September 2010: Rental Rescue


 For a lot of renters, a lease does more than simply bind them financially to their landlords for 12 months. Many of us are faced with leases that read like the 10 Commandments of Design: Thou shalt not paint the walls. Thou shalt not tear out the ugly carpet. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s kitchen and breakfast nook. 

The use of the metal rail not only provides architectural interest for a dull wall, but creates an easy, instant art gallery with minimal damage to your walls.

One common lease commandment: As renters, we are discouraged from putting many or any holes in the walls. Some leases even dictate a certain number of small “pinpoint” holes that are allowed in each room. In a town like Charlottesville, with a lot of older apartments, homes, and rentals, we can expect leases and rules designed to protect more delicate walls, features, and fixtures. This nail rule might not seem like a huge deal, but hanging artwork and photos is one of the cheapest and easiest ways we can add personal character to a space and spice up bland walls. 

If you’re like me, you have plenty of pictures. Wanting to share my memories with friends and guests without overwhelming the refrigerator, I set out to find a solution that would allow me to display a lot of photos without turning my walls into Swiss cheese with a hammer and nails. 

Drawing inspiration from modern design and the use of magnetic organization systems (bulletin boards, knife holders, etc.), I set out to create a magnetic photo gallery. The materials for this project will vary based on availability and the size of your space.

Getting started


Materials: Your choice of sheet steel, metal grating, or scrap metal (magnetic); Disc magnets; screws

Tools: Electric screwdriver; metal shears (optional); tape measure; pencil; utility/protective gloves

Using the sheet metal or grating of your choice (available at your local hardware store and home improvement center, typically with the roofing/siding materials, and duct work), you can create gallery strips that will hold your photos. If you are feeling adventurous and are working with a malleable sheet metal, measure strips that are 6" to 8" wide using your pencil and tape measure. 

The length of your gallery strips will depend on the size of your space. Wearing your utility gloves, cut the metal to the desired length and width. You may create 4′ strips to go over a desk, or opt for longer strips on a long hallway. If you are able, I recommend having your metal cut by a professional (your local hardware store/home improvement center can provide referrals), especially if you are using a stronger material like steel lattice grating. Using grating or metal lattice will provide more architectural interest/texture, as well as create additional options for hanging your photos. 

Using your electric screwdriver, attach the gallery strips to your wall in the desired location with one screw in each corner. (If you are using solid sheet metal, you will want to punch pilot holes into the metal with a hammer and nail.)

For a more casual look, simply attach photos, postcards, and art to the metal strips using disc magnets (available at Michael’s and most craft stores). For a more formal, gallery look, hot glue the disc magnets to the back of lightweight picture frames (one for smaller prints and two to three for larger prints). If you chose grating or a metal with open spaces, you can also attach the frames using wire and or hooks. 

With these few materials, you can create an interesting, rotating gallery displaying numerous photos and keepsakes that will outnumber your nail holes by far. The best part? With a few turns of the screwdriver the whole system can go and grow with you when you take your show on the road.—Ed Warwick