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How to Display Antique Photos in a DIY Gallery Wall

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Do you wonder what to do with old photos? My mom came to me with an idea in her mind and hundreds of antique photographs and we put together a plan to display them. Here is a creative and affordable way for how to display antique photos (or any photo) with a DIY vintage photo wall!

Antique photos in a bedroom gallery wall.

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How to Display Antique Photos

My mom loves antique photographs. She has figured out what to do with old photos with many creative ways to display them throughout her home. She has shared ways to display photos without frames by stacking them as a collection, creating a vintage photo wall collage, and now, in a gallery!

One of the biggest challenges to displaying old photos is that they are all oddball sizes. Standardized photo sizes (4×6, 5×7, 8×10) didn’t become the norm until modern day. So, all of the hundreds of antique photos in my mom’s collection are individually sized.

That meant that she would have to buy custom frames for all of them!

Over 70 photos with custom framing would have cost $1,500- $2,000. Instead, we made our own for $120 worth of wood and a ton of work. But it was worth it!

Let’s build some frames.

How to Build DIY Picture Frames

This beginner friendly DIY project is simple, yet tedious. We decided to save even more money by adhering the frames directly to the drywall. This eliminated the need for picture frame backs and glass.

If we were to build out full frames with glass and backing, it would have become much more expensive and complicated.

Bed full of antique photos.

So while this method might not work for everyone’s situation, it worked for us!

Materials Needed

For this project, you will need:

Basic steps to build over 70 custom frames!

Here are the basic steps we took to build over 70 custom frames!

Framing an antique photo.
  • Purchase small trim moulding for your frames.
  • Pre-paint your trim.
  • Measure each individual photo on the sides, top and bottom. You will be placing your trim directly on top of the edges of the photos so that the outside edge of the trim is lined up with the outside edge of the photo.
  • Cut your moulding with mitered corners to each measurement.
  • Level your photo and first trim piece on the wall.
  • Nail the trim directly into the wall (through the top of the photo). This will hold the photo to the wall.
  • Level and nail the rest of the three trim pieces until you’ve built your frame around the photo.
  • Caulk the seams and corners.
  • Fill the nail holes with wood putty and sand.
  • Touch up any paint as needed.

Frame details in an antique photo gallery wall.

We absolutely love how it turned out! Many methods for creating a gallery wall would call for pre-planning the layout and placement.

How to display antique photos in a gallery wall.

However, with over 70 photos that she wanted to include, it was simply too complicated to choose a layout ahead of time.

Instead, we moved from the middle out to the edges. She chose her favorite photos to be placed in the middle at eye level since they would be most seen.

Then, we worked out from there on both sides like a jigsaw puzzle. Let’s just call it antique photo tetris.

Antique photo layout.

Along the way, we pinned up photos so we could play with placement before nailing anything in permanently.

We also chose to leave some of the photos with stiff backing without a frame to add some interest to the wall.

Troubleshooting The Project

Since this is a very untraditional way to build a picture frame, we had to troubleshoot some issues along the way.

Finished wall of antique photos.

First, each photo is unique in the way that it is matted (or not), the thickness of the paper, and the sizing. Most of the photos were not exactly equal side to side and top to bottom.

So we did have to get creative with caulking seams that weren’t perfect.

Caulking seams on an antique photo frame.

We also had to eyeball some of the photos to be level rather than actually using a level. This was because some of the antique photos had been matted with glue and were crooked themselves. So if we were to level them, they would look crooked. This was a simple enough issue to correct.

Concern Over Photo Deterioration

One of the concerns we considered before even starting the project is how this method of framing would impact the photos themselves. There were a few things to consider:

  1. This method does nail through the outside edges of the photos.
  2. Light exposure
  3. No glass protecting them from being touched or bumped
In process gallery wall.

Being an avid collector of antique photos, my mom decided she would rather risk small holes in the edges of the photos and actually see them daily, than have them in a box under her bed the rest of her life! This is obviously a personal choice and something to consider.

How to display antique photos in a gallery wall.

Removal Down the Road

Another concern we considered is how these would need to be removed down the road if she ever tired of the antique photo gallery wall. Or, if they moved.

Finished antique photo gallery wall.

Let’s just say, it’s going to be a lot of nail holes to fill. We will need to score and remove the caulk and then pry each side of the frames off the wall. The photos will not be harmed since we didn’t use any adhesive in this project. But it will still be a lot of work!

How to display antique photos on a large wall.

But it is worth it to bring mom’s vision to life!

Bedroom decorated with antiques.
Vintage photo wall.

Vintage Bedroom Decor

In addition to figuring out how to display antique photos in her bedroom, mom also added a focal point wall behind the bed.

My dad built out an arch design paired with board and batten to frame the bed.

Arch board and batten.

Then, we added wallpaper to the arch and above the board and batten to span the room.

Her entire bedroom turned out so lovely and has an amazing vintage design style.

Arch with wallpaper.

Vintage bedroom decorations.

Stay Connected

I hope you enjoyed seeing this project come to life! This method would work as a creative and affordable way to display photos, old family portraits, artwork, or anything that requires a custom frame. You just need to weigh the pros and cons on the project to see if it’s right for you!

Thanks for stopping by the blog today. Make sure to subscribe to my newsletter for all the insider perks! You can also follow along with me daily on Instagram and weekly on YouTube to see projects come to life live.

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How to Display Antique Photos in a DIY Gallery Wall

14 Comments

  1. not sure i could have taken on that project, but it is honestly one of the most beautiful, sentimental decorating endeavors ever!! it is dramatic and beautiful and sweet. the whole room is a sanctuary, may your mom enjoy!! you should be proud!

  2. That is a lot of work but good for your mom, history and pictures are something that should be shared. So many times pictures are left in boxes and yes handed down in great shape to the next generation but with no story behind them. They then become just antiques not family history that stays alive. It is beautiful.

  3. My parents passed away a few years ago and I found some old antique photos,.Some like your moms and some on tin. I have no idea who they are. I also have some blue and white China that belonged to my grandmother. I displayed a few of those pieces with an old photo in a guest bedroom. It turned out great. I loved the old frame . Thanks for sharing your mothers love of older things.

  4. Such fun to see and hear the Tetris vintage photo wall. Sure turned out well…and so much better than in a box under a bed!

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