A Thrift Store Frame Gallery Wall

My latest venture in frugal home decorating was my thrift store gallery wall.  It was inspired by this post of my favorite blog, Young House Love.  It was also inspired by my sister, who will frame just about anything.

Sadly, I do not have pictures of the step-by-step process because this project was pre-blog.  But the good news is I have been commissioned by my sister to re-create the frame-tastic wall above her couch when I visit in December, and I promise to give you pics of all the gritty details.

How I did it:

1.) Start with a base.  I started with three nice, matching frames from Target with large mats that I had already hanging on the wall.  They were great, but the arrangement was flat and boring me to death.  I took them down, but promised to give them a new home and laid them lovingly in the garage.  The large, clean, matching frames gave me the anchor I needed to pull off my mis-matching frame situation.

2.) Thrift.  I went to my favorite thrift store  on Super Sunday (40% off day) and dug obsessively through the frame section.  I was looking for a square frames of varying sizes, preferably with white mats.  That’s what gives it the gallery look.  Well, I found some with and some without.  I also unearthed some real gems, I tell you.  Pale pink south-westerned themed prints from 1992 totally remind me of the den my dad wallpapered in our house in 6th grade.  But I didn’t care about that because I was looking at the frame potential, my friends!

3.) Deconstruct.  Once I had gathered about 17-ish frames, I called it a day and headed home to assess my find-age.  I turned on my favorite HGTV show while baby girl was napping and pulled the frames apart, one by one.  I quickly realized that the backs of many of the frames were stapled on, so I had to dig around and find a needle-nose pliers and got crazy pulling staples.

4.) Make Templates and Go Nuts.  Later that evening, I raided David’s office for some paper on which I could make some nifty templates.  I hit the jackpot when I found a giant Post-It pad.  (I was prepared to use notebook paper or newspaper inserts.).  I traced each frame and cut it out.  This actually didn’t take as long as I thought it would.  Now, for the fun part.  I grabbed my blue painter’s tape and got busy arranging my templates on the wall.  I went for a “clumped towards the middle” look.  The closer the frames were placed together, the better it looked.  I also liked the smaller frames placed towards the outside. Once I had found a satisfactory arrangement, I called it a night and decided to sleep on it.

6.) Number.  I got up the next morning and loved my arrangement.  BUT WAIT!  Frames were taking over my life, and I was having a hard time telling what was what.  I realized if I was going to paint them all one color, I would need a system. So, I grabbed a Sharpie and marked a number on each paper template, and wrote the same number on the back of the corresponding frame and it’s backing, making sure the glass/backing was tucked safely back inside the frame.  It took a lot of self control to stop the creative process and get organized, but let me tell you, it was a life saver.

7.) Paint.  That afternoon I threw down a drop cloth in my back yard, took the glass out of the frames, and laid those babies out.  (It took me about 3-4 cans of white gloss spray paint to do the whole project.)  I chose white because I have narrow hallway and I didn’t want to take it over with anything too dark and heavy.  The key to spray paint is not to spray too close, and to keep the arm a-movin’ to avoid drippage.  I did a couple of coats and once they were dry, I moved them into the garage to set up overnight.

8.) Reconstruct.  I reconstructed the art-less frames and got them ready to hang on the wall.  Remember how I deconstructed some of the frames by taking staples out of the back?  I had to get creative and use good old masking tape to attach them back on.  It was easy and worked great.  And no one will ever know.  (Except now you do….’cause I posted it on the internet.)

9.) Hang the Blanks.  The frames were hung back on the wall sans art so I could get a good idea of what I wanted to put in them.  This is when reality hit me.  I couldn’t hang some of the frames how I had planned (portrait vs. landscape), because the sawtooth brackets were located on the adjacent side of the frame.  Wasn’t thinking about THAT when I was going crazy with my templates. That is when I added “self-leveling sawtooth brackets” to my Michael’s list.  I wanted my pictures hung, and hung right. (Yep. and found out the nails for attaching those brackets to the frame are super-microscopic!   I don’t have a picture here yet, but I will soon be providing a visual on how I used a comb and a piece of tape to hold the nail in place while I used the hammer.   If I was smart, I probably would have looked for self-attaching, nail-less ones, but… live and learn.)

