What color to paint the accent wall in Karen’s living room?

Karen's sculpture wall

KateWhen Karen asked our opinion on whether to replace her original ceramic tile kitchen countertops (160 reader comments so far!), she also asked for help in finding a great color for an accent wall in her retro living room. To help accent her metal wall sculptures and add some pizzazz to her room, Karen wants to paint the long wall — which stretches from her entry way all the way to her fireplace — a different color than the other, light green-painted walls. I love color puzzles like this, so of course I told Pam I’d take on the task of suggesting an accent wall color for Karen.

Karen's living room

Karen writes:

Karen's dining-livingroomHi Kate, How thoughtful of both you and Pam to take the time to help with my room. I’ve painted that wall, the main one that runs the length of the house, opposite the window, at least four times while the rest of the walls remain — they are a subtle earthy green that looks appealing next to the fireplace. For the accent wall, I’ve tried brick red, tan, and most recently the yellow shown in the top photo. The focal point is the metal art sculpture, a very authentic piece from the early 70s made by a guy in Canada, brought home in a VW bus. I love the sofa, too, but the green is hard to match, and it’s getting pretty clawed up, so I’m not going to try to highlight it; I really need to recover it. The Heywood Wakefield Aristocraft chairs have covered cushions in a gray/black retro pattern. Recently, I brought home a sample of gray/purple and smeared it on the wall, ugh! So, with your fresh viewpoint, where should I go with this? Thanks so much, truly.

Karen's living room

Karen's entryWhen Pam was handing off Karen’s info to me, she pointed out that Karen’s bark cloth curtains were likely a recently available pattern called Mambo. Armed with this information, I started by pulling together swatches of color, pattern and texture from the room.

I took the major repeating colors and textures and made a mini swatch board, so that I could see all of them together. This is always a good place to start if you aren’t sure what direction to go with a room. In this case, looking at Karen’s choice of fabric for the curtains — which would be much more expensive to change than a wall color or accessories — is a classic way to help dictate the color scheme of the room.  Any time you add an element like patterned or multi-colored curtains, upholstery or rugs into a room, it is important to repeat those colors throughout the room — this helps make the room make good design sense… These large, costly “foundational” elements “pull” a room and all its colors together — all your colors are in those patterned pieces, repeat them!

So let’s look at the colors in Karen’s space:

Karen's room swatches

1. The grey color from Karen’s entry way tile, upholstery on chairs and one of her sofas, and the main color of the bark cloth curtains.

2. A light green, this is what the other walls are painted and the sofa (even if it needs to be recovered) is currently this green.

3. The bark cloth curtain fabric — mostly grey but with hints of pink, white, black, yellow and green.

4. The blonde/light colored wood that repeats throughout the room.

5. The warm brown of the stone on the fireplace.

Karen said she had already tried a brick red, tan, yellow and a little dab of purple grey, which earned an instant yuck. So, what’s a girl to try next? Here’s what I think: Karen has a lot of grey and colors with hints of grey in them (the green on her couch and other walls is a shade of green, which means a tiny bit of black has been added to tone down the color.) The other main colors are neutral — the warm browns in the fireplace and the wood tones in the furniture. I think Karen didn’t like the brick red because it was too close to the fireplace color, which blended instead of allowing the fireplace to stand out. The tan likely was too close to the wood and therefore made the room feel too tan overall. The yellow was a good idea, but because it is so light, it too is too close to the wood tones — thus the same “too tan” affect. Her dab of purple grey probably pushed the room into grey overload — therefore earning the yuck. My solution? Pump up the color!

Karen's wall coral

Why did I choose a medium coral color? First it is vibrant — no grey in sight — which will create instant pizzazz. The pinky coral complements the light wood tones nicely and provides a nice backdrop for the sculpture wall. Coral is a complementary color to the green already found in the room through the couch and other walls (mini art lesson — red and green are opposite on the color wheel — which makes them complementary colors) and complementary colors play nice together. The coral also works well with all the grey in the room — warmly popping forward while the cool grey recedes, creating balance. From what I can tell from the picture, the coral should also coordinate nicely with the fireplace stone. Yes, both are warmer colors, but they are different enough in value (fireplace is dark, coral is mid, most of the rest of the room is light) that they shouldn’t compete for attention.

Karen, I don’t know if you are freaking out right now with the idea of painting your wall bright coral — I’ve noticed much of the rest of your lovely home is painted with lighter colors — but you did say you tried a brick red, so I’m hoping you are up to the challenge. If not, I’ve picked a slightly less bold–but similar option:

Karen's wall light pink

Pink shade on the pole lamp

A light pink accent wall would also work in your space for many of the same reasons that the coral works. It still coordinates well with the grey, green and wood that fills your living and dining room area and would also still works very well with your fireplace and curtains — it is just the toned down version. Do we spy a pink shade on your pole lamp — that might be your light pink! If it were me, I would go with the coral, but I know not everyone likes a bright accent wall.

