In my mother’s lexicon, we call a gallery wall “The Smithsonian Institution.” The best gallery walls tell a story about the people they surround, like a museum of  lives.

They can seem tough, but I’ve found nine steps to making a wall pretty and personal.

This is the gallery in our upstairs loft, which my mom helped me assemble from things I’ve collected over the years. (The camera angle makes the silhouettes seem higher than everything else, but they’re even with the eagle on the mirror in the middle.)

Step One: Limit yourself to two or three colors of frames. Mine are white and black with silver accents.

Step Two: Choose a large centerpiece to anchor the wall, like this bullseye mirror I found in an antique store.

Step three: Choose things that are round or oddly shaped, especially things that have unusual texture, like aged metal or wicker or yellowing paper. This metal horse is a vintage piece from FOUND.

Step four: Add a few vintage keepsakes to make the assemblage look collected instead of bought, as well as adding in meaning. This hat was my Granna’s, from the ’40s.

Step Five: Dig around the garage for things that tell your story. At my sister Heidi’s house, we unearthed her husband’s deflated football and hung it on the wall, along with a favorite baby outfit.


Step six: Almost anything that means something to you looks good in a frame. I dressed up this old varsity letter, because my T was a jock.

I found this greeting card when Tyson and I were first dating, hoping he might be more.

Photo booth pictures? You bet. This was from the best Halloween Marni and I had in New York City a few years back. We danced on tables at the Standard Hotel.

Step eight: Lay out your treasures on the floor in front of your wall. Get the spacing between the pictures as even as you can. Balance round and small, light frames and dark, on each side of your arrangement. Start hanging them up.

Step seven: Hang something in an unusual way — not from the usual hook or nail. Try an oversized coat bracket, or one of those pretty Anthropologie hooks. I used a boat cleat and ship’s rope from ACE Hardware to hang my Granna’s old dating journal.

Step eight: Add something with major three-dimensional texture to break up the flat plane, like these paper antlers from West Elm.

Step nine: Make sure that it’s filled with things that mean something to you, like this drawing my editor did of my Grandpa,and old librettos from the Metropolitan Opera in New York. This is your chance to show off things that you love but don’t know what to do with.

Some contenders:

*Vintage family photos

*Maps of places you’ve lived

*The matchbox from your honeymoon hotel or favorite neighborhood restaurant

*A love note from your kid

*Your wedding invitation

*Your parents’ wedding invitation

*Framed jewelry inherited from a grandmother.

*Diplomas and awards

*Baby photos of everyone in the family — even you.

At the bottom of my wall, I added vintage letters that spell out “Proud,” which is how I feel about everything in that space — family, friends, experiences, and love.