I totally understand why the “accent wall” was a thing back in the earlier 2000s: it’s a “pop” of color without taking too much of a risk in a room. I mean, if you end up hating that one random purple wall, you can just quickly paint it back…in a quarter of the time as a four-walled room. But here’s the thing about doing just that: well, it looks like you did JUST THAT. It’s like the coward’s approach to bold paint (and I can say that because I’ve been there, painted that in the past). This type of tip-toeing tends to not look very purposeful and gives off “I didn’t really get around to finishing up the paint job in here” vibes, I’m sorry to say it. HOWEVER, I’ve found myself bookmarking and pinning lots of images lately of rooms with…ACCENT WALLS. That being said, they aren’t your ’00s accent walls. Instead, what I’m seeing done really well is accent walls with a purpose. These babies have a new grasp on life. Read on because I’m going to walk you through what the keys to nailing the accent wall of today are with lots of very pretty examples (so get your Pin finger ready).
To Draw Attention to an Architectural Feature
First and foremost, using paint to highlight an architectural feature like a fireplace, a special room shape, molding, etc. will always get a thumbs up from me. Here, in a room by Brio Interior Design, the white brick fireplace gets the contrast it needs against a charcoal wall to feel special. When you aren’t working with a flashier tile or surround material, this is a genius way to create a moment out of a pretty basic set up.
Painting built-ins as your “accent wall” helps to pull all the attention something like this (vintage or newly installed) deserves. Whether cabinets or bookcases, make sure to paint any wall bits that show up (for instance, if it’s more like a hutch with bottom cabinetry but shelving up top) the same color so it’s seamless. This works particularly well in a room that might be a little more monotone, like the above shot from a house designed by Ryan White. Yes, the floors are pretty stellar (and um, give me that chair, thanks), but really this appears to be a pass-through space made to be felt important with built-ins in that perfect sage-y hue.
Had the wall behind that sofa (in an Argentinian home via Apartment Therapy) been painted the same white as the rest of the room, your eye might have missed that unique slope of the wall, but in a bright cerulean, it’s basically the first thing you notice (followed by the beautiful light pouring through the door, the molding and those stunning floors). If you have a room with a different roofline or shape, consider finding a way to accent either it or the space around it to make it shine.
To Bring Interest to An Overlooked Transition Space
“Wow, this is such an inspiring hallway,” said ALMOST no one ever, until now, because I just said it. This might be my absolute favorite version of an accent “wall” on this whole list, except it’s more an accent door/ceiling. The ceilings here appear to be quite tall, so to bring even more attention to them, painting the door up into the overhead space is like a magnet for the eyes. And here’s the thing: had they decided to paint the whole hallway that dark inky blue (which I’m sure would have looked killer, too), would have laid out a totally different mood in here. This way, it still feels bright and airy with just enough visual interest.
Here’s a similar take on the “paint a door at the end of a hallway” thing from the prior photo just without the whole painted ceiling commitment. I love that they went all in on that sliver of wall, and didn’t just paint the door but rather all the moldings and hardware involved.
To “Distinguish” a Space for a Purpose
Another very smart application of the accent wall is to carve out a “purpose” for a portion of a room without having to put up any walls or get too creative with furniture. In the above room by Marion Alberge, a dining room is distinguished from a much larger living space (that you can’t see in this photo). The slight alcove was the perfect opportunity to do this, so if you have awkward little spaces like that, you might want to consider going the accent wall route.
I love the architecture of this space, but I could see how being all white, it might be a little one-note. The creative minds behind Plank + Pillow smartly too a little niche, clad it in shiplap and painted it a chalky navy to let it act as a workspace. To save money and labor, you can always skip the paneling and just go the route of paint for a similar effect. Note, also, that they painted the baseboard in that section, since that would be a question I myself might have if I were embarking on a similar painting journey: to paint or not to paint the baseboard.
Here’s something a little different: painting the majority of the wall to draw attention to a corner. I found this shot on Architectural Digest, and at first, I thought it was a little funny not to commit fully to the paint job (in terms of taking it fully to the corners, ceiling or baseboards) but then I realized that it was the most purposeful way of going about it being that there is more wall beyond the corner, and otherwise they would have had to take the paint all the way across. Leaving the border says “yes, I meant to do this and I’m confident about my choice” which I’m all for.
Goodness this breakfast nook is dreamy, ain’t it? (insert my 3rd-grade teacher’s “ain’t ain’t a word” lesson here). I believe this is Farrow & Ball’s Inchyra Blue (PLUG! this also happens to be the color I went with in my dining room and with lots of bright light, it looks quite different here), and against the white painted brick and the rest of the room, it sings.
I pulled this photo because I think it’s a nice way to use up and feature a sliver of a wall that, in this layout, would likely go to waste. Gallery walls for the win, people. (Also note their use of black frames on the black wall to just let the art itself be the star.)
I know this is a bit “niche” in that most people do not have a full wall of cabinetry in their bedroom (at least, now in the US) with a bed built in, but IN CASE YOU DO, or are thinking up some storage solutions for an upcoming project, painting (and wallpapering??) an inset to place your bed is a great way to make a “headboard” without actually having a headboard.
To Add Contrast to a Basic Room
Okay, this one is SMART. It’s no secret that designers and design-aficionados are TV-averse but look, let’s get real…most of us have a television that we need to have displayed openly. However, if you want some ideas as to how to “camoflauge” it, take a cue from Kate Cooper who worked on the above room. The majority of the house this room is in is white, bright and airy, but in the TV-viewing space, she went the route of painting the wall the flatscreen sits on a similar dark hue. This accomplishes two things: 1. the TV is less HUGE BLACK BOX ON BRIGHT WHITE WALL, and 2. it gives this relatively boxy room some contrast.
Accent walls don’t just have to be paint, either. I myself am a little on the fence about the “headboard wall” accent treatment because frankly, I think most rooms don’t need it (I say go all-in in terms of paint in a bedroom, or let the bed and art tell the aesthetic story) but this is where you’re likely to spot it most often on the webs. However, I am pretty into this wood paneling situation. Alexis from Alternative Indigo opted for Stikwood, which is like removable wallpaper but wood veneers! You just peel and stick those bad boys up on the wall. Genius.
Design Loves Detail shows another example of the “headboard wall” treatment, just in a nursery. The addition of molding kicks it up like 10 notches.
To Make the Most of Awkward Architecture
And finally, one that won’t apply to most of you, but I wanted to include it because I think it’s so fun. Particularly if you live in an old home with quirky architectural, using an accent wall approach to highlight anything that’s funky or awkward makes the most of your home’s uniqueness. The powder blue wall portion here really plays into the mid-century vibes of this room by Marion Alberge.
Alright, there you have it…the accent wall glow-up. I’m into it…are you?
Also, is there anything “passé” you’ve been seeing lately that you’re like “wait, that’s cool again!”? Let us know in the comments. We love diving in, researching and finding great new ways to approach an old design idea and then sharing with you all here. Can’t wait to hear what you’ve been seeing. Thanks for reading, friends.