Pro tips on how to create a fun art wall !

art wall cozy sweater cafe

The perfect art wall, by designer Shannon Gay

I have always wanted to hang a collection of personal images and post cards on the wall leading to my basement which finally just got painted (hooray!!).  I saw this gorgeous picture on a friend’s Facebook page and fell in love with her colorful collection of personal images and momentos.

I met the photographer of said picture this summer at a wedding (not just any wedding…a dream wedding, but that’s another story).  Actually, truth be told, I met her hubbie first and he gushed energetically about his wife, calling her “the most brilliant designer”.  Needless to say, I was intrigued.  Shannon Gay is one of those people ablaze with energy that the words “intrepid” and “visionary” were invented for.  I decided to write to her and ask her for advice for my art wall.  She said yes! This is testamount to her generous energetic spirit.

Let’s chat a bit with her before we dive into the art wall “how”.  As you know, I love a good “how did you get there” story…

Q&A with Designer Shannon Gay

Shannon runs her own very successful company called One80 design in Ottawa, Canada where she lives with her husband and 2 adorable boys.


Shannon Gay, photographed by Ashley Fraser

CSC: How did you get into design?

Shannon: After high school I went to college for social work…not for me. Then I enrolled in and graduated from police foundations…not for me. I worked and then travelled for a bit in the UK and Europe. I came back and had no clue what to do. I went to university to study sociology / anthrolpology and was lost the whole time.  It was a conversation with my boyfriend (now husband) and mom that inspired me to go into design. I’d been re-working rooms my whole life and I just never thought that I could actually make a career of it. Here I am, 12 years later. I have my dream job and I’m my own boss – it doesn’t get any better really.

CSC: What is your favorite project and why?

Shannon: That’s a tough one. I love all of the projects I’ve worked on for so many different reasons. A lot of the residential projects I’ve worked on are really incredible but I think the one that made me feel like I’d “made it” was the Savoy Brasserie in Ottawa. The transformation was huge! Walking in to the grand opening with it full of people in awe of the changes .. . that one made me tear up for sure.

CSC: Where do you get your inspiration from?

Shannon: My clients inspire me a lot. Working with entrepreneurs is an adventure. They’re usually very passionate people and their excitement for their new project excites me too.


Restaurant Supply & Demand in Ottawa, designed by Shannon.

CSC: Is there a particular look or movie you are obsessed with?  

Shannon: I love vintage, industrial styling and I’m definitely a sucker for mid-century modern design. I like to try to make all of those elements play nicely together in a space.

CSC: What is your favorite travel spot?     

Shannon: I love New York city. It sounds so cliché I know, but that city seriously does something to me creatively that I can’t even describe. The amazing restaurants, the architecture, the people…I’ve been lucky enough to go a few times over the last couple of years and I always come back feeling completely refreshed and full of ideas for upcoming projects! If I couldn’t go to NYC, or wanted a relaxed vacation – I would definitely go back to Mexico in a heartbeat.

CSC: Where should we go in Ottawa to see the quintessential One80 Design project?

Shannon: As for restaurants, they’re all so different really, it’s hard to say. As much as I definitely have “my” style, the spaces I design all stem from the client’s visions. I have to take their vision, interpret it, and then make it awesome and functional! Union Local 613 was one of the first restaurants I did and in my opinion, is one of the coolest places in town. Supply & Demand, The Savoy, the King Eddy, Angelucci’s, 1951 West, Mena, Salt Dining + Lounge… to me, they are all incredible spots that have very different vibes and are so amazing (food / service / atmosphere all top-notch).


Restaurant Union in Ottawa, designed by Shannon.

CSC: Why did you name your company One80 design?

Shannon: A One80 degree turn faces you in the opposite direction. I like to think that I have the job of turning spaces around into something beautiful / functional / inspiring / welcoming / comfortable / etc. . .

CSC: Do you also work in Montreal? 

Shannon: I haven’t yet but would happily welcome the opportunity. Some of my very favourite restaurants are in Montreal.

Shannon explains how she created her art wall in 4 steps!


1) I measure out the space that I want to cover of the wall – in this case – the width above the couch.

2) I taped the space on the floor with painter’s tape.

3) Then, I take all of the photo frames that I’ve collected, some vintage, some IKEA, some thrift shop finds and go to town. Have fun with the composition. The technical term for putting frames like this is “massing”. It is a way of putting a bunch of little pieces together to make one cohesive collection.

4) Once you have the layout sorted (it’s not an exact science so take it easy on yourself – this isn’t supposed to be perfect!), I take a photo of the floor mock up and grab my hammer and nails using the photo as a guide. I’ll usually measure the first couple of frame locations, then I will eyeball it (sometimes with the help of my laser level) with the remainder. It’s always a good idea to have someone help you so that you’re able to stand back periodically to check composition. Also, don’t be afraid to take a nail out, and hammer again if you don’t like where it is – that’s what polyfilla ( is for!


Tip for frames – if looking for vintage but you want the all white look, grab your spray paint cans and spray all of the different styles the same colour. If you’re trying to match the IKEA white, I’ve found one of the best matches in spray paint is Rustoleum Universal in either satin or gloss white ( If you have the patience to brush it on, your very best bet is Benjamin Moore Oxford White (CC-30 . This way you can mix IKEA frames with vintage ones as you see in the photo.

Tip for where to get artwork: a lot of the pieces are personal – my husband’s sketches, master works by my kiddos, and I really love framing greeting cards – most inexpensive “word art” I’ve been able to find. If you’re looking for some other really unique pieces to frame, try:

Emily McDowell on Etsy here (

Society 6 is a favourite too (

Or spend some time at your favourite card shop. 🙂


One80 Design

Shannon Gay




Thank you so much Shannon for your insider tips and gorgeous images!

I hope you are inspired to try this at home!


the cozy sweater café


3 thoughts on “Pro tips on how to create a fun art wall !

  1. Pingback: Psst…here are some great holiday sales! | the cozy sweater café

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