Maps do more than let me know my Uber’s on its way. Maps save me money on decorating my apartment. Old-timey map art offers limitless colors, textures, sizes and shapes to add brightness or contrast to all the rooms in my apartment – not just the living room.
I find maps just about anywhere – eBay, Goodwill, vintage stores, art galleries and my grandparents’ basement. Occasionally, I’ll find a framed map from a gallery that looks good, although I’ve found the most unique maps in thrift shops and other out-of-the-way places.
Most of the prints and posters you find online and in most stores have a “by the numbers” look.
Here are seven ways I’ve used maps to decorate empty walls with something different, and you can adapt these ideas for your own place.
Make Your Own Pull Down Vintage School Map
If you’re not lucky enough to find a real pull-down school map from the late 20th century on Etsy like I did, you can make your own with any large wall map, a retractable vinyl shade, a glue gun and spray adhesive.
Divide a Larger Map in Individual Frames
I’ve spent a few minutes cutting up a large old world map and placing the pieces in individual frames. The pieces don’t need to be arranged on the wall in any particular order.
I don’t worry about any what’s supposed to look good; I arrange them so they look good to me. I’ve used maps as part of an overall room design by pairing old beige or black-and-white maps with white lampshades and a leather sofa.
The idea of multiple frames also works with many smaller maps. I’ve used an old Thomas Brothers map from my hometown Chicago, and other cities to decorate rooms.
Map books provide you with pages and pages of potential map art. The Rand McNally Map Store offers wall maps for decoration as well as GPS maps and map books.
You don’t have to fit all wall map art into square or rectangular frames. I’ve printed out and cut maps so they fit on a hexagon. You can use any other similarly shaped piece of wood for your map art. If you want the look, but don’t have the skills or time to DIY, do a search for map art on Etsy.
Place a Large Vintage Map on a White Wall
A single large map turned a bland wall in my apartment into an icebreaker at my last party. I’ve chosen vintage world maps and old cartography maps in neutral tones for the wall behind my desk or sofa. I like to use a picture light to accentuate the map and present map art as real art.
Bright, oversized maps bordered by large black frames make bland wall pop.
I look for unusual, maps and map prints at flea markets. The quirkiest and most appealing maps aren’t found already framed at the local Target. If you want a colorful wall, look for maps or advertising art from the 1960s on eBay or Etsy.
I’ve also taken a large map and cut it into three vertical panels, then framed it, and hung it as a set in your kitchen. Play around with different sizes and combinations to find what works for your room.
Use Customized Map Wall Art
Instead of buying something mass-produced off the internet, create a map based on your most memorable city, or just a neighborhood in that city. Mapiful lets you search their site to design your own black and white custom map art of your favorite ‘hood, whether it’s Venice California or Venice Italy.
For a DIY idea that’s a little funkier, I’ve printed out Google maps my old haunts, like my college town and the neighborhood where I got my first apartment (Lakeview, Chicago) and put them in small frames in my bathroom and hallway. These little maps are great for out-of-the-way spots in your apartment.
Intersperse Map Art with Globes
I try to mix and match map posters (framed or unframed) with world globes on nearby tables. I’ve placed an assortment of plants, framed photos and old hardcover books on the table next to the wall to give it that thoughtful, well-traveled (and well-read) vibe.
Combine mini-globes and vintage globes with maps in complementary colors on the wall. You can find inexpensive decorative globes online. Prices for old globes vary widely, depending on the seller and the age and condition of the globe, but I’ve found great stuff in thrift stores and flea markets.
Use a Vintage Map as a Headboard
When I don’t have the time to buy framed art, I tack up a vintage map on my bedroom wall as a substitute headboard. You can do the same by choosing something that fits in thematically with the rest of your bedroom, or just pick something that you like. A large pull-down map also works as a headboard.
I’ve never tried it, but instead of having one large map, you can try taping or gluing smaller maps together to cover the bedroom wall. This idea isn’t relegated just to the bedroom. You can use the smaller map combo anywhere in your apartment.
If you want a real, vintage-looking map, you don’t have to go any further than the National Geographic or an online poster store. There are plenty of maps in every conceivable style, from black and white, topographical, political, watercolor, medieval, you name it, you got it.
Track Your Travels with a Personal World Map
I travel lot and I’ve lived all over the U.S. (in six different cities at last count). I have a world map in my living room, personalized like world map art with push pins to show where I’ve lived and traveled. You can do this on any size wall map.
Add pins any time you return from a trip. This type of map art looks great in a home office or in your living room. A personalized travel map provides an excellent conversation starter when you entertain guests or host a dinner party at your place.
You can add posters from the cities you’ve visited, too. I try to keep things minimal and not too cluttered, though.
Decorating with map posters or other wall maps can cost a lot if you only order ready-made maps and poster art. The prices range from under $10 to several hundred, and even more if you add frames.
Searching for vintage finds or printing out maps saves me money, and gives me unique art that fits my personality. You can do the same, and avoid having an apartment straight out of an IKEA showroom.
For free or low-cost maps to download and print out, I visit the National Gallery of Art or the Library of Congress websites. They offer a lot more than maps, too, and I don’t have to spend much. You should also check out the article “Best Places to Buy Art and Photography Prints for Men” for more ideas and places to buy map prints, photos and art prints.