How to Create an Impact Wall
The popular look can be achieved using art, fabric, tile and other materials.
Most rooms have four walls—but not all of them are created equal. A feature wall—also known as an accent or statement wall—draws people into a room.
Sheathed or painted in a color and texture that contrasts with the other walls, the feature wall sets the tone for the space. Bryn Mawr designer Ginger Woods says a feature wall can elevate an interior, adding a layer of sophistication. “I prefer to call them interest walls,” she says.
Woods’ favorite trick of the trade is to highlight a wall with a wonderful painting or spectacular sculpture. “Beautiful art does something for an interior that nothing else can,” she says. “Of course, you have to make certain it’s well lit.”
Woods once installed a veneer of rough stone on a wall in a two-story master bath where the clients wanted a serene Zen feeling. “You wouldn’t use it in a shower, but it made a big impact on that very large wall,” she says.
Painting the inside back of a bookcase in a contrasting color adds an element of interest, drawing the eye in. And be sure to cover walls in materials that are in keeping with the rest of the house, such as wood veneer wallpaper and stone veneer. “It doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive,” says Woods. “I did an interest wall with orange paint that was very effective.”
For a truly one-of-a-kind statement, West Chester designer Krista McGrath suggests blowing up a fabulous photograph and using it to paper a wall. “A feature wall can give a space personality and pizzazz,” she says. “If it’s a well-designed room, your eye will then automatically travel around the room.”
In a kitchen, a feature wall might focus on a large, commercial-style range with a striking hood and a wall clad in decorative tiles. Typically, the wall behind the bed commands the most attention in a bedroom. A huge, dramatic headboard in wood, leather or fabric makes a statement. Another option is Nantucket-style wainscoting, run three-quarters of the way up the wall. “You also can install wallpaper behind the bed—perhaps a gorgeous silver damask,” McGrath says. “Wood walls are big in bedrooms, especially reclaimed wood. Velvet walls in a dining room would be very pretty.”
Setting the Tone
If you’re using wallpaper to anchor a feature wall, go bold. Designer Rose Giroso suggests to let the pattern and color dictate the mood for the room. “Large flowers say romantic. Ikat says bohemian,” says Giroso, of Rose Authentica in North Wilmington. “Grasscloth is timeless. It adds texture but not so much that you can’t live with it with for long periods of time.”
In a family room, a fireplace—with or without built-in cabinetry—is a natural launch pad for a feature wall. Giroso recommends resisting the temptation to station a television above the mantel. Instead, opt for a dramatic painting or a show-stopping mirror. “A family room should be warm and inviting, and TVs are cold, angular and shiny,” she says. “The idea is to have a space that’s grounded—that has a continuous feeling of comfort and beauty.”
A family room can also be one of the trickiest locations for a feature wall. “You have several focal points: the TV, the fireplace and the view outdoors,” Giroso says. “And the room might only have three walls, because there are a lot more open-concept family rooms.” If you’re committed to the telly, disguise it with a decorative frame and tune in to an art channel. “You can make it artwork when you want art and a TV when you want to watch,” she says.
A Long List of Options
As feature walls grow in popularity, providers of wallcoverings and other materials are coming up with more choices. Lunada Bay Tile has taken concrete from industrial to elegant with three-dimensional tiles that give walls a tactile appearance yet are slim glass. The Paper Partnership has rolled out its Gingko wallpaper collection, which features fine metallic threads inspired by the facets of gemstones. Island Stone is offering precision-cut tiles of natural stone that can be dry-stacked on walls.
In a balanced environment, a feature wall can add interest and sophistication to a space. But not every room needs—or should have—a wall that makes a statement. A small room will look even tighter if one wall is painted a vivid color, clad in brick or papered in a bold pattern. If the view from a room is breathtaking, don’t smother it with a competing focal point.
Identifying the most suitable feature wall is part art, part intuition and part geometry. Most of the time, it’s the wall you see when you first walk into a room. But a nontraditional feature wall also can correct the dimensions of a room that’s awkwardly shaped or out of kilter. “If the room is very long, putting a feature wall at the long end plays tricks with the eye and makes the room look wider,” says Biff Buda of BW Design Group in Wilmington.
Make sure the material you choose for the wall is in keeping with the vibe in the rest of the room. “Vintage barn wood is very rustic,” Buda says. “A mid-century modern wall would feature dimensional materials like stone or brick, stacked on the horizontal. Wood painted a gloss white or a bright color would be a good choice in a very modern space.”
In a contemporary setting, Buda took a cue from rich mahogany flooring, running the planks up one wall and extending the hardwoods a foot onto the ceiling. “If you have a traditional fireplace, you could paint the wall around it a bold, contrasting color to make the mantel pop,” he says.
Dos and Don’ts
- Do choose a wall that allows you to highlight a room’s dominant architectural feature, such as a fireplace.
- Don’t install a feature wall in a tiny room. It will make the space feel even smaller. The exception: the sink wall in a powder room.
- Do use a focal wall to define a specialized space, like a dining area in an open-concept living area.
- Don’t allow the feature wall to overpower a space. Your goal should be a sense of balance.
- Do consider options other than paint to create a focal wall. Materials include wood, stone, brick, tile, wallpaper and fabric.