A bar at the back of a posh home beckons you to sit at one of the tall counter stools even if you’re not there for a glass of wine or evening cocktail. Two walls are lined with book-matched slabs of Bianco Versalio marble with dramatic swirls of black and gray, green and white and even a modest brush of blush, a kind of artistry that comes directly from Mother Nature.
As accent walls go, this is a luxurious one, full of color and movement and a perfect backdrop for the black granite serving bar that sits in front of it.
Once thought of as a wall with a coat of bold accent paint or a single simple wallpaper, 21st-century accent walls are now about so much more.
For starters, wallpaper likely isn’t what you think it is, and few would think a coat of paint is where you begin — or even end — your statement.
“Calling them ‘accent walls’ isn’t strong enough,” said interior designer Pamela O’Brien of Pamela Hope Designs. “Five years ago I might have used it. Now it’s ‘glamour walls’ for what we’re talking about, though that sounds so feminine, and men might prefer ‘statement wall.’”
Regardless of what they’re called, they’re an element of interior design that cannot be ignored. In homes that are so thoughtfully designed, each room is a destination with a purpose. Finishes such as flooring, lighting and counters are chosen with purpose; plumbing fixtures resemble something from a jewelry box, and custom touches are found in everything from window treatments to rugs.
Statement walls — or impact walls, if you like that term better — fit right in, creating a focal point in a room. Not only do they provide visual interest, but once you need to sell your home, these special treatments often make it more memorable to buyers.
In a master bathroom, it might be a wall covered in a shimmering tile behind a freestanding soaking tub. In a bedroom, a headboard might sit in front of mural-sized art or custom, hand-painted wallpaper.
Wine rooms are a popular “extra” in many larger homes, and even the smaller versions elicit a “wow” from friends who visit. A home in the Bluejack National golf-course community has a wine room lined with wallcovering made of real tree bark, a nod to its woodsy setting in Montgomery.
Interior designer Alecia Johnson loves wallpaper — or wall coverings that aren’t even “paper” — and uses them whenever she can.
When she suggests an accent or statement wall to clients, they often respond with, “What color of paint are you thinking?” She’s not thinking about paint at all.
“I’m a big wallpaper girl,” said Johnson, who co-owns Pearl Design Interiors with her husband, Charles Johnson. “When I say wallpaper, they think it’s your grandmother’s mauve floral wallpaper. It’s not, and they have to trust me on that. Once they see it finished, they’re happy.”
Johnson’s ideas don’t just translate on walls — she loves to add wallpaper to ceilings.
O’Brien loves impact walls, too, and works at least one into every home. She shows off photos of a project in Briar Hollow, where a 1970s townhome recently got a massive update. Internal walls came down to create big open spaces, and wall treatments helped define different areas.
Wallpaper with a subtle but mod pattern added sparkle to a dining room, and at the back of the home, book-matched slabs of marble run ceiling to floor around a fireplace in the living room. Upstairs in a revamped master bathroom, tile in an intricate mosaic pattern is a gorgeous backdrop to a freestanding bathtub.
Early in her career, O’Brien wasn’t a fan of accent walls. If you like a paint color or wallpaper pattern, make a commitment and use it on all four walls was her philosophy.
“Today it has a lot to do with our more open concept,” O’Brien said. “We have to pick accent walls because it wouldn’t make sense to pick a glamorous wallpaper and do it from front to back. It would be expensive and wouldn’t make sense to most people.”
Freestanding bathtubs are a popular choice, but they don’t look great sitting by themselves in the middle of a room — they need a backdrop, O’Brien said. Why not cover it with something beautiful?
Builder Sarah Lavine-Kass, who co-owns Stone Acorn Builders with her brother, Benjamin Lavine, said she frequently works beautiful tile into a room to make a single wall special. In one Southern Living showcase home, she used mother-of-pearl tile in a master bathroom. In another custom home in Bellaire, a tall, skinny wall in a pool bathroom is covered in an unforgettable mosaic glass tile.
In custom homes, the selections depend on the client’s taste, but in spec homes, Lavine-Kass gets to have her own kind of fun. They may add to the cost, but they also contribute to the homeowner’s enjoyment of the home and, potentially, its value.
“The mother-of-pearl was something special, but it was framed in a small section and placed above wainscoting in honed marble,” Lavine-Kass said. “There are ways to do it to maximize impact and help save on the cost.”
She and her brother have been building homes for 20 years and said these special touches have become much more popular in the past five years or so.
Not only do people see interesting treatments on home-improvement shows and in magazines, but their taste is also affected by travel, when they’re exposed to materials and design interpretations in other countries, said designer Meedi Hidalgo of Meedi Hidalgo Design.
“Twenty years ago, people didn’t travel as much,” Hidalgo said. “Now they travel and get to see new things and new ideas, and they want it in their own homes.”
Many of her well-traveled clients collect art, and often it inspires color palettes and décor. In one home, a client wanted a large, bold abstract painting on a wall opposite the bed. To balance the drama, Hidalgo adapted a wallpaper pattern that could be customized. Instead of paper with a pattern that repeated five or six times up the wall, she took the abstract design, blew it up and spread it across the wall in an oversized format. Then she added her own color scheme, and the paper that came in 36-inch-wide strips was hand-painted just for this room.
Designers’ big ideas feed the desire for unique elements in homes, but another big factor is the product that’s available.
Manufacturers make wallpaper that looks three dimensional and textural; tile makers create designs that spring to life, too. Thick slabs of marble, granite or stone that work well for our kitchen and bathroom counters have been scaled down to thinner veneers that attach to walls more easily and line up for unique images when book-matched.
“People are going crazy with tile because there’s so much available. We’ve done combinations of glass tile and in varying dimensions of tile like you would with wood,” said designer Connie LeFevre, who owns the Fabric House and Design House showrooms at the Houston Design Center. “It’s all up to your imagination — what’s the neatest product you’ve seen, and what you’re working on?”
“There’s no room that’s off limits,” LeFevre said. “We used sheets of metal treated to look like zinc in a dining room. The juxtaposition of that against an elegant surrounding makes it quite interesting.”