photo of my art show booth, designed to look like an art gallery

Kathy Engholm here. Cynthia invited me to write a guest article about my new(ish) art show booth furniture (shown above). My  previous post was about the main parts used in designing the booth. In this post, I’ll describe the setup process for this gallery-style art show booth.

Before a show

For many basic life activities, I use physical objects to cue my memory, or as my substitute for a memory. For example, going on vacation. As I think of items that need to go with me, I add them to one of two piles: “Goes in my suitcase” or “Everything else.”

Heaven help my husband if, as he’s loading the car, he takes anything from that second pile before EVERYTHING is there and I give the official OK. The only way I know the pile is complete is to see it all there, all at once.

That’s also how I prepare for a show.

Show Pile 1

All my glass art pieces, stands, labels, price tags, and other small show paraphernalia occupy our guest room. Talk about physical memory… that room is a veritable server. The day before a show, I troll this room, select what to take, tuck it into bins and boxes, and set those aside in Pile 1.

The booth itself lives in a cave, tucked into the far corner of a closet in my shop. The posts, rails, shelves, supports, and brace stand up against the back wall, occupying about 1.5 square feet of floor space. The smaller parts, like lights and cords, fabric backdrops, the few nuts and bolts, hanging wires, etc., half fill a Rubbermaid tote on the closet floor.

Show Pile 2

photo of booth parts all in the car

All booth parts in the back of a Volvo wagon

When it’s showtime, I add my extension cord and soft-blow hammer (sand-filled plastic mallet that doesn’t dent wood), plus a wrench and Philips screwdriver just in case, to the tote and haul all booth parts and tools out to the deck for roll call. This is Pile 2.

Pile 2 goes into the car first, followed by my sturdy (read that as “heavy”) convertible cart, then Pile 1.

Since Pile 1 is the finishing touches for the booth, I’d really prefer to put it on the bottom, but glass and other fragile things don’t travel well under hard, heavy objects. Besides, I don’t like loose lumber hitting the back of my head at stop lights.

When I get to the show site, much of Pile 1 has to be unloaded onto the ground before I can get the cart out, transfer Pile 2 onto the cart, then put Pile 1 back into the car for later.

Assembling the framework


Setting up this booth can be done by one person, especially now that I’ve shortened the posts by 6 inches for a final height of 6-1/2 feet. Though I CAN do it all by myself, it’s handy to have an assistant for the first steps in assembling the skeleton.


The top rails are all interchangeable with each other, as are the waist-height rails and the shelves.

Not so for the tall 2×4 posts or the four uprights that support the shelves and keep the walls from falling forward. The posts and upright supports are labelled to tell me where they belong: “far left,” “right corner”…

It only took two shows before I realized that scribbling a few words in black magic marker would take less time than assembling the booth multiple times at each show.

photo of bed rail hardware

Assembly begins with laying out the posts and upright supports near where they will stand when done.

Then I secure the four upright supports to their respective posts using their bed-rail hardware.

With these still flat on the ground, I connect a top rail and middle rail between the two left-most posts.


After making sure the connections at both ends of each rail  are secure, I stand up the first assembled section then build the adjacent section onto it.

This process is repeated for the two sections of the other wall.

The corner shelf module acts as the kingpin to hold the booth together and make it sturdy. The two brackets that hold it up attach to the posts with – what else? – bed rail hardware.


4 sets of nuts and bolts solidify the structure by securing the corner shelf to the two brackets and to the horizontal rail in back.


Then the telescoping aluminum brace bolts across the top of the booth to keep two walls from leaning in or out.

Next I slide the remaining 4 shelves into place. The undersides have keyhole slots to receive the screw heads that stick up from the vertical support boards.

Once the shelves are installed, the structure is complete and stands solidly. photo of slots and screw heads

All that remains is adding the esthetic finishes.

Non-Structural Add-Ons

The lights, picture wires, and backdrop cloth all hang from slots on the back of the top rails. The left photo below shows part of a top rail with a light installed in the top horizontal slot.

Lights, pictures, and backdrop all hang from slots on the back of the top rails

A longer horizontal slot receives blocks that each holding one end of a single picture wire. Below that, short vertical slots hold the backdrop. The right photo shows different views of a picture-wire block and the mounting assembly for a light.

The extension cords and plugs for the lights hang at a lower level on the back of the posts – much nicer than having them in a visible tangle on the floor.

detailed photo of picture wire and light mounting hardware

The final thing to attach are the lights themselves, goose-necked LED lamps from Ikea.

They were desktop lamps with heavy round bases, but I removed the bases and made little wooden bases that allow me to adjust their position depending on where the art pieces are hanging.

Final touches

photo of keyhole slot to attach wiringThe booth is assembled and ready for art, literature, flowers, other homey touches, and hopefully lots of customers. This booth design presents a challenge around storing bubble wrap, extra art, odds and ends, waste basket, and my lunch.

Take a look back at the first photo in this post and notice the brown cylinders standing under the shelves. Those are cardboard concrete forms I bought from Home Depot, cut into various lengths, and tricked a friend into painting. That’s where I keep stuff. They nest inside each other with the silk flowers inside for transport.

In my next and final post, I’ll review my original design goals for the booth and evaluate what works well, what changes I’ve made, and what else could be improved.