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ULTIMATE GUIDE: Painting Accent Walls

Wall Treatment

Inside: A complete guide to painting accent walls in your home; from choosing a colour and pattern, to creating interest without using traditional painting techniques; tips on getting crisp paint lines.  

Do I even have to say that ‘I paint a lot’? I do. I paint A LOT. And over the years, I’ve developed a bit of an expertise in using paint to bring high impact to a space on a very low budget. This Ultimate Guide to Painting Accent Walls will hopefully give you the inspiration and information you need to start your own journey with paint and colour!

Table of Contents

Basic Painting Supplies

The best DIY projects begin with having the right tools. I’m assuming that since you’re interested in accent walls, you’ve probably painted a wall before, but just in case – here are some things to consider. 

Proper Paint Brushes

When you’re painting an accent colour, especially if it’s a dark contrast colour, the type of brush you use will be very important. Investing in a high quality brush will reduce brush strokes and really help you get clean lines around the corners and edges. 

Recommended Paint Brushes

My top recommended paint brushes for good quality results; especially when painting accent walls.

Proper Tape and Tools for Cutting

I’m not one to cheap out on paint. The worst thing that can happen when you’re painting an accent wall is to have your lines look wobbly or incomplete. Painting really doesn’t cost very much money, but it is crucial to invest in quality brushes (as I mentioned) and quality products that will help you cut into corners and achieve crisp lines. 

Here are the two basic tape products I absolutely swear by- I honestly use them on almost every paint project I do. If you want to see more about how to use the tape to achieve those crisp beautiful lines, be sure to check out this tutorial for my plaid wall. In it I explain the method I used for pulling the tape to get a straight, even, paint line. 

Recommended Painter's Tapes

Spending a little extra on painter's tape goes a long way when you're painting a complex accent wall. These are my recommendations for use when you're cutting into corners, around baseboards and ceilings; they also work well to reposition stencils and other decorative painting tools you might be using.

A word about Fancy Paint Rollers and Gadgets

Okay, a four words. You don’t need them. I’ve tried and used basically every gadget on the market to make painting faster and easier and while some products make good on the claims, there’s always a catch. For example, they might be harder to clean, more disposable (and therefore require more frequent replacement) and some don’t actually make things easier at all. 

My word of advice is to proceed with caution if you feel drawn to purchasing fancy gadgets that say they’ll make your painting life easier. Just stick to the basics. Keep it simple and take your time while painting in corners and cutting edges and you’ll do just fine. 

How to use a Paint Sprayer

Having said all of that, I have used a Paint Sprayer on outdoor fixtures and it is a dream. So I guess it really depends on what you’re painting. In all honestly, paint sprayers are best used outdoors on much larger items and I don’t really think they are the answer to accent walls at all.


How to Choose an Accent Wall Colour

Choosing an accent wall colour can be the most challenging aspect of painting. But know this – it’s just paint. And if you’re only painting one wall, it’s easy to re-do. Although, having said that, I understand not wanting to do the work twice. 

So if you’re looking to absolutely nail your colour choice on the first try, I suggest using a colour selecting tool and app. I recently reviewed the Nix Colour Sensor and it was instrumental in helping me pick the absolute perfect colours for my office. 

The sensor can pick up colours in cushions, housewares, paintings – anything you like and then within the mobile app itself, it will guide you to a colour story that you can build around that one colour. 

It even makes suggestions for which colours to use as accent colours, neutrals and secondary hues within your space. So if you’re feeling challenged by choosing an accent paint colour, this is definitely the way to go. 

How to Get Crisp Paint Lines

This is a big one! And it’s relatively simple to achieve super crisp paint lines. The first thing you need to ensure is you are using the right tools, i.e. a good angled brush and good quality painter’s tape. 

Once you develop a steady hand, you shouldn’t need tape to do things like corners and around baseboards, but if you are trying to do any sort of pattern or stencilling, you will 100% need to use painter’s tape. It will feel like a lot of work up front, but it will save you the agony and heart ache of having to fix imperfections once you’re finished. An ounce of preparation is worth a pound of paint? I dunno – you know what I mean 🙂 

For technique, it’s fairly simple. You want to stick the tape lightly to your walls. Don’t slam it down or run your fist over it too hard. Some tapes are further activated with a bit of water – so you can run a damp cloth over the edge to seal it up tight. An alternative is to just lick your finger and run it along the edge. (Kidding, not kidding.)

Once your tape is in place, you want to paint away from the tapes edge at first. This will prevent any initial bleed through that might happen and it will seal up any tiny bubbles that may have formed. Then the final brush stroke should be along the paint line to seal it up. 

Finish your painting and then pull the tape right away. Do not let your paint dry, especially if you are painting using latex on top of latex and especially if you are working on intricate patterns on walls or furniture. 

You want to gently tug the tape and pull it in the direction of the seam. Pulling it toward the seam will prevent any last minute chips or smudges. 

If your paint lines still aren’t crisp?

Do not worry. This happens to the best of us. The good news is, your wall is still tacky and there’s lots of time to fix things. I like to use a small craft brush from the Dollar store to make teeny tiny touch ups. Worst case is you paint over it with your neutral and redo that small portion of the wall. 

