This Designer Trick Will Make Your Art Look Even Better than It Already Does

published May 22, 2020
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Sometimes the best home projects are the simplest ones that aren’t so time intensive or expensive. If you’re searching for an easy project to do this weekend that has a big pay off, look no further than this smart idea used by a few of the Small/Cool Experience designers: Painting or wallpapering an accent “stripe” or shape of sorts behind your artwork or gallery wall. This idea also works for highlighting mirrors and shelving, too. 

All you need is some leftover paint or a panel or two of temporary wallpaper—and, of course, a free afternoon. Then you can go to town creating a stripe, circle, or geometric form to serve as a backdrop behind your favorite wall-mounted pieces to give them extra oomph. Wallpaper may be a little trickier to pull off pattern-wise, but once you’ve found a print that will work with your color palette, installation will be even faster than painting. Whatever material or method you choose for this project, the effect—calling attention to your prized pieces of art and adding an extra pop of color to your space—will be the same. Let’s take a look at some examples for inspiration, both from the Small/Cool Experience and Instagram, so you can figure out what might work best for your place. 

Credit: Danie Drankwalter

Three’s a Charm

In her “Mix and Match” space for the Small/Cool Experience, designer Carmen René Smith of Aquilo Interiors didn’t choose between paper or paint for this idea—she actually went with both! A horizontal band of black paint covers a middle portion of her back and right side walls, calling even more attention to the dramatic black-and-white horse photograph she chose as one of her focal points for her space. Then, also on the right wall, a strip of graphic wallpaper amps up two shapely mirrors. There’s even a third “block” created out of a second strip of wallpaper. You might not feel like you can coordinate this much color and pattern as deftly as shown here, but sticking to a limited palette will certainly make it easier. You can also choose any one of these ideas, if incorporating two or three feels like too much.

Credit: Danie Drankwalter

Pretty Pink Stripe

If paint is more your speed, then look no further than “The New Natural” room for inspo, as designed by Apartment Therapy’s Home Director Danielle Blundell. To call attention to a simple triptych of abstract prints, she used a bold block of Behr’s Angelico (S180-1) as a background for the set. The side walls are also painted in this color, but you could achieve the same art emphasizing effect with just the single stripe behind the actual artwork. You’ll also save time, money, and energy this way, too.

Colorful Arch

Designer Mackenzie Spicer Georges made a similar decorative move in her living room surrounding a trio of small paintings and shelf. Instead of a stripe or rectangular shape, she went with an arch to help those accents stand out. Your eye immediately gets pulled there, and the pink shade also compliments the desert scene painting over her couch. Another way this idea is different? Instead of framing the artwork entirely within the shape, these pieces actually intersect the shape a bit, which may be something you’d want to consider if you don’t like perfect symmetry. 

Credit: Liz Kamarul

Bold Black Block

This idea doesn’t just work for framed pieces and paintings either. You can pump up wall textiles this way, too. That’s what artist Liz Kamarul did here. Her idea was to paint a massive black stripe from her ceiling to her floor, framing the wall hanging in color. But the painting didn’t stop there. Her sconces felt too small afterwards, so she painted the fan-shaped designs behind them. Anything can be outlined in paint! 

Curve Appeal

Do you have a crocheted or macrame hanging that you think might otherwise fade into your light colored walls? Follow Instagrammers Anna and Tina’s idea and paint a circle on your wall with whatever paint you might have leftover from a project. Then tack your wall hanging up on the edge of the painted circle, following its curve. Not only will this make your wall hanging a focal point in your room, but this simple DIY will introduce a fun dose of color to the space.

Credit: Tara Tunmore

Frame Your Frames

You can also frame your frames with a shape that doesn’t even come close to running from floor to ceiling. Designer Tara Tumore felt like her living room wall was too empty, so she took the mauve paint she used for her fireplace wall and created a rectangle background for her typography poster. This move instantly made the sort of empty wall feel fuller, and a small rectangle is a good place to start with this idea, since it’s easy to tape off and finish quickly. 

Shapes and Stripes

For all of you geometric shape lovers out there, try framing your artwork with color blocked half-circles and squares, like Instagrammer Kate Keesee did. This idea is veering into wall mural territory and requires a little more time, effort, and skill, since there are multiple colors involved. But in the end, the outcome is the same. Your artwork will stand out even more than on a blank wall, and if you thought this idea only worked in living rooms up until now, clearly the bedroom is another spot where you can use this trick.

Dining Spot

And, yes, if you were wondering, this strategy works in a dining area, too. If you have leftover wallpaper or paint from a previous project, put it to use by creating an accent strip that you can place your table up against. Here Instagrammer Tajana’s dining room paintings pop even more when backed with a geometric print. You could also do this behind a buffet or console table, utilizing a semi-circle, circle, or rectangular shape as well.