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Accent Wall Colors, Ideas and Rules

Originally published in Latina Style magazine, Su Casa home decor column, by Cristina Acosta

Dear Cristina,Bath, Project:Acosta, Interior

I love muchos colores and I want to include a lot of color in our home. I’ve painted a few accent walls that I like, but I’m unsure about how to continue adding color to the rooms and not break up the flow between areas. Can you give me some tips to help me organize my color choices so everything works?
M. Valdes
Painting an accent wall is a great way to bring color into your home. What often happens is that you’ll love your accent wall so much you’ll paint more of them. That’s when your trouble begins. There you are, standing in front of three or four accent walls painted in your favorite colors and the whole thing just doesn’t work. You’re getting confused. You’re starting to think that the only way out of your confusion is to paint the whole thing beige again. Stop! Sit down with a nice bar of chocolate (seems to work for me!) and take time to figure out what went wrong.

We’ll start out with a few basic concepts that you can work with for choosing and planning your color choices. Then I’ll explain them in depth.

  • Connect colors within a room — This can be walls to ceiling and walls to walls.
  • Repeat colors between rooms – A wall color in one room becomes the ceiling color in an adjoining room.
  • Choose colors with a similar intensity or value such as subdued, bright or light colors for any area of the house with connecting spaces.
  • Unify a variety of color choices with a repeating design element such as a trim color that repeats throughout connecting rooms.

One way to understand connection or flow is to explore disconnection. Exploring disconnection is a natural place to start as this is what you have, a house full of disconnected colors.  Begin with understanding why your first accent wall was such a success. An accent wall is a large area of isolated color that repeats the color of a furnishing or accessory like a sofa or vase. Paint one accent wall and it’ll look great. It’s presence helps to focus the eye on a portion of the room. Because the isolated color of the accent wall doesn’t lead (or connect) your eye to another area of the home, flow is not enhanced. That’s not a big deal as flow may not be important for that part of the room. Paint a few more accent walls and the lack of flow (or connection) becomes a big deal.

The reason a few accent walls don’t enhance flow is because the color is on only one wall surface (or plane) so it becomes a graphic or two-dimensional addition to the room. Connect that accent wall color to the same color on the ceiling or an adjoining wall and the color now occupies two surfaces (or planes), making the color part of the three dimensional architecture of the room. That’s why you aren’t sensing flow with a few accent walls. It’s simple; you’ve got to have a sense of three-dimensional space to have flow. In other words: For color to enhance architecture, it has to be on enough surfaces that it contributes to the shape of the room.

When you get one room looking great, your next challenge is to make sure the colors between the rooms flow together easily. Repeating a color from one room to the next can enhance the sense of flow between the rooms.  This is especially easy to do in an area where the rooms are intimately connected, such as a master bedroom and bathroom. Repeat the color on the walls in the bedroom on the ceiling in the adjoining bathroom.  I call this  “flipping” a color – it flips from the wall (a vertical plane) to the ceiling (a horizontal plane).Fireplace,Project:RichterW.jpg

A wonderful way to include a variety of colors in a home is to choose colors that have a similar lightness or darkness (value) to each other.  Think of the colors in a landscape at twilight or on a rainy day.  The lack of bright light makes the colors in the landscape less defined. They become more similar in value and shapes seem to melt into each other. Translate this concept into your color choices and your rooms will flow seamlessly together.

Another simple solution to unify colors is to repeat the window, door and wall trim color through out the home. Paint the trim a warm white semi-gloss or pearl finish. The white trim will enhance the flow of a variety of colors from room to room. If white isn’t your style, experiment with medium cocoa or dark chocolate brown tones.

Whatever your style, be bold and experiment with your color choices.  You’ll soon discover that bringing color into your home brings new and exciting perceptions and experiences into your life.

The greens and gold in the room with the piano are of similar value to each other and the wood floor. The slightly darker eggplant hue of the fireplace chimney is a similar value to the slate fireplace stones, creating a dramatic focal point amid the flowing background colors.

Taking a traditional color scheme and using it in a contemporary manner blends the clients rather contemporary home with her eclectic collection of furnishings.