Deciding where to put an Accent Wall

Are you eager to paint a wall, but you don’t know which wall? Or maybe how to start and stop an accent wall? Here are some general guidelines you can follow for knowing where to put your accent colour. 

Above the bed or on the largest ‘open’ wall

This is probably the most used accent wall technique out there, as far as bedrooms are concerned. I have an accent wall in both our adult bedrooms (however, I’ve used wallpaper instead of paint.) The idea is to paint the longest wall in the room that has no impediments – no doors, no windows etc. You can see our complete Master Bedroom transformation here. 

Defining a exterior wall or room

We have a main floor powder room that is just off our entryway. We used an accent colour to paint the ‘outside’ walls of the powder room to create architectural interest. 

When to stop the paint

There isn’t really a solid answer for this, especially if you live in an open concept space. But if you want to know when to stop an accent colour, just look first to the doorways. Paint colours should stop/start as you enter/exit a space. 

If you don’t have doorways, then you’re likely going to be in a situation where you need to create a visual break either via colour blocking or using a piece of furniture. 

Can you have too many accent walls?

In general, you should only have one accent wall per room. This means visually you should only be able to see one accent at a time. But for most people, you can’t see more than one bedroom at once! So if you feel like you want to have a different accent in every room of the house – go for it!

For example, when I stand in my living room facing east, I see our dining room accent wall. If I turn 180 degrees to face west, I see our navy blue powder room wall – but it’s physically impossible for me to see both at the same time. 

Accent Wall Inspiration – Geometric Shapes

Here’s where the fun begins! Accent walls don’t have to just be one solid colour (although, that can obviously be super dramatic and amazing) – but you can use accent walls as a way to infuse pattern and texture into an otherwise boring room. 

Classic, mathematical, shapes will never go out of style. If you’re feeling adventurous, geometric shapes on an accent wall can be really inexpensive to achieve. A word of warning, however, they will take a bit longer to do. 

For an 8-foot wall with 8-foot ceilings, you’ll probably want to budget an entire day to creating your accent wall. If you were simply painting the wall, you’d only need half the time. 

I did a really inexpensive accent wall in my daughter’s nursery using a Gold Sharpie Paint Pen! Check out this post for full instructions for creating a Geometric Accent Wall with a Sharpie, but here’s the short version. 

  • measure the length/height of the room
  • find an even number by which you can ‘divide’ the wall (for example a 96″ wall can easily be divided by 6, 8, or 12)
  • Use a level and measuring tape to mark your divisibles on the wall and pencil a light grid
  • Paint or connect your grid to reveal whatever shape you want

In my case, I used a series of triangles to create a diamond like grid. In my office, I used a series of 9″ squares to create a plaid look

Other geometric shapes you can create by adapting the measure/divide/paint method: 


Accent Wall Inspiration – Partial Walls

This is SUCH a good way to use paint to create an accent wall and it is much less time consuming than creating a grid pattern on the wall. It can be a very effective use of time and space to only partially paint a wall!

A 2/3rds WallYou’re probably asking – why on earth would I do this? Well, by taping off a horizontal line and only painting above the line or below the line, you are achieving a few things. 

First of all, you are visually lengthening the room. If you have a small space, painting a partial wall is a fabulous way to bring the eye up and out without using furniture or any actual decor. 

Painted Purple dresser and two toned walls in blog office

Consider my old office space. It’s not a big room at all, but we painting only 2/3rds of the wall in a soft seafoam and then pulled the crisp white ceiling colour down the top of the wall. The effect was that the ceilings appeared higher and the room felt a lot larger. 

White is a good idea for the top 1/3rd because it tends to bounce light around beautifully. This is a fabulous accent wall idea if you want to experiment with bright or bold colours. Having a 2/3rds wall in a bold colour can reduce the impact just enough to make it feel cohesive. 

Other ways to use partially painted walls

Accent Wall Inspiration – Colour Blocking Walls

This is a technique that is quite similar to partially painted walls, but a little different in that colour blocking is intended to emphasize something else in the room. Consider blocking off a portion of a wall that is behind a piece of stunning art, just the area behind a sofa or couch or maybe visually widening a window frame using paint. 

Colour blocking is just another way to trick the eye into believing there is texture and depth in an otherwise flat space. 

Before we did our playroom renovation, we used colour blocking to distract from an uneven wall going into our stairwell. 

How to color block a wall

I also used colour blocking on a large scale to create a visual break between our living room and dining room, because the actual wall itself is very long. 

Other ways to use colour blocking

Accent Wall Inspiration – Painting Ceilings

Paint the ceiling!! When in doubt, draw the eye up using colour. This is also a fabulous technique to use in a small space. I painted the ceiling in our teensy powder room in a dark navy and it does wonders in terms of style. 

It’s not overpowering, but it elevates the space just a wee bit. 

Painting the ceiling is just like painting an accent wall, just over your head. A good rule of thumb is to paint the ceiling last if you’re going to do something other than white. 

Be sure to check out these other paint how-to posts

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