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How to Choose Colour

Do you need an Accent Wall? Take this Test

By 12/19/2009February 10th, 201739 Comments

I am not an accent-wall-happy colourist. Personally I think they are mostly dated (from the 80’s & 90’s).

The minute I say this, I know I’ll get emails with questions starting with, ‘I know you don’t like accent walls, but what do you think. . . ?’

So I’m starting this post with a disclaimer; I don’t entirely dislike accent walls when they are tastefully done. There are times when I suggest them and times when they don’t work at all.

Here are 10 ways to know if an accent wall is right for your home:

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1. Are you decor challenged? Or is your decorating budget small?

At a colour consultation a few months ago I had a client say to me “I don’t have a big budget for decor so I would like some accent walls to bring in some extra punch and colour”.

If this is where you find yourself, then by all means, get the colour somewhere in your home cause it’ll make you happy 🙂

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2. Do you have children’s rooms to decorate?

I love choosing two colours (or even more, depending on the space) to go with the bedding or furniture in the room. Remember a kid’s room is their personal space where the rest of the house is yours so here’s where I ignore colour flow.

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Love the pink and coral in this room (above)!

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Here the gold accent wall (above) was repeated in the fancy dresser/change table!

3. Do you have a small character home with heavy molding everywhere (base and crown) small square rooms?

Then mostly I would say no. In this room below, the accent wall works because it’s a totally symmetrical room, and you can see that they’ve taken a paler shade of lavender and continued that along the rest of the walls.

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4. Do you have a contemporary or modern home?

If your answer is yes, than an accent wall on a focal point wall (below) could be completely appropriate and fabulous!

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5. Do you love wallpaper or stripes?

If you love it but don’t want to commit to an entire room, the focal point wall (below) is a great place for it!

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Just make sure you continue the background colour of the wallpaper on the surrounding walls! I really dislike the look of white walls with only one wall of colourful paper!

The walls in the room below (in my opinion) should have been painted in the greeny beige of the background to really finish this room properly.

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6. Do you have bookshelves or a niche to paint?

Accent colours can look fabulous inside them!

7. Does your dining room need to be defined by another colour?

If your dining room is simply on the other side of the living room, painting that wall (below) can be a great way to make a statement! (But only if it doesn’t have a window, if you have a 50’s house with an L shaped room – this doesn’t apply to you!).

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8. Do you have a stairwell that needs some life?

Here’s a way to do it, just make sure you paint the rest of the walls a colour that coordinates with the rest of your decor—personally I think the white is way too stark here (but of course I would say that :).

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9. Are you missing a headboard or have too much white [bedding] in your Bedroom?

Then an accent wall could be the way to create the feeling of drama and colour that you are looking for. Just don’t leave the other 3 walls out!

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10. Does your fireplace stone go right up to the ceiling?

If it does then don’t even think about painting that wall! It just cuts the colour in half and doesn’t look good!

Hopefully these guidelines (remember they are not rules which are meant to be broken) will help you when considering if an accent wall would work in your home!

We would love to help you choose colours, select the right combination of hard finishes or create a plan to pull your room together. You can find our fabulous email consultation packages here.

If you would like to transform the way you see colour, become a True Colour Expert.

Related posts:

Hans Wegner Chairs

The Colour of wood vs. Wall Colour; How important is it?

Eggshell is not a Colour; Paint Sheens Defined

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  • spark! (Ada-Marie) says:

    Great post, Maria. I love your perspective on accent walls! I agree that, when done right, they can look fabulous. I love the picture of the accent bookshelves – divine!

  • Traci Zeller Designs says:

    This is a fabulous post, Maria! I generally dislike accent walls, but – as you said – there are times where they really work … and you totally nailed those times!!

  • House Painting Tutorials says:

    Hi Maria,

    I think accent walls are the most useful when you need to correct the shape of your room or create a sense of architecture in a boxy room.

    Also, for people new to color, this is a great way to start experimenting with possibilities.

    Yelena Kublitski

  • Red River Interiors: says:


    love this post…I agree that accent walls are great when done tastefully. I use them to add color for the color shy. I also like to tie fabric colors together w/ an accent wall… Fay

  • CoffeewithZooly says:

    a very good post & your timing is right on cue for me.