Another bit of advice — I noticed you have quite a few bright orange accent pieces in your room — your footstool, rug and decorative plate in front of the fireplace, etc. What I might do is to move all the orange accents to another room and then go “shopping” in your house for other accents — like art work, pillows, pottery, knickknacks — that have pink in them. Adding more pink to your living room will help make the room look more cohesive and finished and will help cement your expensive draperies into the design of the room. Ultimately, one of two orange accents can be brought back in, but again: Your draperies are suggesting that your principal accent color should be pink, not orange.

I hope I’ve helped you pick a new accent wall color for your room, or at the very least, given your brain a fresh thought process to follow in your quest for the perfect accent wall color. Best of luck — let us know what you decide!

What do you think readers?
Is medium coral a good color for Karen’s accent wall?
Is the light pink a better option?
What color would you advise Karen to choose?

See Kate’s story — Accent wall: Four steps to get them right — here.


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  1. Ally Cat says

    Hey, I painted an accent wall a California Paint color Meringue, which is a resonate teal/aqua blue (much like what Jean suggested) and it added such depth and really grounded my room….not to say that it’s gonna work exactly in this space, but I can tell you it certainly looks awesome with neutrals both dark and light. Both ebony and birch wood tones pop! California Paint may be out of biz now…not sure.

    The other color that crosses my mind in this space are a Chartreuse (like mentioned by Scantee) , or take the chartreuse and make it a tad olive-d up. I’d really consider keeping the coral as an accent color, warm walls can be too warm when paired with brick.

    I’d bet that staying on the cooler palate side will give more longevity and flexibility to the space when adding shocks of warm accent tones. And I have to admit, I find greens and blues to be so livable, as cool colors tend to recede, where warm colors tend advance, which can make the room seem visually flat. Whatever is done needs to have a depth of tone, so as to contrast with the furniture.

  2. Kate H says

    Navajo White.

    Normally I’d say go with a color, but ya gotta lot going on in here.

    White will reflect the light from the window and make it brighter. Kate H

  3. TappanTrailerTami says

    Hmmm…..well, I *do* like the coral, not crazy about the pink as I’m too ingrained into pink bathrooms and not pink living rooms. Aqua would be ok too.

    Really, I am in the “move the furniture” camp first. The fireplace is and should be the main focal point in the room, just from a size perspective. The great wall sculpture is totally struggling to be any focal point in my opinion because there is no “anchor” for it…ie, the sofa underneath which is what I would do. The TV seems like it may be an issue, so maybe I’d send it down to the wall next to the fireplace, and then that would resolve my “anchor” issue with the painting on that wall also, since the painting would need to be moved.

    Does Karen have any plan to hang something on the fireplace at all? I get the vibe since there really isn’t much there that maybe it isn’t “liked” as well as other elements in the room….not that is really what is going on, but looking at the room, the fireplace looks a bit unloved since there is nothing hanging on it, further highlighting it as a focal point. Maybe hang a different piece of sculpture from the same artist or something?

    • pam kueber says

      but if she puts the sofa on the wall and the tv by the fireplace, she will not be able to watch tv while sitting on the couch. If I were in her position, I would go with the functional layout.

      • TappanTrailerTami says

        That’s true, except if she sits at the end of the sofa, turned towards the TV. I guess we would need to know from Karen more about her tv watching positions, LOL.

        The other alternative would be sofa in front of the window….TV angled in the corner where the piano is, piano angled where the TV is now, and then the HW pieces together under the wall sculpture. That would probably work well, if the bulk of tv watching is done in the evening (less window glare), or if there is tv watching during the day, she could draw the great barkcloth drapes if glare is an issue.

        But, back to color – I like the coral idea, but I also kind of think a metallic or pearlescent champagne would look great too.

        • pam kueber says

          I don’t buy the “turn sideways on the couch” to see the TV school. Nope, gimme my couch right smack dab facing my tv, with the tv at comfortable eye level! My favorite: L-shaped curved in center sectional with TV opposite like

  4. Brian T says

    Before I even scrolled down to Kate’s suggestions, I was thinking “peachy-pink, lifted from the accent color in the curtains.” I love turquoise and aqua, but I worry that they might have an unexpected influence on the existing sage green walls. The charcoal idea sounds period-appropriate and bold without being too bright and distracting. But I’d start out by matching the coral in the draperies.

