Last August I was planning and sourcing artwork with a client for her 3 story mid-town condo. We had recently completed a top to bottom reno of the home (orginally built in 1980) and now it was time to focus on artwork and finishing touches. One of the unique things about this condo was that it was 3 stories, so it had a tall staircase wall that led to a 3rd floor roof top deck. This stairwell had a big tall blank wall and was flooded with tons of natural daylight. One of the biggest challenges in sourcing artwork for this home was that there wasn't really a whole lotta wall space! This stairwell actually presented one of the few places where we could hang some art. My client had always wanted a gallery wall of black and white photographs........ and I thought this would be an ideal spot (since we didn't have many other options). We were hanging original paintings in the living room and kitchen area so this staircase wall on the second level was a perfect spot for personal photos.
This is a view of the staircase as seen from the second floor hallway looking up to the landing which leads to a 3rd floor servery and rooftop deck. The entire condo is painted in a soft warm white and during the reno I had gorgeous wide plank, natural antique ash floors installed as well as custom treads and risers made for the staircase.
This is a view from up on the third level - the Mooi Random light fixture was one of the first pieces of lighting selected for the home. I had envisioned it here from the very first time I visited the space, its such a perfect spot for this oversized but simple modern fixture. The stringlike shade casts a wonderful pattern of light, the stairwell almost doesn't need anything else because the fixture alone makes such a statement. The long wall is clad with a thin stone veneer which adds amazing texture, colour and an organic element to the space - it makes a wonderful transition to the outdoor lving space beyond...
While we were scouring galleries for canvases and other pieces of art, my client was continually drawn to black & white photos that we saw at the various galleries. As tempted as she was to purchase some, I convinced her to take some time to dig thru her own photos first, I'd much prefer to use photos that had personal meaning to her. Afterall, she had travelled extensively, including Africa, Australia, Italy, France, Germany, Amserdam, London, New York, Paris,,,,,,I knew she had loads of photos that were stashed away in boxes.
So a few weeks later she had gone thru her storage bins and dug out boxes and albums full of her travel photos. She had hundreds of spectacular photos from all over the world. I was in shock when I saw how many she had, and that she had had these treasures hidden away for all these years. I was also pretty envious, I mean all I have to show from my personal travel photos are pictures of flowers taken in my own yard! My task now was to weed thru them all and figure out which photos we'd use on the walls. There were hundreds of shots like these....
These two are examples of what I had to chose from. Can you believe these had been sitting in boxes for years! I immediately forbid her from ever buying a single mass produced photo or print for the rest of her life. The 'Girl with Baby' was instantly my favorite and it also was one of my clients most memorable, for me it was an awesome experience just looking thru all her photos, so many spectacular shots of landscapes, animals, buildings, I had an impossible time selecting just a handful. I focused on photos that she already had in black in white or that I thought would translate well to b&w,,,I wanted images with strong lines and silhouttes, images that would have lots of graphic contrast because they would be viewed from up high and down low I wanted them to be viewable from various distances. So I weeded thru an narrowed the selections down,
I was drawn to all of these photos from Africa so I arranged them together to see how they looked and I just loved how well they worked in a grouping, there was a nice balance of light and dark.
And then I selected this group of photos taken in New York City....
All the photos I selected were taken on black and white film originally, not digital, you can see the film rebate edge on these 4" x 6" prints, which is pretty unique as I don't think there are many labs around that still do this. Since there were no digital files or negatives to work with, I scanned the prints into my computer so I could play around with the groupings easily. After this excercise I ended up with a final group of African and New York images, I loved the contrast of pairing the primitive images with the urban.
Next I took the original b&w 4x6 prints to Kevin at Elevator Digital, (the masters of photo imaging!) and told him what I wanted to do. He checked out the images and thought they were all really good quality shots, he would need to scan each one of them with a super high resolution scanner in order to make enlarged prints. He also advised me on the sizes I should plan for with respect to maintaining the quality of the image and for best display size - he showed me examples of similar size prints in their gallery so I got a good idea of what the true scale would be like in person. So, with the thumbs up from Kevin - all I had to do was tell him which ones I wanted and exactly what size to print them. Back to my drawing board, er, computer...
I returned to my cad drawings of the condo and drew up an elevation of the stairwell wall. Then I just played with various sizes starting with the largest photo in the middle and working around it. This helped me determine how many photos I could fit on the wall based on the size of photos I wanted to use.
Next I prepared a mock-up of the grouping by importing an image of the elevation into Power Point (or you could use Numbers or Photo Shop) and I simply placed the actual photo images on top of the image of my line drawing, this allowed me to enlarge the images up to the size I needed and to do it to scale. I intentionally planned for a couple of future additions and left two of the frames blank.
Several weeks later the framed photos were delivered to the house,,,,where they sat here on the landing for quite some time waiting for me and my picture hanger to install them!
Finally, installation day. After the first two went up,,,,,I wished that I had ordered all the frames in white, I loved this look. But I had chosen to do a combination of white and natural birch frames so 2 of the 5 were in a wood finish. Of course after all the frames were hung I was completely happy with the mix of frame colours and had no regrets about that decision.
After the first photo, Girl with Baby was hung, it was used as a reference for locating where all the rest of the frames where to be hung, the entire grouping took only took about 1/2 an hour to hang (it actually took longer to set up the ladder and get the tools ready). I used a typical spacing of 4" between all photos and each frame was either aligned or centered off another. I left some blank space for other photos and frame styles or objects to be mixed in in the future. But instantly after seeing the wall at this stage the homeowner grabbed a silver framed photo from the guest bathroom (its actually a flower photo that i had taken last year) and wanted to add it to the wall. By pure co-incidence, it fit perfectly in the grouping so its going to stay but we'll switch out the photo for another one from her travels.
The completed gallery wall.
Here you may recognize the photo of Radio City Music hall in NYC,,,,I also used this same photo in Brian's Condo (jumbo size), it has such strong lines and an incredible depth in its range of greys. Brian is a friend of this client who took the photo and a big fan of Radio City Music Hall so when he saw this photo in my files he the thought it would be a good fit for his place - now we're calling it a 'limited edition print', only 2 in existence! In his place, I had it enlarged to over 6' tall and printed on canvas, you can read more about that here and see a sneak peek here.
From a box of 4" x 6" prints, we were able to produce a few custom framed archival quality fibre murals (and by 'we' I mean Kevin), and create a beautiful and highly personal gallery wall. I especially love the fact that the frame rebate (black border) that was around the original prints was maintained which I think gives the photos such an artistic quality. Now,,,,,,,I have the overwhelming urge to book an exotic vacation.....
(Once again it was late in the evening when I took all of the above after photos so I apologies for the poor quality.)
All Photos: Carol Reed