    I'm looking to inject some colour into a white-on-white glass, stainless steel water-front apartment. I still dont have an idea of what to do but this post gives me information to start to weed out ideas.

    Thank you

  • Marlo says:

    Great post on accent walls Maria.

    I have both a niche and dining room to do and was wondering if I should add an accent colour. Now I know. 🙂

  • VictoriaArt says:

    You add always that last little bit of assurance to my doubts and questions… Love that! Great post!

    Maria, Happy holidays and a very healthy and prosperous New Year!


  • Carol Ann says:

    This post is a keeper, great lessons one and all, hope you do not mind if I use with clients to show how it should be done…thank you for this great post.

  • Anonymous says:

    Thanks for the post. It was informative as usual. I love the wall paper idea-just don't have the nerve to do it! Happy Holidays!

  • LesleySW says:

    This is fantastic and so full of great information. I always love your posts. thank you!

  • Between you, me and the Fencepost says:

    I really like the brown and teal dining room. There was a really cool tiffany blue chair in Winners and I wanted to grab it and put it in my future office. I have the fifties L shaped dining room so I guess no bright orange accent wall in here! Whew.

  • Linda at Lime in the Coconut! says:

    Funny thing…our library was painted an orangey red. Loved how it looked from the front door and the back door…but when I was in it it was too much red. So just left the one wall you can see from the doors red, painted the rest off white. MUCH more relaxed. The backwards way to getting an accent wall!

  • Candied Fabrics says:

    Great post with oh so helpful images to make your points! I love that bird wallpaper, but agree the white is too much of a contrast!

  • Erica says:

    Great suggestions. I've never been a fan of accent walls either, but maybe it's because I've always seen them used incorrectly. Can't wait to be on the look out for good and bad accent walls.

  • Ideezine says:

    I believe accent walls are a trend and what's old is new again and again and again.

    So as clients become more knowledgeable about color, what they want, it's easier for them to identify what they don't want.

    Knowledge is power and patience is element to success in all design projects with the greatest customer satisfaction.



  • Becky says:

    Love your take on the accent wall. It is definitely a tricky thing to get right – I often share many of the same tips you offered with my design clients. The bookshelves look fabulous. I love your blog and just added it to my blog roll. Check it out. -Becky

  • DesignTies says:

    I painted the fireplace wall in our family room red, and I love it 🙂 It's a great hit of colour without painting the whole room red, which I think would be overwhelming. There's red in the cushions on the sofa and chairs, and the red is carried into the kitchen as an accent colour.

    I was also able to create the illusion that our TV is centered on the wall to the left of the fireplace wall by wrapping the red around the corner and adding copper squares. It totally tricks the eye into thinking the TV is centered 🙂

    I love the look of painting the back of bookshelves or an armoire a bold colour 🙂

    Hope you have a Colourful Christmas 🙂


  • susan says:

    When painting a painting, I limit my palette to three to five colours. Then I mix everything from those three to five colours. Everything has the same base then and is in the same family. Works in rooms too….easy to be harmonious if you use colour theory. An accent wall only needs to be of the same base palette.

  • Karena says:

    Excellent examples Maria!! I have painted behind my living room bookshelves, A coral shade, I love it!

  • Greet says:

    You have done again a wonderful post and very interesting to read!!
    I love using an accent colour in the back of a niche!
    Thank you so much Maria for all the energy you put in your posts!!
    I wish you and your family a Merry Christmas and a colourful 2010!!

  • Susan says:

    I've been in the accent a wall with wallpaper mode this year. And darn it didn't I wallpaper my headboard wall in a dramatic blue and chocolate wallpaper but the other walls are a very very pale blue/grey. I wonder what you would think?
    Merry Christmas

  • Marlo says:


    If an accent wall in the dining room shouldn't have a window could it have a doorway at one end of the wall (with no door)? I assume a doorway is the same as a window.

  • Rachel says:

    as you so astutely say, it's about context. each space is unique and calls for it's own distinct palette and treatment. sometimes it works, other times, not so much. as long as it doesn't stand alone and instead, ties in with it's surroundings, i like what accent spaces can do.

