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Key Decor Alert: How To Get A Feature Wall Right

10th November 2020
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With apologies to CNN whose Key Race Alert has seeped irrevocably into my brain, I bring you today A Key Decor Alert (and if I knew how to add dramatic music I would). Anyway…. The Key Decor Alert (and repetition is almost entirely the point) is that A Feature Wall Is Not (necessarily) a Mistake. But you gotta know how to do it.

the feature wall is back via unique property company

the feature wall is back via unique property company

Now, for many it never went away and while I have long maintained that it can look a bit random and also as if you didn’t have the courage of your decorating convictions, I have recently worked out what, for me at least, was the problem.  The issue, I think, is white paint (again – it’s so often a Decorating Demon – and that might be another Key Decor Alert: White paint often isn’t the answer). How many times have you seen a feature wall in perfectly pretty colour or a gorgeous wallpaper with the three other walls all in white?

column radiator and wallpaper

column radiator and wallpaper via making-spaces 

We have discussed at length on these pages how you shouldn’t default to white paint unless it’s a deliberate decision. White can often be too high contrast with the rest of the decor and does nothing but emphasise any potential shortcomings of a feature wall.

As I merrily said the other day – after all you don’t always wear a white top with every skirt in your wardrobe – only to moderate a comment from someone about 20 minutes later who said yes, actually, she did. So to everyone apart from you… sometimes a colour other than white works better with your outfit.

Note in the images above and below how the walls are in a toning shade of green and while the picture rail above contrasts it is one of the colours from the wallpaper so it’s more of a sort of neutral bone colour rather than white.

wallpapered bedhead via ideal home image by tim young

wallpapered bedhead via ideal home image by tim young

In short, white paint can make a feature wall look like you ran out of paper or paint. Like you were scared to carry through the idea. Like you created a feature wall because you read in a magazine somewhere that it might be a good idea but with no follow-through on how to do it.

If you want a feature wall it’s not just about picking out a wall. It’s about decorating the whole room around that feature to draw it into the scheme rather than have it hanging awkwardly on the edge like the unwanted guest at a party. In the same way that you must never decorate a room in isolation because you can see it from the other rooms in the house when you walk past so you must never decorate a wall in isolation. It’s part of that room, bring it in, make it feel welcome.

But there are white walls below I hear you cry… well yes but there is also a pink border so this is a feature that has been thought about, that has been, if you like, framed on the wall by the pink (and then echoed in the picture and deepened in the colour of the chairs). Like I said, there ways do this. You could have done the whole wall and still framed the edge – that might only take an extra tester pot. It’s about, as it always is, making it look deliberate and thought out.

feature wall via lolaswift_design

feature wall via lolaswift_design

So pick your wallpaper, then paint the other walls in one of the colours within that design – it can be dark or light. If you don’t want paper then pick a colour for that wall, and, to tie it in with the rest of the room, paint the skirting boards round the rest of the room to match for example. And perhaps the window frame and the door as Karen Knox from Making Spaces has done below. Yes the walls are pale (not white)  which matches the background colour of the wallpaper but the woodwork and skirting boards pull out the dark blue of the paper and because the skirting boards lead out from the wallpaper it makes the whole room feel together and that the feature wall is an integral part of the decor and not a random, well, feature.

wallpaper with toning woodwork by karen knox at making spaces

wallpaper with toning woodwork by karen knox at making spaces

Now while this room, by Fiona Duke Interiors, isn’t a feature wall, it illustrates perfectly the point of not defaulting to white. The dark ceiling tones with the wallpaper and creates a scheme that looks cosy and warm and, crucially, joined up. Imagine the paper just behind the bed with grey walls, or even the paler gold colour on the walls and ceiling and you can see why a default shade of white would have looked random and wrong.

wallpaper by william morris design by fiona duke interiors

wallpaper by william morris design by fiona duke interiors

So go forth and feature your walls but make sure you don’t forget the other three. Pick a colour that tones or is a softer contrast for the other walls and the ceiling. Now you have created a room scheme. It may not be rocket science but it is about joining the dots.

wallpaper wraparound by fiona duke interiors

wallpaper wraparound by fiona duke interiors


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  • Agneta McLean 18th November 2020 at 11:47 pm

    I have a feature wall for you to see

  • Ann Kosen 12th November 2020 at 3:04 am

    Yes! I completely agree with this, thank you for explaining and I love your photo examples. I see this so often as a design consultant. People leaving everything stark white and just painting one wall. Or having a medium to dark color on the wall or walls and leaving the ceiling stark white. If for some reason (usually fear) people would like to leave the ceiling lighter, then at least make it a tone or shade of a lighter color that softly blends with the overall scheme.

  • Morgana . 11th November 2020 at 2:59 am

    Interesting to see a honeycomb or waffle weave blanket/throw on the beds. As we understand it, that is a traditional and old Welsh weaving style that is quite rare these days. We had some woven in 2020 and they have proved very popular, maybe a style that is making a comeback.

  • suzanne 11th November 2020 at 12:54 am

    This makes so much sense, unfortunately. I planned on putting a dark feature mural in my granddaughters/ sewing room. I have soft white walls that reach 14 feet at the peak and do not want to paint that high again. Would it still look unfinished if the paper where primarily off white and the door and floorboards where painted a strong color from the paper? Similar to the Karen Knox example.

    • Kate Watson-Smyth 12th November 2020 at 9:45 am

      Wow – 14ft ceilings!!! I can imagine that that has been painted once and forever! I think it would work perfectly like Karen’s with a darker colour round the skirtings and woodwork – that would join the mural to the rest of the room and bring it all together as one. Perfect solution.

  • Elizabeth 10th November 2020 at 10:35 pm

    What do you say to the person who has a partner that says capital “NO” to anything but white woodwork and off white walls. I somehow convinced him dark ceilings would be awesome. The walls and woodwork for now are white. Boo. It’s a long game I guess. Beautiful photos. You always make sense to me. Thank you.

    • Kate Watson-Smyth 12th November 2020 at 9:48 am

      I think it is a long game. You could try asking why? Why is he so wedded to white woodwork? Is it tradition? Does it come from a lovely happy childhood home? Does he always wear white shirts (he might!) with every suit or pair of jeans? What if you kept the walls off white but did the woodwork in a gentle contrasting like soft green, or blue or pale pink. Perhaps even matching the woodwork to the ceiling and keeping the walls white? Sometimes you have to drill into why they don’t want something before you can work out how to change hearts and minds! Keep us all posted.

  • Marie Bunworth 10th November 2020 at 12:38 pm

    Thanks fort those Kate. Love the Karen Knox room, probably because the paper is, to me, less densely designed. Those “packed” designs kinda overwhelm … they need a small bit of semi-negative space!!

  • Elaine Fraser 10th November 2020 at 11:30 am

    Just when I think I’m getting the hang with colours and design you gave me these beauties . Love all the photos here – sumptuous and really brings home how bland and uninteresting and ‘safe’ people play it. When did we all get so boring? Is it because the property market means we aren’t ever creating our ‘forever home’ but worrying about what’s its worth and keeping things bland as easier to sell?

  • LN 10th November 2020 at 8:09 am

    Very interesting. I will hopefully be moving house next year and I have been thinking about having wallpaper in my bedroom. I just wondered what you think about wallpaper murals which tend to be restricted to one wall. Kimberley from Swoonworthy has a very spectacular black and white one in her bedroom and it’s a big trend in French interiors at the moment. Every second project featured on Houzz France seems to have one either in the bedroom or the living room!

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