The Accent Wall

By Lesley Myrick

Totally awesome or totally over it?

Spoiler alert: I’m not over it. I think an accent wall is totally awesome.

Teenage Lesley was into accent walls too. The 10-foot-by-10-foot bedroom of my childhood seriously lacked architectural character, and I was determined to create a stylish space even with my nonexistent budget. Perusing my collection of 90s teen magazines, I was drawn to high-contrast, black-and-white photography and advertisements. Thus the legendary “black-and-white wall” of my teen years was born. I plastered one entire wall — floor to ceiling — with moody Calvin Klein fragrance ads and black-and-white photos of my celebrity crushes.

Twenty-something Lesley also dabbled in accent walls. As a renter-friendly way to update our first big-city apartment, my roommate and I painted one wall in our living room a fresh apple green. For the cost of a can of paint, we made the apartment our own and brought interest to an otherwise unremarkable wall. (Never mind the rule forbidding renters to paint, which we quietly ignored.)

While the concept of an accent wall is simple — treat one wall differently with color, pattern or texture to create a focal point — pulling together a successful one is not that easy. Not just any wall will sing with a splash of contrast. In fact, executing a dynamite accent wall has as much to do with the architecture of the home and layout of the room as it does the treatment you use.

So which wall works best as an accent wall? The wall that you choose should naturally draw your attention already as you enter the space. An accent wall is a focal point, so if it’s competing with another natural focal point — like a fireplace — things get chaotic pretty quickly. Contrasting elements catch our attention, and if our eyes don’t know where to rest when scanning a room, the effect is one of clutter, confusion and disorganization. Not every room warrants one wall being highlighted with a decorative treatment. In fact, an accent wall is best reserved for spaces with little architectural detail or structural interest. If you’ve already got a clear focal point in your room, go with it! Save the selective splash of color for a room that’s craving a little more attention.

Ideally an accent wall treatment should be on a wall without windows or openings that visually break it up. In a bedroom, the wall that the head of the bed rests against tends to be a successful choice. Most likely this wall is solid with no openings and is also positioned in a way that immediately draws your eye upon entering.

Bedrooms often lack the architectural excitement living rooms possess, so if you’re feeling gun-shy about pulling the accent wall trigger, a bedroom is a great, low-risk place to start. The exception to a solid wall would be one with a cased opening that’s well-proportioned and centered on the wall.

Once you’ve chosen your wall, there are a myriad of ways to elevate it into a pièce de résistance, from simple and budget-friendly to completely custom and mind-blowing. My favorite accent wall treatment of late is wallpaper. If you just cringed when you read “wallpaper” and immediately thought of the horrifying options that were once in fashion and are still wreaking havoc on outdated homes, take heart — things have changed for the better. From richly textured grasscloth to subtle hand-screened metallics to on-trend geometric patterns, wallpaper is a totally chic option to bring interest to a room.

If you’re a renter or feeling commitment-shy, removable wallpaper is a recent offering that’s completely changing the game. Peel-and-stick options give the same look as traditional wallpaper but are easily removed or repositioned. I’m also digging small removable decals in geometric shapes to create a funky, organic pattern on an accent wall. An assortment of triangles, circles or irregular dots can give the illusion of wallpaper with far less effort and cost and is especially fun in a kid’s or teen’s room.

Adding texture to an accent wall with reclaimed wood, brick facing, decorative tile or stone veneer is a little more of a commitment but totally worth it for the “wow factor” in the right space. Think of the character exposed brick or shiplap can bring to an older home — this concept can serve as the inspiration for an accent wall in a newer home. I’ve seen many successful accent walls created out of recycled pallet wood and a little ingenuity.

And of course, there’s the tried-and-true technique of simply painting an accent wall a contrasting color. Whether it’s a tone-on-tone look, featuring a deeper version of the main wall color, or a bold and energetic contrasting color against white walls, a painted accent wall is a simple DIY project that takes minimal time and investment for a major visual payoff.

So what would I do on an accent wall in my own home? I’ve been dying to create a giant wall-to-wall Union Jack mural. (I think teenage Lesley would be proud.) Unexpected? Absolutely. A dynamite focal point? You bet. Now to find the perfect wall…

Join the Conversation