  • Maria Killam says:

    Hi Marlo,
    If you think it would look good then go for it! It's hard to say without seeing it but it really should 'read' as a feature wall in itself like it does in the photograph above.

  • Design Junkie says:

    A great guide. I never understand it when I see someone who has a natural focal point in their room, but choose another wall for the accent color.

  • The romantic query letter and the happy-ever-after says:

    I love wallpaper and stripes. I really do. You are a gem my dear.
    I love coming by to see what you have post.
    Every happiness to you and your this season and in the years to come.
    Warmest regards,

  • Rebecca says:

    When I count my blessings, you are among them. The world is enriched because you share your talents and insights with the blog community. My wish for you is a wonderful Holiday season and may 2010 be filled with joy and rewards.
    I have gained insight into color form you in the past six months. You have added a new perspective to my world. I have always been rather good at colors but now I an even better and if I ever get to build a home and redecorate you will be on my hire list.
    Have a Great Holiday Season!!!


  • Rebecca says:

    The bird in a tree wallpapered wall is driving me nuts. I would like to see the white wood work have a bit of cream color, the ceiling a bit of a blue white, and the other walls the background of the paper. Then the room could sing.

  • Tara says:

    If you are still reading these Maria, I would love your opinion here: I have a brick fireplace soaring all the way up a 10ft celing and it is in the center of two built-in bookshelves that are only 8 ft. With that crazy angle triangle above the bookshelf from the 8ft walls up to the 10' (We absolutely do not like it) We are going to paint those two triangles the same color as the white bookshelves/trim. Then they will kind of dissapear. And I am going to paint the brick and blend with gold leafing on the brick (maybe). I originally wanted to paint the back of the bookshelves but I think that would be too much. Is this going to work? Or am I going about it all wrong?
    Merry Christmas,

  • Maria Killam says:

    Hi Tara,
    Why don't you send me a quick photo, it sounds right but it's hard to say without seeing it!

  • The Blasphemous Fiendess says:

    Great examples. I want that orange headboard!

  • Developing Designs says:

    Great Post and wonderful photos which will hopefully make it easier for any that are willing to try an accent wall.
    I am not a huge fan, but I knew I needed to have one in a dining room, the art was just floating on a neutral wall, it was screaming for drama. Come in chocolate base with a bark paper in a cut out circle design. It actually turned out better than expected. So, absolutely, in the right setting, they can make a huge impact. But, then again, you already knew that. Thanks again for such an informative post. It is always such a pleasure to read your blog. Happy Holidays. xo

  • Material Girls- Emily says:

    I am asked that question constantly in paint consultations- how about an accent wall? I totally agree with you- not a big fan of them either. But I did do a wallpaper accent wall recently and it turned out really nice!

  • OL' PAINTING says:

    I agree! Feature walls are misused way too often!
    How many times we painted them for clients only to come back in a month to paint them back in a main room colour.

    But from time to time you come across a great feature wall! If it used right it can be amazing!

  • Rita Toomey says:

    I am also not in favor of accent walls. I am painting my living room Kendall Gray from Benjamin Moore (a fairly dark gray). I want a seamless look so want to paint the fireplace also in the same color (all gray) and will use color in my furniture. Does anyone think this might not work?

  • Dave Buskirk says:

    Thank you! I’ve been sitting here pullling my hair out wondering if the kid’s colors are “OK”. I am going to choose a neutral like this reply box here (look down readers) and do their color on another wall. I do like your theory – this is their room and just go with it… Thanks!

  • Thanks for this! I too am really careful about specifying accent walls- it’s nice to have more insight about when they might be appropriate though. Thanks Maria!

  • Rhonald Angelo says:

    Number six is the best example, and is the only one from this list I would ever specify to a client, or use in my own home. I can’t think of any reason to just paint one of the four walls in a different colour in the average room. In my opinion, it depends on the room size, and the architectural features. Recessed areas are the best candidates. I would also consider using the concept on a freestanding wall that separates two rooms, or on a wall that backs two entrances into the main room or hallway. Think about the typical stage set-up for a runway fashion presentation. The accent color is pushed back from the lines and contours of the walls in the foreground. This creates a certain depth to the room.

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