Curating a gallery wall with Ormiston House’s Ciara Denvir

Collecting artwork for your home is one of life’s great pleasures; they are items of pure pleasure, reminding you of people and places, happy moments and memories. However, while each piece you pick up might be treasured, collectively it takes some consideration to display them in a way that looks effortless. While often these compilations look spontaneous and haphazardly interesting, they usually take planning.

We’re taking a leaf out for Ciara Denvir’s book, whose Belfast home (and winner of this year’s RTÉ’s Home of the Year) Ormiston House is peppered with pockets of curated gallery walls. Each one is different and captures a different aspect of Ciara’s personality, as well as set a mood for the entire space. “Gallery walls do require a keen eye,” Ciara explains, “but there is some level of formula that can be applied if you are feeling less confident about creating one.”

 
Photo: Lauren Heskin

Photo: Lauren Heskin

 

The first thing to avoid is having it all look too formulaic. Try to buy pieces that you love, rather than ones that go with a specific theme or colour palette. “I like to collect art over time – pieces with meaning, pieces I simply can’t resist,” says Ciara. Staying true to your style not only means that you won’t grow tired of the artwork, but also that they’ll have the natural thread of your personality tying them together.

However, if you’re trying to create a large gallery wall, like the one on Ciara’s grand staircase which requires many pieces, it might be useful to pick a loose theme. Base this on the art you have and the feel you’re going for in the space, and then buy carefully to fill any gaps. “I wanted to make a real statement of personality in the grand reception hall, without affecting the historic fabric,” explains Ciara, so she settled on bold, unexpected pieces with bright pops of colour.

 
Photo: Lauren Heskin

Photo: Lauren Heskin

 

Don’t be afraid to display pieces that aren’t considered “art” either. In fact it’s much more interesting to mix and match between paintings, postcards, newspaper cuttings, prints, quotes and posters. “I have picked up cheap little prints from all over, but for limited edition pieces by cutting edge artists I fell in love with the collections at Nelly Duff, a gallery in East London that sells online,” says Ciara.

Once you’ve settled on your pieces, it’s time to frame. Don’t feel obligated to stick to the same frames throughout, but try to keep some uniformity to prevent it looking too chaotic. A really ornate frame can be eye-catching amongst a sea of white ones, so long as it’s the exception and not the rule. Ciara also advises that varied pieces can be tied together with matching frames and a professional framer will always have an eye for what type of frame will best suit the piece.

 
Photo: Lauren Heskin

Photo: Lauren Heskin

 

Now that you’re ready to get hanging, it’s time to put some method on the madness. “The one tip I would thoroughly recommend is measuring out the gallery wall space as best as you can,” says Ciara. “This takes time and can be fiddly, but you will thank yourself for making the effort.” Then, find some floor space and map the wall out as best you can. From there, you can lay out your collection, arranging and rearranging until you’re happy with the scheme. “For the main staircase, I arranged the pictures down the right hand side in a straight line, and the same across the top,” says Ciara, giving her a definitive space to fill, but her spiral staircase was even more complicated.

“The wainscoting on the lower walls combined with a first floor overhang, meant I had to map out a very tricky space,” she explains. Because of the space’s asymmetry, Ciara decided not to follow any straight lines and instead worked her way up through the space from the bottom step, allowing room for error on all sides.

 
 

Once you think you have everything laid out in a way you like, Ciara advises taking a photo of it. This really helps to give you a bit of perspective and you’ll often notice things that you might have previously missed. It’s also useful if you’ve had to tidy away your layout before you got a chance to hang it. “I printed a large copy of the photo and stuck it up on a nearby wall as a reference,” she explains. If you’re confident with your layout, it’s time to bite the bullet and get hanging. Two fixings per piece are always better than one, says Ciara. “Especially on a staircase where the pictures might get knocked about and be constantly sitting crooked.”

The night before they began hanging the pictures on the grand staircase, Ciara confesses she couldn’t sleep with the excitement. “Once it was up, I stood on my landing staring at it for hours with a big beaming smile – that is what art should do,” she says and we couldn’t agree more. If you’ve been thoughtful with your selection, and found a frame that suits each piece, your gallery wall will be one that brings you joy at every passing.


Take the full tour of Ormiston House in out May/June issue here, and check out Ciara’s Instagram @ormistonhousedesign for more.

Lauren Heskin