly different feelings that each borough and neighborhood convey, the food – holy wow the food. I love spending time in the City, and want to remember those feelings, the tastes, sights, and smells (most of them) long after I’ve come home. Each time I go to New York, I take my camera, I shoot photos to my heart’s content, and then come home and forget about them in the hustle and bustle of getting back into the groove of non-vacation life.
It wasn’t until I was doing research for 5 Ways to Display Vacation Photos back in July that I realized that I should be doing something with all of those vacation photos.

That realization was the inspiration for a new series on my blog that starts this month. We’re going to go room by room throughout the house and determine the best methods for displaying photos at home. We’ll talk about the different factors that go into deciding what to hang where, and tips for planning and hanging for each room.


Starting us off will be the dining room, the new home of my NYC vacation gallery. There were some practical reasons why I chose the dining room, and why I chose the sizes of the photos I did. The dining room already had two big blank walls, which I had been struggling to do anything with (for the last five years). At some point after we moved in, I had hung a large 16×20″ print, framed and matted in a 20×24″ frame, of New York, New York, the theme hotel in Las Vegas. At the time, I hung it to make the dining room seem less empty, because I already had the print sitting around the house. So, it made sense to continue to fill this massive wall in the dining room with my New York photos. Because I wanted to add some variety to the gallery, I looked for some New York-inspired art prints by other artists. I went to Etsy and ordered a print called “The Big City” and a 1950’s Braniff Airways print, which add graphic elements and a pop of drama to my photo gallery.


In determining the sizes of the photos I wanted to print, I first went through the house and gathered up the frames I already had that weren’t in use, and that fit my decor (a crystal wedding-themed frame would not have fit my décor. I went for simple black frames). I had several 4×6″ and 5×7″ frames that would work, but I didn’t have enough for all of the photos I wanted to include, so I went to Michael’s and searched their frame department for sales and clearance items that would work. I found a handful of frames for a steal, including some unfinished frames for $4 a piece that I can easily paint the color I want with some glossy acrylic paint. Even if I don’t use them all in the dining room, there are lots of other rooms where I can use them – or I could even use them for Christmas presents in a couple of months.

I then ordered the photos I wanted to hang, in the right sizes, from an online photo lab. My favorite lab for prints is Richmond Camera, because the color and tone is nearly identical to what I see on my computer monitor, and I can count on the pictures to come back looking how I expect them to look. Plus, they’re a local small business, so I feel better giving them my dollars than a big chain store like Walmart or Walgreens.

Once I had my prints and my frames, I needed to determine the layout on the wall without knocking a ton of holes in my dining room wall. I pulled out a couple of paper bags I had saved from the grocery store, cut them down one seam so they laid flat, and then placed the frames flat-side-down on the bags. I traced around each frame, cut out the shapes and then started arranging them on the wall in the dining room around my focal point, which was the large print of New York, New York. I used blue painter’s tape with the cutouts so I could take them off the wall and rearrange them easily without damaging the wall paint.


Once I was happy with the layout, I added a very small amount of tape to the back of each photo and hung them on the cutouts so I could see how the pictures and prints all looked together on the wall.


Then all that was left was to add nails, put the pictures in the frames, and hang. Voila!


You might notice in the above photo that A) I switched the top and bottom frames on the left of the gallery – it felt more balanced with the landscape-oriented print on the bottom; and B) some of the frames are crooked. We’re going to address how to fix that in December’s post, when we move to the family room.

A couple of tips for making your own mixed-print gallery:

  1. Choose how formal or casual you want the gallery to be. We’re not super formal in my house, and our decor matches our attitude. Galleries with frames that are exactly the same in every way feel very formal, and wouldn’t go with the rest of my house very well. By choosing some frames that are a little different, I added some texture and visual interest for a more casual, “found” feel. Because the frames are the same color, the gallery still feels cohesive.
  2. Larger walls typically call for larger prints. While I could have filled all of these spaces on the wall with 4×6″ or 5×7″ prints, because the wall is so wide, the gallery would have looked busy and cluttered, with your eyes trying to find a focal point. By having one print that is larger than all the others, your eye is drawn to that first, and then move out to the other photos, which allows you take in the gallery in smaller chunks. When we do a kitchen gallery next week, we’ll talk about the exception to the “one huge photo to rule them all” rule.
  3. Stay grounded. Remember your audience when you’re placing your gallery on the wall. If you’re hanging your gallery in the dining room (like me), where most people will be sitting, you don’t want your gallery to go so high that viewers can’t see it without having to uncomfortably lean their heads back and look towards the ceiling. (Plus, then you have to continuously watch out for cobwebs along your ceiling line, because they’ll be really easy to see by people looking up.) Go eye level or just slightly above for rooms where the viewer will be sitting, or in small rooms where you can’t see the art from farther away.

I hope my rundown and tips are helpful if you are looking to update your dining room or add a photo gallery to your home. It doesn’t have to be hard, and if it means bringing a little more personality into your space, then I call that a win-win.

Now, go forth and create your own special-place gallery. Where is your favorite happy-soul vacation spot that is worthy of a gallery of memories in your home?


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Allison Patel is a lifestyle family and maternity photographer, and loves using Allison Patel Photography to meet new people and explore new places around Richmond. When she’s not working or taking pictures, she enjoys cheering for the Rams and the Hokies, and blogs weekly at allisonpatelphoto.com.

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