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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.

  1. 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.

  2. Just another Pam says:

    I think pink can be calming but , like yellow, some people can’t handle it for a long time.

    Years ago they painted “calming rooms” in prisons bright pink and it turned out it only worked for about an hour.

  3. 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.

  4. Marcheline 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.

  5. jen says:

    yeah, i’m with you on this. that is a really complicated layout with walls intersecting walls. an accent color on this wall breaks it up more. i’d unify the color (i love your pale green, very 50s) and bring in the coral of your ottoman as an accent with pillows and some pottery. kate’s right on with the orange, move that stuff into another room.

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