ACCENT WALLS THAT MAKE SENSE
I have a weird and difficult relationship with the accent wall. I’ve seen so many bad examples of it (when I say bad what I really mean is what was the point, not necessarily hideous, but I don’t clearly see the reasoning behind painting one wall a different color) that I sometimes lean towards banishing it from the design toolbox. But then, I’ll want to use one in a project or I’ll come across a beautiful wall that works and I’m persuaded to give it a second chance. So what makes one accent wall work and another blah? Surprise, surprise…I’m going to tell you.
Note: Paint is the method typically used to accent a wall so it’s what I’ll refer to the most, but these same rules apply to stone, tile, wallpaper, and wood finishes.
The most important question you should ask before you decide to create an accent wall is why. I find that it’s usually because homeowners are scared to commit to a color, a pattern, or the wallpaper they love is too expensive. None of these are good reasons, which leads to 85% of accent walls falling flat. These valid issues have nothing to do with the actual architecture or design of the room, so decisions are being made that don’t really make sense with the overall scheme in mind. These types of accent walls are the ones that leave me wondering…why? Why waste your money, energy, and time on a something that doesn’t enhance your space, and instead can make it look weird.
Another issue I see is accenting the wrong wall. Work with the architectural features in a room to select the wall you want to highlight. Fireplace walls are an easy target, as are walls facing the entrance. A wall with boundaries is often a good area to accent. If it's flanked by cabinets, adjacent to a curtained window, or defined by molding then you may consider it. If it adds depth, really and truly brings interest to a room, or highlights some awesome architecture then have at it. Other than that, you are probably better off focusing your attentions elsewhere.
Don’t start your design plan with an accent wall. Develop the scheme, furnishings, and layout for your room before committing to an accent. Once the room is fully decorated you may realize that it really doesn’t need an odd colored wall or finish, or you can incorporate artwork that gives the desired effect.
I often see a light neutral room with one bright blue or bold red wall. Painting an accent wall behind a bed is another favorite. A wash of color alone doesn’t add interest or depth. Especially if it feels disconnected to the rest of the room, it often comes off flat and unintentional. Most of the time it would be better to dilute the color a bit and paint every wall the same color, and still layer on items like curtains and art to add interest.
For example, compare the two rooms below. The coral in the bathroom would better serve the room by being applied to the window covering, artwork, accessories, or rug. That abrupt transition with the gray is not pleasant. Now look at how the bedroom integrates the orange into the rest of the room. The edges are blurred by draperies and molding and then broken up again by the wallpaper panels. This is how it should be done.
If you really have commitment issues, artwork is by far my favorite way to painlessly introduce color or pattern to a room. It’s a much better alternative than the "accenting one wall method" above, and often easier on the pocketbook than a fully wallpapered room. Look for large-scale pieces, bright washes of color, or bold patterns to get the desired effect.
Also, consider painting or highlighting the ceiling instead. A beautiful finish or color on the ceiling is easier to pull off than a random accent wall. It can add interest and make a room feel special from above. Rugs can have the same effect, but on a more subdued level.
If the accent wall is here to stay, it's time we start using it to it's fullest potential. No more half-hearted attempts and unconsidered spaces. I really think if we all pull together we can make this country a better place.