Friday, July 19, 2013

27 Plates (Story and Tutorial)

Settle in, guys.  This is a long one.  Almost everyone who comes to our house asks about the giant plate wall in our dining room.  Where did you get that idea?  How are they hung?  Did you really put all of those holes in your wall?  Where did you get all those plates?! 

I'm ready to tell the story of the plate wall.  And I'll throw in some instructions for anyone out there who wants to make one of their own.

Anytime we paint a room, I get super excited for the part where we can start hanging art and other décor on the freshly painted wall.  I feel like that is the part where the room really starts coming together, and begins to feel like a cohesive place that makes sense to me.  So after painting our dining room gray, I felt the same familiar urge to start getting stuff up on the walls, but for the first time had no clue about what to hang. 

Our dining room really only has two walls on which décor could be hung, and both walls are fairly long.  Initially, I thought that a large mirror would be a good choice, as there are no windows in the dining room, and I thought a mirror might reflect some of the light from the adjoining rooms and brighten up the place. But the wall was big, so any mirror I hung in there would also have to be pretty substantial, or framed out with other items hung on either side of it, which I'm not really a fan of.  So I went searching for a really big mirror.  I checked my usual haunts: Marshall's, TJ Maxx, Overstock (I had yet to discover the wonders of Homegoods and flash sale sites)....nothing.  Well nothing in my budget, that is.  I could find plenty of AMAZING large scale mirrors, but they were going to cost me.  Big time.  Next idea please!

Then I stumbled upon this gorgeous piece of inspiration online.  Game changer, people.  Dozens of monochromatic plates hung symmetrically on a large wall, creating one cohesive piece of fabulous-ness. I loved the mixture of plate sizes, the symmetrical-but-not-boring pattern, and the contrast of the white plates on the gray wall. It was like poetry to my eyes, and (since this was 2009, and before Pinterest) I saved that picture in my Favorites faster than you could say #therewaslifebeforepinterest?

So over the next several months I collected plates for my plate wall. With my budget in mind,  I lucked into two four-piece sets of black and white damask salad plates at Marshalls (somewhere around $6 a set)

...and found a four-piece set of black and white saucers on Overstock.  These were quite a splurge at $23.95. 

I was getting there, but twelve plates was not going to get me the full, eclectic look I admired on my inspiration wall.  Then I stumbled upon salvation in Walmart, of all places. (now there's a sentence I bet you have never read before!!) They were selling individual pieces of plain black and plain white dinner plates for $1.50 each!  The salad plates were just $1.00!  Now, I wouldn't want these plain plates to make up my entire wall.  But I knew that they could provide the basic structure of what I wanted, and that I could integrate my more interesting (and more expensive) plates into the design and achieve the look I was going for.  I bought six dinner plates (three black, three white) and ten salad plates (five black, five white) for a grand total of $19.  A few weeks later, I happened upon a set of four tiny appetizer plates that matched the damask pattern that I already owned and brought those babies home for about $5.  So sixty bucks, many months, and thirty-two plates later, I was ready to make my inspiration into reality. 

The first thing I did was clear a large area on the floor of one of our empty rooms and lay out all of my plates on the floor to help me figure out how I wanted to hang them on the wall.  Initially I tried to replicate a version of the pattern in my inspiration photo, but I quickly realized that the diamond shape wasn't right for the horizontally-oriented space that I was trying to fill.  I played around with different arrangements for a time, before settling on a horizontal squiggle pattern that reminded me of this symbol ~ (which I don't know the name of).  While working on a pattern, I found that taking pictures of the various options was really helpful, and allowed me to step back and visualize how it would look on the wall.  Once I had my basic pattern, I called my husband in to help me with spacing and placement before I finalized that pattern I wanted to use by taking a picture of it, so that we could replicate it on the wall. I ended up using only twenty-seven of my plates in the final pattern.

Then, I used blank paper, scissors, and a pencil to trace and cut out a template of EVERY plate that I planned to hang on the wall. I even drew quick representations of the patterns on the plates in order to help us differentiate the templates from one another. We used blue painter's tape and the picture of the pattern to place each template in the wall according to the pattern. Aside from using a tape measure to find the center of the wall, we did not measure at all during this process, choosing to eyeball it instead. The painter's tape allowed us to move our templates over and over until we were happy with them without doing any damage to the wall.  This process actually took us a few days.  We would arrange, step back, move a template slightly, live with it for a few hours and then adjust again.  Once we had all of the templates in their perfect places, we decided to leave the paper templates up and live with it for a while before we went to the next step of putting twenty-seven holes in our wall.  We ended up living with it for almost two months.  I know it seems like a long time, but Mr. M. had just put a ton of effort into repairing that wall from the wallpaper removal disaster, and we wanted to be sure that we loved the pattern and were not going to want to make any changes before we started putting so many holes in the wall. 

You can see the templates taped to the wall on the far left side of this picture. 

Once we were finally ready to hang the plates, I attached disc hangers to the back of each plate so that the plate could hang on the wall without any visible screws or wires.  Annoyingly, buying the disc hangers was the most expensive part of the whole project.  I bought twenty-one 4" hangers ($2.95 each) and six 3" hangers ($2.39 each), for a total of $75.99. The disc hangers are designed to adhere to the back of each plate, using a glue that is activated when the disc is moistened.  We followed the instructions exactly, only to find that some of the discs bubbled as they dried, losing their firm contact with the plates.  Not good.  We tried wetting the adhesive and attempting to attach the discs again, but had the same results.  My husband had the great idea to use duct tape to adhere the discs, which turned out to be an equally invisible, but much stronger way to affix the discs to the back of the plates.  It sort of killed me to have spent $75 on hangers that had to be duct taped in order to work properly, but hanging the plates invisibly was crucial to the success of the plate wall and I'm not sure how I could have done so without those disc hangers.

Once the disc hangers were firmly attached taped, Mr. M. used the templates on the wall to determine the placement of each screw needed to hang the plates.  He did this one at a time, removing each template and replacing it with a plate as he went.  Doing so allowed him to maintain the pattern that we had created perfectly.

Done!!  I love the result!  It's dramatic, interesting and fits the space.  Plus, a large-scale art installation that cost about $135??!!  Awesome.  I can't imagine every getting tired of it,  I love it so much!

How have you filled the large walls in your space??  I have another large wall to adorn in our living room, and I'd love some inspiration!

Linking up at


  1. I would love for you to share and link up at my weekly TGIF Link Party if you haven't already this week. Your favorite posts, most popular, recent or new! The party is open every Thursday night and closes Wednesday's at midnight. Followed by (Not SO) Wordless Wednesday!
    I would be honored if you join us and follow to stay connected Have a wonderful week!
    Hugs, Cathy

    1. Thank for inviting me, Cathy! I did link up, and visited some of the other great projects in the party!

  2. Emily,

    The gang at My Personal Accent thinks your post about 27 Plates is WONDERFUL, and we would like to invite you to party with us at starting at 5:00 Thursday nights at our new Blog Strut Peacock Style Link Party to share your creative ideas. Come on over!!