Originally published in STIR®
Debating the pros and cons of the accent wall and its relationship to color phobia.

In today's economic climate, homeowners are increasingly looking for affordable solutions to their design dilemmas. Armed with the belief that painting remains the most cost-effective way to transform a space, many people choose to paint with the assurance that color fixes a multitude of sins.

Yet there are homeowners who remain hesitant when it comes to painting and coordinating colors in their space. It seems color in large quantities or color decisions that are thought to be "permanent," can be very intimidating. I've concluded this is one reason why some people choose to paint just one accent wall rather than all of the walls in a room. In fact, if a client tells me they only want to paint one wall, I always ask why. If I feel the decision is based on fear, I'll do my best to coax them into painting all of the walls instead.

I realize some people would rather "date" color than be married to it. However, when it comes to accent walls, I think one of their biggest drawbacks is they can make it appear as though the homeowner somehow "forgot" to paint the other walls, or decided the one wall was mistake enough.

My guideline is this – if a client answers "no" to either of the following two questions, then I advise against an accent wall:

  • Is the wall architecturally interesting or noticeably different (in shape, size, trim, features) compared to the other walls in the space?
  • Does the wall contain a clearly defined and unique focal point (bed, fireplace, open bookshelves, amazing window)?

Painted accent walls can be a great way to add drama and a pop of color to a space, but I believe it has to make sense. No one should walk into a room with an accent wall and think, "Why did they paint just that wall?" The answer should be clear.

If the design does call for an accent wall, I always enjoy seeing the artistic use of color. Some homeowners use accent walls to make a statement by adding stenciled or hand-painted designs, or painting patterns with multiple hues. Using wallpaper is also a great choice and provides the opportunity to incorporate a high-end wall covering without breaking the bank. Creative color and pattern will always underscore an accent wall's purpose.

However, for the commitment and color phobic, even an accent wall can be a scary thing. Perhaps no one understands this more than Scott Flora, cofounder of Blik®, a company that designs and retails removable wall graphics.

“We set out to create a way that anyone could easily add color and design to a wall or surface inexpensively; and yes, that one could remove, replace and update quickly,” says Flora.

A few years ago, I would have only considered wall graphics for children’s spaces, but this product has “grown up” and is now surprisingly sophisticated for adult tastes. Companies like Blik offer a range of colors, designs and even artwork. I also like the idea of layering these graphics over a freshly painted wall.

“Our colors are varied — some strong, some subtle, but in most cases our products add a punch of color to a specific portion of your space,” says Flora. “We never suggest someone cover every wall in their home with Blik; rather, use them to bring color in as an accent.” Flora also works with artists to create affordable art pieces that rival more expensive framed pieces.

Could wall graphics be the new trompe l’oeil? It’s certainly a trend that’s evolving and appears to have staying power. I think as long as there’s an audience that’s unsure about making color decisions in the home, there will be a market for artful products that are easy to install, change and remove.

I’m always curious what others in the design field believe regarding color phobia, so I asked Flora for his opinion: “When used in your personal space, color reflects something about you to others,” he says. “Therefore, I think people generally tend to be conservative when choosing colors. Not many people are comfortable with making a bold color statement.”