10.) Start with a Theme:  This is when I made a phone call to my favorite design consultant, my sister, to get some idea of where to start with the artsy. She suggested the base of my arrangement could be varying patterns of scrapbook paper within my blue/green/yellow color palette, mixed with black and white pieces.  So baby girl and I paid a visit to the wonderful world of the Michael’s scrapbook paper aisle and we were not disappointed.  Plentiful $.59 eye candy with limitless possibilities.  We were both drooling.  (Maybe hers was the teething.)

11. Gather the Goods:  I challenged myself to fill my frames with free or less than $1.00 art pieces.   We scavenged through the house and found an array of goodies.  Here is the eclectic-ness that we framed:

  • Copied sheet music from David’s old music theory workbooks.  I did two of these.
  • One of my thrift finds was a small, framed mirror
  • Favorite scripture.  I loved this idea, but I wasn’t as happy with the visual outcome.  I’m still tweaking this one.
  • Clippings of sprigs and leaves from fake plants around the house.  Yes, I took a scissor to my fake plants. It was fun.  I did two of these also.
  • Family photos mounted on scrapbook paper, both black and white and color.
  • 5’x7″ Ikea prints of lemons and limes I had tucked away in my garage.  I picked them up one day on a whim and never found a satisfactory home for them…till this very beautiful moment.
  • A black and white photo of a flower I dug up while “deconstructing” my thrift store frames
  • Plain ol’ framed scrapbook paper.  At first I thought it would look weird, but as it turns out, it was perfect.  It contributed to the overall look of the gallery wall as one big piece of art.  The poppy colors were so what I needed.
  • Paint chip art.  Now this was my crowning moment.  I had one last frame to fill, and nothing to fill it with.  I wanted free and I wouldn’t rest till I got it. While sifting through our library to find book pages to steal,  I remembered this article from Young House Love about making free art from paint chips and decided to give it a go.  I ran over to my local hardware place and grabbed a handful of chips in my color theme.  I then made a cool discovery, which is that some paint chips have perforated circles in the center of the chip.  Which means…you can punch them out with your finger and you have a perfectly formed little circle of color.  I lined them up into three little rows and glued them down, for mod-looking gallery piece.  It was love at first sight.
I wish I could tell you that my careful planning resulted in a few neatly selected nail holes scattered across the wall. But no. The frames were re-arranged and tweaked one or seven times, leaving a bunch of of nail holes lingering in the shadows. Well, whatcha gonna do.  Out of sight, out of mind, I say.  Even free art has a price. One thing I didn’t get to use was buttons, but I will save that for a rainy day.  So, I’m wondering, from one frugalista to another, anyone have ideas of cheap or free things to frame?  Do you have any budget gallery wall inspiration to share?  I’m compiling a “things to frame” list for all my frugalistas and I need YOUR ideas!

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  • Nikki

    Ok, Missy Faye….absolutely wonderful. What about painting the bottom of baby girls foot/hand and stamping it? Especially on some scrapbook paper with greyish light background, even a print) That would be fun!…I thought for a kitchen that cereal box covers, cracker box, etc could be kinda cute… My favorite framed artwork is pictures my kids did in school….framed them art gallery style with cheap Walmart poster frames. ~Great job….

    • Rachael

      Ooooh good one! Hey I may use that for the nursery. It’s going on my list of “Cheap or Free Things to Frame!”

  • Faye Pillow

    I have a keepsake box of cards I’ve saved over the years and sometimes I go through it and hang the cards up. Wedding ones can be especially cute. And sometimes I buy cute cards to frame. Trader Joe’s cards are only a dollar.

  • Rachael

    Really? Col! I will be checking at Trader Joe’s! I just got bored and put some new Ikea prints in!