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Design & Create a Modern Accent Wall

We all have those rooms - the comfortable and stylish furniture, accessories to give it some personality; a functional and perfectly fine space. But there's something missing. Exhibit A: this living room. It's okay. Nice sofa, ottoman, accent chairs. The paintings are vibrant and add color to the room but the way they're displayed isn't quite cutting it (hence the one that's missing because the command strips didn't quite hold). So much untapped potential!

Living room before redesign with paintings on wall.
This living room has so much untapped potential! The bright paintings feel like an afterthought on this uninspired wall.

We knew we wanted to display those bold paintings in a more dignified way while also creating depth and texture to the entire wall. We sketched over the existing room, playing around with ideas until we settled on a design that felt balanced and didn't compete with the paintings. Here's what we came up with:

Concept sketch for living room accent wall.
We like to sketch things out before we dive right in - after a bit of back and forth, this is the design we decided on.

This style of this home is a melding of traditional Southern-turned-modern: columns on the front porch, plenty of intricate molding, floor to ceiling drapes in updated fabrics and colors. The thin vertical wood slats nod to that traditionality, keeping the rooms connected without copying the existing design. The living room walls are painted White Veil and Oceanic Climate (both Behr) and we chose to continue those colors for this accent wall. Again, continuity.

So how do you go from a sketch to an actual wall? It's not as hard as you might think! Let's walk through it.

Materials Used:

  • (14) 1 x 2 x 8 furring strips (how many you need will depend on your wall dimensions)

  • Sandpaper - 80, 120, 220

  • Mini Paint Rollers

  • Painters Tape

  • Paint

  • 5/8" brad nails

  • Wood filler

  • Caulk

Tools Needed:

  • Tape Measurer

  • Table Saw

  • Miter Saw

  • Orbital Sander

  • 4' level

  • Ladder

Measure everything.

How wide is your wall? How tall? Based on your sketch, how many wood pieces do you need? There's no wrong way to do this - we liked our sketch and decided to follow that which meant we needed 35 wood pieces. The ceilings are 8' tall BUT the wood pieces sit on top of the existing baseboards, meaning the wood pieces needed to be ___ tall for the full length pieces.

If you only want to create an accent wall without displaying any art, you're in luck - those are the only cuts you'll need to make. Go ahead and skip to the next step.

If you're planning to display art, like our paintings, there are a few more steps. Lay out and measure your artwork. How far apart do you want them from one another? Is there furniture (like the sofa in our room) that you need to account for?

Trust me, take these measurements first or you'll end up having to stop in the middle of what you're doing and take them later.

Rip your wood.

If you're making the picture rail, set aside at least one 1x2 piece of wood for that.

We cut each 1x2 furring strip (which are actually 3/4" x 1 1/2") into 3 half inch pieces each. You could absolutely use a different kind of wood (aka nicer wood), we picked these because they were cheap. Like really cheap. $1.81 plus tax a per board. Sold. 12 full-size wood pieces are cut into 3 half inch wide pieces = 36 strips. Sand everything. It's tedious but it matters - it will be painfully obvious if your pieces aren't smooth, not to mention the paint won't take evenly. We started with 80, move to 120 and ended with one last pass at 220.

1x2 furring strips cut into thinner pieces to be used for the wall.
Cutting the 1x2 furring strips into (3) 1/2" pieces.

Lay your "wall" out.

As designers, we're visual people. We like to lay things out, "see" what they will look like and make sure we aren't making mistakes BEFORE we cut/assemble/paint. The garage was an ideal spot for this - the only problem was in the middle of January it was cold!

We took painters tape and laid out the left, right, and bottom boundaries. We marked where the top of the sofa ended and added a rectangle to represent the paintings. This helps you see where the accent color of the paint lines up and make sure it visually makes sense.

Painters tape is used to create a template of the wall (bottom, left and right boundary, top of the sofa, outline of the paintings) and the wood strips are laid out.
Create a template of your wall so you can lay out your cut strips out and make sure everything fits.

Cut and assemble the picture rail.

If you're planning on making a picture rail, go ahead and do that now. We used one full sized (1x2) furring strip cut to the length that will accommodate our artwork. You'll also need one 1/2" piece for the front rail that keeps the paintings from sliding off and another 1" piece for the back that you'll use to hang the rail on the wall.

Sand your pieces til they're nice and smooth and then assemble with wood glue and brad nails. When it's dry, paint it your color of choice.

Miter saw used to cut picture rail pieces which are assembled with wood glue and finish nails.
Cut your picture rail pieces to length and assemble with wood glue and finish nails.

Once the paint is dry, go hang it. You'll feel so productive and it will give you the momentum to keep going with the rest of this wall!

DIY custom length handmade picture rail to showcase paintings.
Already so much better!

Paint your wood pieces.

Lay your wood pieces out on your template and consult your sketch. Group the pieces according to your sketch and use painters tape to mark the wood pieces that are two-tone. Trust us - use mini rollers. It makes everything SO much faster and the end result is a smooth, even color. We painted the white sections first (2 coats, letting it dry between coats) and let it sit overnight. The next morning we removed the painters tape and re-applied more tape to the line of demarcation so we could paint the blue sections (also two coats). Once everything is dried, you're ready to install!

Install your wood pieces on the wall.

We installed our wall in two phases - the full length pieces on either side of the picture rail first and the pieces that intersect the picture rail second. You could certainly do it all at once if you wanted.

In a perfect world, the measurement from the ceiling to the baseboards would be exactly the same all the way across the wall. In reality, it's probably not and these wood pieces need to fit as close as possible so it's smart to measure and then cut if necessary. We went in groups of wood pieces, trimming the pieces as necessary to make them fit. Use a 4' level to make sure the pieces are straight and nail them into the wall (we used our 18 gauge brad nailer and it made quick work out of the process).

The next day we installed the center pieces that intersect the picture rail. a perfect world the measurements would be the same across the board but if you've done any home projects, you know that's probably not the case. Measure and cut accordingly and install the wood pieces as you go. We did all the bottom pieces first and then went back and added the top.

Once your pieces are up, go back and fill in your nail holes with wood filler. It needs to set for a bit before you can sand it and touch up the paint.

Caulk your seams & touch up paint.

You're almost there! In fact, you might be tempted to skip this step. DON'T. Let us repeat, DO NOT skip this step. It's the difference between looking like a school project and making your accent wall look professional. Once you get the hang of caulking it's really quite satisfying and goes by pretty quickly. Caulk ALL your seams. Top, bottom, left, right, the picture rail.

As the caulk dries, touch up the paint. Cover all the wood filler and if needed, touch up any of the caulk seams.

Give yourself a high five!

Place your artwork, take a step back, and admire your hard work.

If you create a similar accent wall, we'd love to see it! Tag us @reddesignedinteriors and #reddesignedfurniture #reddesignedtutorials. Happy designing and fabricating!

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