Dare to be different with bold accent wall ideas

Decorating trends have come and gone but the accent wall has stood the test of time. Also known as “feature walls,” accent walls are an easy, low-commitment way to highlight an important element in your home, show off your personal style and make your design vision pop.

A simple coat of dark or bright paint is a tried-and-true way to turn heads, but there are plenty of other ways to draw attention to a feature wall.

a dark green accent wall in a living room
A dark green accent wall adds depth to this living room. Via Ron Frazier on Flickr

Nicholas Nankissoor is a design-builder in Toronto, responsible for the look and feel of several vegan restaurants, including Mythology DinerCopenhagen Vegan Cafe and Vegandale Brewery. He uses accent walls to draw in customers and encourage them to take selfies. However, he notes there’s a right way and a wrong way to go about creating an accent wall. 

Why create an accent wall?

a textured accent wall above a fireplace

“Don't just randomly select a feature wall,” Nankisoor says. “Let unique architecture or furniture guide you.” In most rooms, the location of your accent wall will be obvious, setting the scene for a key feature or piece of furniture, such as a headboard or a fireplace. Accent walls can also help define a space into multi-purpose areas in an open-concept space. If there's no naturally-occurring accent wall, you can create your own focal point with decorative pieces, like a large mirror or favourite painting.

Different ways to accent your walls

Paint: The solid choice

a blackboard feature wall in a nursery
Via It's Great to be Home on Flickr

A coat of paint is by far the easiest way to update your space without a big commitment, Nankisoor says. Painted accent walls often look best when painted a darker or bolder colour, while harmonizing with the rest of the walls. A foolproof trick to choosing the right hue is to “make your accent wall a few shades darker than the other walls.” Alternatively, pick a shade that currently exists in the room's décor elements, like throw pillows or curtains.

Paint: Stripes, patterns and murals 

a striped feature wall in a living room

While a solid-colour wall can work wonders for a room, there are plenty of other ways to use paint on a featured wall, such as with DIY stripes or other creative projects. Simple stripes of slightly lighter and darker shades can add a lot of visual interest; all you need is two shades of paint and painter's tape. 

Empty room background with striped yellow wallpaper a wooden floor and a plant

At one of his soon-to-be-opened restaurants (we can't name it here, unfortunately; the project is top-secret!), Nankisoor is creating a feature wall that will also serve as selfie opportunity for visitors, with fun phrases in speech bubbles painted all over it. 

Updating a kids' room? If you're artistically inclined, there's nothing more fun than a hand-painted feature corner!

a mural on a tree on a kid's bedroom wall


a tropical leaves wallpaper in a living room

Aside from a fresh coat of bold paint, a wallpaper accent wall is one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to add personality to a room. It's also a great way to dip your toes into the fun, funky world of creative wallpaper. Choose something bold and eye-catching—after all, it's only one wall and there are so many kinds and patterns to choose from. 


a three dimensional wooden accent wall
Intricate wood accent wall at Bosk restaurant, Toronto. Via boskto on Instagram
a wooden feature wall at a restaurant
Via boskto on Instagram

Paint and wallpaper are great for adding colour and texture, but why not experiment with different materials to really make your accent wall stand out? Bosk restaurant in Toronto features a “small, wooded area” wall marked with the restaurant's name to complement the space's wood panelling and Japanese-inspired latticework.

“Board pattern and stain colours are all up to your own personal creative vision,” Nankisoor says.

But it doesn't have to be as complicated as all that. Even simple wood planks can have dramatic impact. The most important element, Nankisoor says, is valuing authenticity in the materials you use.

“With wood for an accent wall, reclaimed wood has a natural patina and gives a much more authentic feel than taking new wood and trying to make it look old,” he says. “When choosing wood, look for pieces with nice big knots which will pop out against the stain.”

a rustic wooden-panel feature wall in a restaurant
Photo: Nicholas Nankisoor
a rustic wooden-panel feature wall in a restaurant


a brick feature wall in a bedroom

If you're lucky enough to have a brick wall as part of your natural architecture, play it up with smart interior design decisions.

“What makes brick such a rare and warming design is that it can only be done when you have the opportunity,” says Nankisoor. Take advantage of your naturally-occurring brick wall by using it as an accent and really emphasizing its unique features. For example, if your brick wall is red, try a cooler, grey-toned palette for the rest of the room to make the brick pop. 


a concrete feature wall in a bedroom

Cement or concrete walls are an eye-catching interior design feature that usually come pre-existing in a home, loft or condo but with the opposite effect of brick, adding starkness rather than warmth. Concrete walls look especially beautiful in long hallways, but when used in other rooms, like living or bedrooms, make sure your décor complements the cold, industrial feel. If you want the look of concrete without actually covering the wall in this material, you can use wallpaper that mimics the look of concrete. Unlike brick or stone, you won't give up the real texture quite so much if you use this shortcut. 


a stone feature wall in an outside dining space
A natural stone accent wall adds lots of character to a home.

A natural stone accent wall is truly a sight to behold. Depending on the stone, it can add a Mediterranean or Tuscan feel to your home and while it makes for a dramatic look, it can be expensive if you're building one from scratch.

a tile feature wall in a kitchen
Not just for the backsplash; add some drama with bold kitchen tiles feature wall!

Not just for bedrooms or living rooms, accent walls can also look super luxurious in kitchens and bathrooms. In kitchens, a bold backsplash is often used as a focal point, but you can just as easily use tile as a dramatic feature wall.

In the bathroom, an accent wall can draw focus to a beautiful tub or vanity.

a tiled feature wall  in a bathroom
A bathroom gets a modern update with this funky tile accent wall. Via mosaics lab on Flickr
a tiled feature wall  in a bathroom
Beautiful, bold tiles can turn a bathroom into a work of art.

Not a fan of too much tile? Apply a bold tile pattern selectively as a “half-accent wall,” for example, to draw attention to a gorgeous mirror or faucet. 

a tiled backsplash in a bathroom
Photo of a bathroom sink and mirror with tile design. phone photo

Moulding and other materials

lattice work on a wall in a reading corner

Crown moulding and panelling work particularly well for formal sitting or dining rooms. However, there's no rule that says you can't have glamorous panelling in a playroom and a lovely hand-painted mural in your dining room. “It's really up to you,” Nankisoor says.

Accent wall Dos and Don'ts:

a wooden feature wall in a sitting room

  • DO work with the existing architecture and furniture;
  • DO choose natural, authentic materials whenever possible;
  • DO choose a darker colour while harmonizing with the rest of the walls;
  • DO make your accent wall a few shades darker than other walls;
  • DO choose an existing colour shade that exists in the room's décor;
  • DON'T forget there's more to accent walls than just paint;
  • DON'T be afraid to go for bold paint or wallpaper.

Finally, Nankisoor says the biggest takeaway for designing any space is to make it bespoke to your particular home.

“A big mistake is thinking because something looks good in a photo you saw of a different space, you can just copy it at your place,” Nankisoor says. “You want to think about the natural, existing elements and play those up with smart design decisions.”

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