    I recently had occasion to pick some fun colors for the insides of the shelves of a mod newelpost/etagere thingy we’re building in the basement. I remembered being struck by the coral color of Doris Day’s kitchen in “Pillow Talk,” and so I went for Behr’s “Cheery” (http://www.color-swatches.com/behr/cheery/150b-5/swatch.html) — a coral/peach/pink that is pleasantly warm and sunny, slightly grayedout so that it is very visible without being too bright. I hope “Cheery” coordinates with your curtains — I’d love to see it.

  5. Wendy says

    Looks like we have a lot of good color oriented people on this discussion. I am trying to repaint some old wood in our house that was originally stained a very dark, rich mahogany color. However, the browns that I find in the store are “ich”. They are pale or have too much grey. I need something that has a warm red tone that would match the darkest stained wood you have ever seen. The hard part is that the wood tones show through and provide the “red”, but the stain is dark. Anyone find a good dark brown? Also, whenever I try to get into a semi-gloss or egg-shell, the color gets really washed out. I can’t use matte because of my four young children (must be washable). Normally, I would NEVER consider painting over this beautiful wood, but the stain is 50 years old, damaged and the previous owners were chain smokers for 40+ years. So, I want to match the color as closely as possible so that our addition can have the same feel and be fluid.

    • TappanTrailerTami says

      Hi Wendy,

      So – this is wood trim / mill work you are trying to re-do with paint vs. stripping and refinishing, correct?

      If so, you could take a spin with the Rustoleum Cabinet Restorations, and see the Cabernet color. If it isn’t quite dark enough, you could have it tinted darker, and/or use glaze on it. Just a thought……….

      I believe the sample cabinet photo “before” and “after” on the home page is Cabernet 🙂 Very rich looking!


    • Patty says

      If your not liking what you have tried, go to one of the smaller paint or hardware stores and tell them what you’ve tried and why you did not like it. The person mixing up the paint should have a good understanding of the colors and may be able to suggest something based on what you say. I’m not good at reading the color on a little paper swatch, but their guidance has been helpful.

      Some people may also not realize any store can mix up any color — regardless of what paper swatch brand you bring them or it you bring them at item you’d like to match. You may have to shop around for the most helpful paint person – the one with the helpful attitude.

  6. Michael says

    IMHO the room is already busy enough with lots of interesting furniture and cool accessories. I vote for no accent wall. If anything, consider painting out all the walls in the background colour of the drapes.

  7. Patty says

    Have you thought of moving the piano over by the fireplace, then move the couch out a little bit from the wall — and at more of a right angle to the wall — blocking off the fireplace area as if it’s an area that stands on its own? Then shift the other furniture around as if it is it’s own space separate from the fireplace.

    I think you might have too much furniture. Maybe the table behind the couch (or another one) could go over by the 2 chairs and fireplace.

  8. joan says

    Hi Pam;

    Coral, bang on girl. As soon as I saw the first photo my eyes went to the coral-ish round foot stool and I could see that color on the wall. When I scrolled down to your first suggestion which is coral I had a odd feeling. 🙂 I often find that when people decorate in Mid-century/Vintage it can come across bland. Could be that I am a lover of bright colors. Goodness knows what my mobilehome/cottage will turn out like. LOL

  9. says

    Karen has a lot of different colors and textures going on in that room. We need to pull them all together.

    Accent walls are great given the right application. This room does not fit the bill. I suggest painting the whole room gray in a satin finish. Maybe a shade or two lighter then your drapes.

    Great collection Karen has.

  10. JKaye says

    Hi. Maybe the problem isn’t the accent wall color, maybe it is the green walls. I think the green walls are drabbing out an otherwise interesting room. The yellow accent wall looks good with the wall sculpture and with the gray fabric on the HW pieces, as well as the orange and black accent pieces in the room. Consider painting the other walls a tan or off-white that matches the color of the mortar in the fireplace. A tan or off-white wall color will allow those great drapes to make more of a statement too.

    My furniture arranging suggestion is to get the two pieces of HW together, rather than being on opposite sides of the room, so that they make more of an impact. They are really nice, but right now they are playing second fiddle to the bigger couch. You have some wonderful things in a cool house, and you’re just a gallon of paint or two away from a really great living room.

  11. Rebecca Kalinowski says

    I would do your accent wall in the same green as the rest of the walls,but maybe use a grasscloth in that color. The difference in texture would create the same pop as a different color would, but in a much more sophisticated way. you have a lot going on in that room that is good-why cheapen it with gaudy colors?You have some beautiful furniture that is elegant Mid century modern (living room chairs, dining room table and sideboard) You also have some bright, fun 50’s furniture (the hairpin legged tables,lights) Let those things shine against a more subtle backdrop like the green.

  12. says

    Amazing. Before I even scrolled down to your first suggestion, I thought to myself “what that wall needs is a slightly darker version of the color of that hassock under the coffee table”. Which, of course, would be coral. Great minds think alike.

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