What is a Pony Wall? Here’s Why You Might Want One
In home design, it seems that everything old becomes new again, and it’s time for pony walls to have their comeback. Pony walls never truly went away, but they have fallen out of popularity in the last couple of decades. A feature of McMansion layouts and new-build architecture, many modern buyers tear down pony walls in their renovations rather than embrace them. But half-walls have a much longer history and half-height bookcase colonnades are actually a coveted design feature in early 20th century homes, including Sears kit houses. Now, some designers are starting to see pony walls with new eyes, and the half-wall is creeping its way back into home design.
What is a pony wall?
Pony walls are simply short, non-load bearing walls. They’re used for a host of different reasons, including directing flow in open space layouts, creating privacy in bathrooms, and carving out special nooks in rooms. “Like all trends, the penchant for pony walls has risen and fallen a few times in the last several decades. They were popular in the 1950s and ‘60s more minimalistically, and then again in the 1990s and early 2000s in more ornate, Tuscan-inspired interiors,” said Caron Woolsey, founder and principal designer of CW Interiors.
Pony walls became popular in the 1990s, thanks to the boom in open-plan layouts, and were especially utilized in the kitchen (many houses last remodeled in the ‘90s have squat half-walls separating the kitchen from the eating nook). “A partial wall can be used as a snack counter and a serving surface. It can do decorative duty, too, with dried herbs, baskets or other knickknacks suspended from an attached pole,” wrote The South Bend Tribune in 1990. Sometimes they were peninsula counters, and other times they were a simple drywall wall. They would be decorated a certain way on the kitchen side, and a different way on the dining side, sometimes even using different wallpaper patterns or paint colors.
How are designers using pony walls today?
In 2022, pony walls are being used a little differently. “The benefit to pony walls is that they offer an inexpensive way to offer dimension and modest separation between rooms. I had two requests in the last year for pony walls, both for specific reasons,” says Woolsey. And that is the key to utilizing pony walls modernly — they need to be built with a specific purpose in mind.
“For me, the key to making a pony wall look stylish is to make it look intentional. I personally do not like the look of a sheetrocked, painted pony wall that serves no function other than to look like a half-hearted attempt at adding character to a space,” Woolsey explains.
Instead, Woolsey suggests making a half wall functional with storage. “Enhancing this basic structure by lining with beautiful cabinetry or topping with geometric open shelving adds function to form and facilitates an upgraded design that is custom and clever,” says Woolsey. You might even say IKEA has been providing modular pony walls for years with pieces like the ELVARLI system. If you like that style, these squat half-walls just might be for you.