5 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Choosing an Accent Color

published Jul 19, 2021
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I’m going to let you in on a little secret: Finding the right accent color for a room is a straight-up struggle. Since you don’t want to live in a monochromatic space — c’mon, that’s exactly why you’re color shopping in the first place! — it’s best to strike a careful balance between finding a hue that pops against your core color palette without upstaging the rest of your space.

To make the search a little easier, I talked to two color experts about the questions you should ask yourself before selecting an accent color for paint and beyond. That way, you can spend less time finding your perfect shade and spend more time enjoying your space — in living color!

Is an accent wall the right way to use an accent color in your space?

Contrary to popular belief, accent colors don’t always need to be used on accent walls. In some scenarios, less really can be more. “Introducing an accent wall is perfect for highlighting a favorite piece of art or furniture or zoning off an area to separate its use from the rest of a room — ideal for open-plan apartments,” shares Charlotte Cosby, head of creative at Farrow & Ball. “However, not every room is suited to [a] pop of solid color.”

Before assuming you need an accent wall, think about your room in question. Does the space have beautiful wainscoting or built-ins you’d like to highlight? Rich, wood paneling that should take center stage? Then maybe you go for it. If your space is on the smaller side though, a big, splashy accent wall may be overkill. Ultimately, the layout and shape of your room has a lot to do with it. “A long, narrow room with a door and a window on both of the shortest walls, leaving you only with the longest walls for the accent color, will only feel longer and narrower, as the accent wall will close in the space,” Cosby adds. “In this instance, painting all four walls in the same color is best.”

Still want a pop of color? That’s what accessories and smaller details are for, according to Cosby. If you still feel like you want some kind of a painted accent color on your walls though, you can always opt for a subtler shade and use it on a feature like a fireplace, as seen in the tonal brick in this British rental. That way, you’re committing to far less color with a capital “C” on the whole, in terms of both shade saturation and the total square footage covered.

What do you want to highlight?

If you’ve made it this far, you decided that you do in fact need an accent color and likely for your room’s walls. (Congratulations!) Now, the next big question: How will you use your accent color to highlight your space?

“Always ask, ‘What do I want to stand out in this room?'” says Jennifer Guerin, owner of JG Color Studios. “Where do I want the focus to be? What’s my design goal, and will this color make the most sense?”

If you want to highlight your sky-high ceilings, consider adding some long colorful drapes to the mix or painting the ceiling in a light, eye-catching hue to draw the eye yup. Want to put the spotlight on your apartment’s decorative fireplace? Paint a trendy arch shape over your hearth as seen above. Maybe it’s your moldings that make a statement. They’ll standout even more if drenched in some kind of color.

Credit: Minette Hand

Will the color look good all day, every day?

Now that you know where you want to put your accent color, it’s important to think about how it’ll look during all hours of the day. This tip is especially important if you’re looking to pick up a paint brush. “It is all dependent on the light that enters the room,” Cosby explains. “For example, what might work in one room that is south-facing would look very different in a room that is north-facing.”

Look around your room for some initial accent color cues. You can pull inspiration from textiles, artwork, a piece of furniture, or even an object or accessory on your bookshelf or tabletop. If you don’t have a lot of color in your room because you tend to like neutrals like white, gray, and tan, consider this your opportunity to take a chance on an all-time favorite hue.

You should sample any paint shade options before committing to a hue — and look at them several times throughout the day to see their “true colors.” Think about how artificial light might affect the shade, too. Once you find your favorite, make sure to properly prime and paint the walls with at least two coats of color for best results.

Can the accent color be repeated?

Speaking of which, an accent color doesn’t have to (and shouldn’t!) be a one-hit wonder. Your perfect pigment can be repeated throughout your room — if not, your entire home.

“Pick your accent color when you pick the whole room scheme, so you end up with something cohesive and not overly busy,” Cosby says. “An accent color does not need to be just on the wall. Think about the trims, ceiling, or furniture as alternatives.” If you want to mix and match materials, pepper in some throw pillows, drapes, or planters in this color, too.

Credit: Andrew Bui

Do you actually like the color?

Trends might come and go, but your home’s vibe is here to stay… well, at least until you move out or redecorate. That’s why it’s important to select an accent color because you actually like it — not just because it’s deemed “cool” by designers. “The biggest mistake you can make choosing an accent color is choosing a color that is the biggest current trend; simply, a shade or tone that doesn’t feel good in your own gut,” Guerin says. “We all have our own personal palettes that change throughout our lives that resonate with our personal experiences. Let your heart lead with color, and don’t second guess it!”