In the last column I mentioned a design ‘rule’ that is : the eye will go to the area of greatest contrast first. (White belt on a black outfit) Another example of this is: Think of a tree standing all alone in a field. Now think of that tree with a branch partially broken, hanging down. What is the most obvious thing about that tree, the one thing everyone will see first, before they see the tree? Yup.. the broken branch.
Contrast. Heard that before?
This is one of the main design guidelines. If you want something to be noticed in a room, make it different from its surroundings. Another example: Put three vases of similar size on a window sill. One is pale green, one is pale blue, one is red. Which one will you notice first? Was that your intention, or was it to have the three vases be a grouping of similar things?
Feature walls and contrast
So, now to feature walls. The function of a feature wall was originally to create some interest where the was no specific architectural feature in the room. Instead of using furniture or fabric, or art to create a focal point, the feature wall was a bold blast of color, usually contrasting to the main color in the room, that said ‘Look at me, I’m the focal point’. This is where we put the TV stand in the family room, or the head of the bed in the bedroom. It’s contrasting color made it the first thing someone would notice when entering the room- the focal point.
The more contrast there is in a room, the smaller the room will feel. (Think of a clutter filled room – lots of contrast.) A contrasting wall color will make the wall advance, visually. Technically speaking, the lightness or darkness of the color of the wall determines if the wall will ‘advance’ or ‘retreat’ but in my experience any high contrast color will make the wall more visible therefore making the room appear smaller.
Reasons for a feature wall
If you are decorating a small bedroom, for example, that has no architectural interest, painting one wall a high contrast color will only make the room appear smaller. Paint all the walls the same color and use the headboard as your focal point. Or do the bed wall in a texture that is very close to the wall color.
Or if you want to go big-time dramatic, be bold and wallpaper all the walls in the same paper. One of my favorite small rooms of all time was in Chintz and Company in Calgary. I worked there for a few years and the tiny, tiny ladies’ powder room on the main floor was wallpapered in a black paper with little bouquets of flowers. The ceiling too.
Very dark, very mysterious, very cool. Even though the paper was black, the room appeared much larger than it actually was because there was very little contrast between the walls, the ceiling and the floor.
So, please take care with the feature wall. Consider the purpose of the contrast, ask for some advice. Maybe just a texture on the walls will do. And remember the lady with the white belt.