Accent walls: 4 steps to getting them right

KateDo you have a room that is in need of a little pizzazz? But, are you on a tight budget? Creating an “accent wall” — that is, painting one wall a totally different color, or decorating it in another bold way — can help give your room a focal point… can create a lasting first impression and, well…because you’re only going to be fussing with one wall, can deliver champagne taste on beer budget. But where do you start? How do you choose which wall or which color will work best for your space and decorating taste? I have painted many an accent wall in my day, both in my house (where I have two rooms with accent walls) and in the houses of friends and relatives, who needed a little advice on which color to choose and which wall to accent. Based on my experience, I have four tips to get you started on your way to accent wall acclaim.

1. First, pick a room, then pick a wall.

Choosing “which” room and “which” wall sounds easy, but there are a few things to consider before you resort to blindfolding yourself, spinning around in circles and throwing paint darts. The first order of business is deciding which room you want to tackle.

A bedroom is a good place to start especially if you are going for a look that pushes the limits of your comfort zone. Bedrooms usually aren’t the largest rooms in the house, which means less paint and time are needed. Also if you get a bit too crazy with your accent wall, all you have to do is shut the door…your guests will never know!

When accenting a wall in a bedroom, I like to choose the headboard wall, after all this is a bed-room, so shouldn’t the bed be the focal point? You can also choose the wall opposite the entry door, so it is the first thing you see when you peek in from the hall.

Metalic silver retro starburst stenciled accent wallAbove – Patti used metallic paint and a stencil to create a patterned accent wall in her bedroom.

If you choose to put your accent wall in one of the more public areas of the house, such as a living room or kitchen, choosing a good wall to accent can be a bit more difficult. Look around the room you would like to liven up. What is the current focal point? Is it the fireplace that could stand to be highlighted further by some clever use of color? Or maybe you have some interesting angled ceilings that you would like to play up with a touch of color. Perhaps your room is lacking a focal point. Try adding an accent wall behind your retro hutch in the dining room or painting the wall behind your midcentury sofa in the living room to highlight your great taste in furniture.

Retro fireplace accent wallAbove – Rob and Julie’s used a bright red paint to further accent their cool stone fireplace in their Colorado living room. via 306 photos of reader living rooms.

2. Decide what accent material to use.

Painting a flat color on one wall isn’t your only option to create a fabulous new accent wall. If you are more of a minimalist at heart, then one color could be just the thing you are looking for, but keep in mind that many different effects can be accomplished with paint. Try painting your wall one color and then stenciling a shape or design in another color or sheen on top of it, depending on how adventurous you are feeling. You could also draw out a geometric pattern, mask it off with painter’s tape, and create a bold, patterned accent wall. I’ve even seen some very ambitious people do giant paint by number style wall murals on their accent walls! Your only limitation is your imagination and the time you are willing to put into painting your wall.

checkerboard accent wallAbove – Jason (BlueJay) and Nicky used several colors of varying intensity to create a geometric grid design on their accent wall in their 70s inspired living room…can you say “POW!” via 306 photos of reader living rooms.

You can also create an accent wall using wallpaper. In fact, this could be a great opportunity to put that roll of  New Old Stock vintage patterned wallpaper that isn’t quite enough for an entire room to good use.

accent wall vintage wall paperRemember Pam’s friend Clare? Above: Clare cleverly used three strips of vintage metallic wallpaper to accent a dining room buffet — a great use of a very limited amount of vintage wallpaper.

Textured wallpaper in a tiki-retro living roomAbove- This reader has what looks like textured wallpaper on their accent wall which perfectly compliments their Polynesian retro theme. via 306 photos of reader living rooms.

Looking for a more Danish modern approach to the accent wall? Installing some stained plywood or wood paneling might be perfect for you. Feeling a bit more inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright? Natural stone could fit the bill. Channeling your inner Julia Child in your retro kitchen? Try using painted peg board on one wall, which also doubles as a place to hang your copper Jello mold collection.

retro orange accent wallAbove: This reader chose their accent wall wisely indeed. The warm orange punches up the otherwise neutral room (complete with plywood wall paneling), and the dark wood beams radiate from the accent wall like the spikes on a starburst mirror. This is a 1955 mid-century modern house in the Lortondale neighborhood (Tulsa, OK). via 306 photos of reader living rooms.

white accent wall with raised panelsAbove: An accent wall doesn’t have to be a different color from the rest of your room. Sometimes creating a texture or raised design on one wall is enough to add an elegant and subtle accent wall to a room like Dave and Kristin did in their lovely Louisville living room.


3. Pick your color.

When most people think of accent walls, bright orange or red probably come to mind. If that level of bold scares you, don’t worry! There is more than one way to pick colors for an accent wall.

Personally, I like bright, bold colors, (and my favorite color is orange), which is why when I do an accent wall at my retro ranch, it tends to be…well, bright orange. When you are choosing a color for your room, it is important to first decide what color temperature you would like. Do you want your room to be warm, cozy and inviting, or cool, restful and serene? If you aren’t quite sure which way you tend to lean, try looking around your room for inspiration. Repeating an important accent color that you already have in the room in pillows, upholstery, a rug or accessories that you love will not only help you decide your color scheme, but also will help your room look more cohesive through the repetition of color throughout your space.

Here is a quickie lesson in color theory and how colors on your walls affect your space:

  • Warm colors like red, orange and yellow advance into your space — they give you an intense blast of color and *may* make the room feel smaller, cozier.
  • Cooler colors such as blue, purple and green tend to recede — they feel more subtle by comparison and *may* make a room seem larger.
  • (Tip: How to remember ‘what’s a warm color, what’s a cool color’: “Red is hot, blue is not.”)

4. Choose your level of impact

Whether you choose a warm or cool color, you also can dial the intensity up or down. For example, if you would like a more serene-feeling accent wall, try picking a color that has some grey in it (adding gray to a color is called a shade), or a pastel color (adding white to a color is called a tint). Either of these will tend to feel more restful. 

retro minimalist living room with blue gray accent wallAbove: This reader used a blue gray color to create an accent wall that makes a subtle statement in their retro minimalist room. via 306 photos of reader living rooms.

If you want to create an accent wall to add intensity to your room, you can choose neon colors. Contrast also can be used to create impact. If the other walls in your room are bright white, and you pick a dark color such as royal blue, your accent wall will be high contrast and therefore have a bigger impact than if you paint your accent wall a similar value to the rest of your walls. For example, painting one wall Mamie Pink when the other walls are soft gray would be high contrast, big impact.

No matter which wall you choose to accent, materials you decide to use or the level of impact you decide to make, accent walls can be a great way to add creative design interest to a room without committing to a total room redo. So stop procrastinating! Give it a try!

  1. Matt says:

    We have an open concept style townhome and the living room is connected to the dining area and kitchen. In the dining area we have a bold lower red half wall with chair rail and grey on top. In the living area we are thinking a red accent wall. Should we use the same red as the half wall in the dining area? the would be on opposing side of the house.

  2. Jai says:

    I have a narrow corridor and the wall at the end is all you see when you enter .
    Wanted to accent it . Currently all walls are white with white washed oak floor.
    Thinking between dark teal, blue or orange or red or maybe wood cladding. Can’t decide if I should go warm or cool. Any help is appreciated

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