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Ask the Editor: Accent Walls

A kitchen with an accent walls

Photo courtesy of In Detail Kitchen and Bath

This kitchen's seating area features red accent walls that separate it from the kitchen, creating both a visual highlight and a cozy space.

How to Paint an Accent Wall


Question: "I'm thinking of painting my kitchen in Moroccan jewel tones like deep, rich purple; blue; and red/orange to match colorful, old glass bottles I've collected. I would like to paint one or a few select walls rather then the whole room. Right now, the walls are cream and my appliances are black. Since I rent and am on a budget, I cannot make major changes other than painting. How should I choose what wall or area in the kitchen to paint? Will I need to paint the other walls to complement the color I choose?" -Katie in Columbus, Ohio.

Answer: We think you're on the right track using wall color to spruce up your kitchen's design. Cheryl Kees Clendenon, designer and owner of In Detail Kitchen and Bath, agrees. "Good thinking to use cost-effective paint to change the atmosphere of your space," Clendenon wrote back when we e-mailed her about your color conundrum. "I would suggest first evaluating which wall has the most 'open' area.

Clendenon says that cabinets and appliances will break up your colorful wall's visual impact, so finding the right exposed space is the key to making your design effective. She recommends trying to single out an open area, like a clear wall or a seating area, as your color zone.

It sounds like you haven't chosen what color you want as an accent yet. While you're thinking of jewel tones, you might consider their muted shades instead. Clendenon explains that pulling toned-down shades from the same color family will help showcase your glass bottle collection without overpowering it.

Another consideration in choosing which color you'll highlight is cabinet color. If your cabinets are white, you'll want to avoid bright jewel tones and opt for their muted shades. "White is not rich enough to support jewel tones," explains Clendenon. But if you have wood cabinets, the bright saturation of the jewel tones will look fine with the warm finish of wood.Once you choose which wall you want to paint and what color you'll paint it, the neighboring walls might need a little attention too. "Perhaps choose a complementary shade to paint the rest of the walls so that the accent wall is not sitting alone," wrote Clendenon. She suggests that when choosing the other color, stick with the same tonality. In other words, find a complementary color that is the same "brightness" or "darkness" as your accent color.

For example, in the kitchen above, the muted yellow-green and navy blue cabinetry share a toned-down quality with the dining nook's dimmed red. "Don't try to play down the other walls if you opt for a deep purple for the accent color," says Clendenon. "The other walls need to support the drama of the purple." She suggests that if you opt for a jewel tone accent wall, you should use another jewel tone in a similar intensity around the cabinetry or appliances wall.

Should you opt for a muted shade for the accent wall, the neighboring walls can support a more neutral complementary color. If you take this route, Clendenon suggests finding a complex neutral tone with golden or gray tones to keep things interesting.For help finding complementary shades and more, check out our Color Basics. For more tips from Clendenon, check out her blog, Kitchen Details.