Here’s What to Do if Your Older Home is Sabotaging Your Accent Wall Dreams

published Jul 29, 2020
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Old homes come with many wonderful features (charming old-school architectural features, lasting curb appeal, the list goes on) but they also come with some challenges (potentially leaky roofs, old plumbing, and lead paint, just to name a few).

As a renter, I’m (thankfully!) not in charge of making sure all my older building foundational issues are in check; I just get to enjoy the aesthetic features of my Brooklyn brownstone apartment. But it’s no secret that my floors aren’t quite level and my walls are not quite plumb, and, for the most part, that has never bothered me.

Our pink living room.

But when I saw this year’s Small/Cool submissions that had incorporated such unique geometric accent walls, I knew I had to have one. There was one particular light pink color band wall that caught my eye—above, from Joanna’s beautiful home—but when it got down to it, I realized that my walls might be a little too wacky to boast a straight-lined color band.

How would that even work? To have a 2-foot color band, would I measure 2 feet from the wall at different points from the ceiling? Wouldn’t that create a slanted color band if I know my ceiling is a bit slanted? Was this just a bad idea all together? Was my older home sabotaging my geometric accent wall dreams?!

The answer: no. It just takes the right tools.

“It can definitely be done. Anything that isn’t a newly built place has these issues,” says Jonathan Rios, founder of Rios Interiors Corp, an interior painting and remodeling company in New York. “With a decent level, a tape measure, good tape, and the right paint and brush, you can make a lot of things happen.”

Rios is very familiar with the quirks of Brooklyn brownstones and says ideally you would get a professional to skim coat the wall and level it out with a few coats of plaster, but if you’re trying to easily DIY your paint job (I’m a renter, after all), purchasing a few key items will help you bring your geometric accent wall dreams to life. Here’s what you’ll need to have on hand.

Credit: Ryobi

Laser level

Forget trying to measure the same amount all the way across your wall. To bring a color band or geometric shape to life on your wobbly wall, you’re going to need a laser level

“A laser level is 100% key to having your wall look really well done,” says Rios.

He explains that this will create a level line to the eye so that any visitor that comes in and sees your color band paint job will not think twice about your otherwise slanted walls.

“Use a ladder to set it to the height where you would like to see the line,” says Rios. He says you can also use a camera tripod, buckets, or anything else that gets it to the height you need. Some laser levels, like this one from Ryobi, attach to the wall directly.

Credit: Frogtape

Proper painter’s tape

Another important element to pulling off a geometric accent wall is using proper painter’s tape. Rios recommends Frogtape because of its adhesive activation properties. You can wet this kind of painter’s tape to activate the adhesion.

“We pass a little wet rag over the tip of the tape so it truly seals, and then we put a little bit of caulking on it to seal it tighter,” says Rios.

That way, you’ll get a completely straight line. He says to just be mindful of the time, as you don’t want the caulking to dry too much—and you’ll need to remove the tape as soon as you’ve finished painting to avoid raggedy edges.

Credit: Kathleen Finlay/Getty Images

Flat finish paint

Rios also suggests using an eggshell or flat finish paint to help hide older wall imperfections. “Flat finish doesn’t reflect the light as much, so you don’t see the unevenness of the walls,” he says.

A little trick for a slanted ceiling

Rios says that if you’re wanting to paint the entire wall a bold accent color, but you don’t want to bring attention to your slanted ceiling, there’s a trick for that.

Rios uses this example: “Let’s say you want to do a black accent wall, but you have a white ceiling, and you’re in a Park Slope brownstone, where a lot of the ceilings are slanted, and you don’t want to draw attention to that.”

He says you can identify where the ceiling begins the slant, take a measurement, and bring the white color down a little bit before you start painting the wall black, so it gives the illusion of a straight ceiling (and yes, you can use your laser level for this).

“If it’s 1/4 of an inch, paint that 1/4 of an inch white. When someone visits your home, they assume that’s part of the ceiling. You can hide that imperfection,” he says.

Credit: | Shutterstock

Plus: patience

As with any painting job involving more than one color (and most color bands and geometric accent walls do), patience is key.  

If you’re doing a color-blocked accent wall, you’ll use your laser level to mark off the stripes with a pencil, tape them off, and start with the lightest color as your base color. Then you’ll need to repeat the taping and painting process for each color until the job is complete.

If you’re doing a half-circle geometric wall, Rios recommends finding the spot where you’d like the tip of the circle to be, making that mark, then using a laser level to create the straight line for the bottom of the circle, and using an extra-large beam compass to draw your shape. 

Once you have your laser level creating a line that looks straight to the eye (and your visitors), paint tape to keep that line straight, and flat finish paint to hide other imperfections, you just follow all other guidelines for painting a fun accent wall—you don’t have to let your older home sabotage your accent wall dreams.