How to hang your own hall of heroes (& why you ought to have one)

While in the car for 26 hours during our trip to and from Oregon, I tore through books. I was pounding them. It was heaven.

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One of the books I cruised through was Living with What You Love: Decorating with Family Photos, Cherished Heirlooms, and Collectibles. Its focus was this: Get the important stuff on display in your home. And among the most important things, it was clear, were family photos.

One of my favorite family photos—my great-great grandparents with my sweet grandma (smack dab in the center)

Author and photographer Monica Rich Kosann recommended hanging or displaying current and historical shots in hallways, bedrooms, bathrooms, bookcases, and more. She explained that these photos will naturally become conversation starters for guests, but more importantly, they’ll be a good way to hand down family stories to your children and grandchildren.

The book images that resonated with me most were those of stairways lined with photos. I know I recently wrote about the death of the gallery wall, but I have a gallery display in the first section of my stairway, and I’m prepped and ready to hang more photos in the second section of stairs (but that’s all, and that’s plenty!).

Since before I was a mother, I knew someday I wanted to have a hall of heroes—some place in my home where I could hang photos of inspiring folks from George Washington all the way down to my parents and in-laws. So I’m prepping for this now, and here’s the look I’m going for:

via—this photo is so perfect, and I can’t find the original source, so I’m wondering if it’s a catalog shot. I know this isn’t a stairway gallery, but I love the warm natural mats with B&W photos. And have I ever mentioned slate blue is one of my truest loves?

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If you’re planning your own hall of heroes, just a couple tips:

• Get some lighting on the wall. Hardwire it if you can, but battery-operated picture lights aren’t a bad option either. Not only will this illuminate photos, but the extra light will prevent the hall or stairwell from feeling crowded and overwhelming—not to mention it will keep your stairs safer!

• There are at least a million tutorials for hanging art gallery style, and I’ve tried quite a few of the tricks. My favorite approach is a hybrid of many things I’ve read: Choose two or three pieces of art similar in size (if you really want this to be a no-brainer, choose a few identical frames and put your photos in these).

Then, hang these in the center of your wall, and if you’re going up the stairs with your photos, stagger them by following the angle of the stairway for a similar stair-step effect in your art. Decide how much space you want between these central photos (I like two inches myself), then make sure every piece of art you add is spaced two inches from the frames next to it. The photo below gives you an idea of what I mean—see how those two big white frames are staggered?

I have also traced the frames on cheap wrapping paper, cut out the rectangles, and pinned the paper to the wall to determine placement, and I like that approach too.

• Lastly, don’t stress this too much. Hanging art isn’t rocket science, but for some reason, people are real freaked out about putting nail holes in walls. I promise you can do this, and if it isn’t perfect, no one will notice. Better to have the photos on the wall than in a box somewhere.

I’ll have some “after” photos to share this fall, but in the meantime, I’ll be editing photos and choosing frames for my stairway. I can’t wait to show you some of my favorites and share their stories too.   •

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