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Fix Your Eye on A Stunning Focal Wall

A stylish focal wall can transform a room from dull to dashing with well-chosen textures, accessories and lighting.

By John Roark

When an uninspired space needs a dash of pizazz, an element of focus can be just the ticket to capture attention and take it from dull to dazzling. “Upon entering a room, the eye needs a destination,” says interior designer and Phoenix Home & Garden Masters of the Southwest award winner Amy Klosterman. “A focal wall provides a visual accent—a dramatic feature that serves as an anchor and defines the style for the rest of the decor. You can artfully create interest with composition, color, texture and lighting.”

Solutions can be as simple as a coat of paint or a bold piece of artwork, or as dramatic as a fireplace hearth accented with layered lighting and textured tile. Options abound for virtually any budget, and online resources have made accessibility to a vast range of materials a snap. Dressing up a vertical surface with color or pattern can be accomplished in a few hours with a relatively modest investment. Reconsidering an existing architectural element, such as built-in cabinetry or shelving, can create opportunities that are both decorative and functional.

A travertine-tiled focal wall by interior designer Amy Klosterman houses a pass-through fireplace that faces both the home’s kitchen and family room. The varied tones of the stone complement the furnishings, which range in hues from oysters and sand colors to warm grays.

Floor-to-ceiling cladding gives this focal wall a dash of drama. “The center fireplace wall anchors built-in shelving on either side, creating a formal symmetry in the room,” says Klosterman. The custom textured wood edges of the clear glass shelves house LED tape lighting. A shimmering oversized mirror reflects ceiling details and a shapely chandelier.

Any interior, whether expansive or petite, can benefit from an infusion of individuality, says interior designer Andrea Bazilus. “You begin with four walls; often what is needed is a little oomph, something to ground the space and tie everything together. Focal walls add personality by providing an unexpected note without which the area would not be the same. As designers, we ask ourselves, ‘What is the biggest bang for our buck in a room? Where is the wow?’ If it doesn’t exist, that’s where we begin. If it’s already there, we make that our starting point and choose our furnishings accordingly.”

Here, the designers share their insights on creating a distinctive focal wall—and some pitfalls to avoid.


Color is important, but you should err on the side of caution, says Bazilus. “If you have an open floor plan with one orange, one yellow and one red wall, you will only create a feeling of chaos. Think of the house overall. Choose a shade that will be cohesive with the other elements and in adjacent areas. If your furniture is primarily neutral, one incongruently hued wall won’t do you any favors. Select a color that complements what is already in the room.”

Concrete 3D panels, such as “Liquid Forms” by Kaza, add texture, depth and interest to a wall.

“Focal walls are meant to draw attention,” says Klosterman. Here, undulating rift-cut walnut panels in the designer’s own home create a stunning statement. The wall features dimmable LED backlighting, which bathes the room in an ambient glow after dark.


Because a fireplace is a gathering area, it serves as a natural point of focus. Klosterman advises ramping up the drama through artful lighting, patterns, textures and surfaces, which can bring another layer of depth and visual interest. Patinated metallic panels or reclaimed wood planks can impart a rustic or industrial vibe, but subtlety also has its place. Tone-on-tone tile catches nuances of natural light and firelight reflecting off matte and glossed surfaces. Large-format solid-color 3D wall panels can impart an understated note; their shadows change throughout the day with the movement of the sun.


When considering your options for your focal wall, Bazilus advises sticking with one concept rather than trying to incorporate several treatments that inspire you. “In our enthusiasm, we tend to want to do it all,” she says. “Edit your choices. Having too many points of interest within one room can create confusion. For example, if you paint one wall a strong color, have another dominant surface for your fireplace and hang a bold piece of art above it, your eye will not know where to land. Paring down your selections will ensure that the result makes sense as a whole.”

In this master bathroom designed by Klosterman, a translucent resin panel embedded with reeds of glass above the bathtub is shared by a shower on the other side. The focal wall was visually widened and softened by adding sheer drapery panels.

Interior designer Andrea Bazilus created a unique pattern on this dining room wall to give the space dimension and personality. “Overall, the room was monochromatic, and we felt it needed some pop,” she says. “Placing colorful artwork against a backdrop of white-painted moldings creates an effect that is both subtle and fun.”


Klosterman stresses that the importance of illumination should not be underestimated. “A focal wall is akin to a piece of art, and it will be greatly enhanced by the way it is lit,” she says. “Layered lighting, through a combination of recessed ceiling cans, directional spotlights and soffit sources will create a perfect balance. All lights should be on dimmers, which allow you to increase or decrease the drama depending on the time of night or day.”


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