Design Basics: Accent Walls
Mar 10, 2011
Lately I've been hearing a lot of questions about accent walls. Where, why, how… and while there are no real rules about accent walls, I have some of my own guiding principles that I follow when a client wants one, or isn't sure if they want one. Most often the reason it comes up is that a client is craving color, but they aren't ready to commit to it in the whole room. Or possibly, they're working with an open plan where a bold color would be overwhelming in a large space.
Here are my guidelines for how to do accent walls, and how to decide if one is even a good idea. Done wrong, they can look dated and cheapen the effect of your overall design.
Do Paint an Accent Wall…
… to emphasize architectural features or create a focal point. An accent wall is emphasis in the form of color. So be sure that you're emphasizing something good like a fireplace wall, a nook, a piece of art.
… to draw the eye through a space. In a home with plain architecture, sometimes a change of color in a smart location can create depth and interest. At the end of a long, straight hallway a touch of color can be an artful touch.
… to create a spatial illusion. If a room is very long and narrow, a light or bright accent wall at the far end can reduce this impression. High ceilings can be visually lowered with a dark color.
… if the architecture is very clean and modern. This is the easiest style for pulling off multiple wall colors in a room. Pay attention to what the house "wants."
Don't Paint an Accent Wall…
… just to add a little color. Choose a good paint color for the whole room, then add color with fabrics, finishes, furniture, art and accessories.
… if it emphasizes an awkward feature. Unless your architecture is modern and very well designed, walls that aren't simple rectangles usually aren't good choices for accent colors.
… in the wrong color. This is subjective and tricky for many people. The most common mistake is to choose a color that's so different from the rest of the room that it's jarring. A subtle change can be very effective. It's usually best to save intense colors for accents throughout the room.
… if it competes with a natural focal point. For example, in a room with a fireplace, the fireplace wall is likely the only good candidate for an accent color.
… as a color compromise. Couples sometimes disagree on color and figure they'll both be happy if he gets his beige walls and she gets her lime green accent wall, but often the result is a disjointed design.
… because you lack confidence in your color choice. Go for it! If you love a color, you should love how it envelops you within the room. Need some assurance? Check out my color consultation services.
Here are a few "don't" photos and many "dos" for inspiration and education. (Sources of "don't" photos are concealed to protect the well-intentioned.)
DON'T ignore your home's style. This traditional space with paneled doors and oak trim has no business sporting such a wild, modern color scheme.
DON'T compete with a natural focal point.The brick wall is already an accent. Make the most of it.
DON'T paint a wall just to add a little color when it isn't worth highlighting. DON'T choose colors that create a jarring combination. In this case, painting walls a single color and adding accent colors to the other elements in the room would have worked much better. Red upholstery in place of the drab gray would be a start.
DO use subtle shifts in color. The linen accent above the fireplace makes sense and draws just enough attention to the room's height and asymmetry. Room design: Sarah Richardson.
DO emphasize existing features. By accenting the niches on either side of the fireplace, the fireplace itself stands out. Using the accent color liberally throughout the room helps it fit. Photo: via Porterhouse Design.
DO use an accent wall to direct the eye. This entrance of a bi-level home benefits from a dark accent at the top of the stairs where the main living area is. It extends the foyer in the direction where guests ought to go. Photo: Jessica Helgerson Interior Design.
DO allow existing features to shine through. The very subtle shift in color on this fireplace is just enough to highlight it without overtaking the beauty of the woodwork. Photo: Janice Lindsay.
DO use color to create features where there are none. This table might look lost on a long wall without the definition that these blocks of color provide. This is using color as a design tool. Note the use of the khaki as a transition from the pink to the white. Photo: Janice Lindsay.
DO consider materials other than paint for accent walls. Here, bleached oak paneling adds warmth and texture to an eclectic living room. Photo via exinteriordesign.com.
DO know when enough is enough. The backs of bookcases and shelving are a great place to introduce a little bit of color.. Photo: Elle Decor.
DO use color to define undefined spaces. In a studio apartment or multi-use room like this one, color helps differentiate function within an open space. Photo: Dijeau-Poage Construction.
Need a little help getting color just right in your own house? A Dwelement Color Consultation can happen in your home in the Traverse City area, or anywhere in the world via my eDecor services. First room, $75. Additional rooms in the same house, $30 each. You'll save that much in wasted paint by getting the color right the first time! Want to set an appointment or get started? Just email me. —Diane
TAGS: pictures of accent walls how to design choose accent colors room design interior design decor decorating online color consultations rules guidelines for painting accent walls
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