Bringing Walls to Life
Proceed confidently and make your visual voice heard
There you are — proudly, though perhaps in a state of exhaustion, surveying the interior expanses of your new home or apartment.
The floor is still littered with boxes, though your furniture seems to have taken a stand as if it intends to stay. A few rugs remain rolled like cigars along the baseboards, and the walls — well, the walls are vast, empty rectangles and squares of abandoned space. No matter how the floors and furniture may come into focus, the walls will seem regions of doubt that few normal people relish facing.
There are just too many choices — or not enough — when one contends with walls. Unlike floor areas, where a sofa and a television seem to know exactly which space they were meant to inhabit, or where a skinny Tabriz hall rug has only one choice to make, walls are everywhere. From tiny alcoves backing a kitchen table to megalithic expanses in great rooms to half-walls above wainscoting in the dining area, even tiny bathroom walls present all the challenges that might be involved in going on a first date. How much do you want to reveal about yourself, your interests, your proclivities, your tacky hobbies, your rogue’s gallery of relatives or an odd preoccupation with your own face?
We turned to experts in this fraught region of design, and to other authorities, to remind us that your home is, after all, your kingdom and that you are its king or queen. But no royal ever got anywhere by being shy or reticent. Instead, advice from one and all seems to be: Follow a few artistically correct guidelines in balance and scale, and then make your visual voice heard as loud as a billboard, or as subtle as a demitasse. Take another look at your walls and see a canvas, a sculpture garden, a Soho gallery or an album of Aunt Debbie’s photos of buds, but do it with confidence that nothing on a wall can really be wrong.
Designer Brittani Burton of Hearth & Soul in Tallahassee advises people to select a focus wall in a room.
“Not every wall needs to have a collection on it,” she said. “But what you choose to display should be something personal to you — something with a story behind it.” And it also depends on the size of the room and its function. “For instance, in a hall where there is traffic, sculptural items that may catch an elbow may not be ideal.” Yet she likes the idea of a collection presented in unexpected places: in stairwells, at the top of stairs, surrounding a breakfast alcove or over an entry table.
“Remember to have some blank space — negative space — around the items in your collection. Choose one central piece, and work out from there.”
Apartmenttherapy.com advises making paper cutouts of the frames or items you will display, then taping the paper to the wall before drilling holes or adjusting your layout. First laying out the whole design on the floor can also help you adjust the spacing.
Erin Green of Erin Green Designs of Tallahassee says that keeping contrasting levels of lights and darks is important, whether that allows for brilliant colors on a white wall, or pale, reflecting colors against a dark wall. Both Green and Burton agree that there should be a kind of continuity in the collection as well, from similar frames to an overall color theme to subject matter that lets the parts of the whole wall resonate together.
Some examples of that kind of wall harmony may be a grouping of toys beloved by your children when they were young; your seven lovely guitars too long lost in the closet; aligned shelves holding a dozen vintage cameras; straw hats beach-worn over the years; record covers; sparkling mirrors of various sizes; jigsaw puzzles you never thought you’d solve — with maybe a piece or two missing; and even a vertical garden of green plants. All of these, and whatever other thematic treasures you’ve forgotten, can now be brought out into the light.
As long as you’re personally invested in your collection and are prepared to spend time with friends who want to know the story behind each piece, look at your walls in a new way, and get personal!