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Twenty years ago, you couldn’t open a magazine or flip to HGTV without seeing designers wax enthusiastic about feature walls. Most of those late-1990s versions were stenciled with grapes or sponge-painted in Day-Glo shades, mind you, so the memory elicits a well-deserved cringe.

Fast-forward to today and a tasteful feature wall has more decorative pros than cons – bad paint techniques aside. First, it allows you to experiment with print or colour without going all in. Think of a feature wall as your in-home design lab: If you can live with that paint or paper on one wall, maybe the other three should join the party? The humble feature wall is also easy on the budget, allowing you to splurge on a more expensive wallpaper to cover a smaller surface area.

When paint is your accent, use it strategically to draw attention to built-in shelves, cupboards or closets, to highlight a fireplace wall, accentuate ceiling height or mark a transition between private and public spaces, like a hallway or stairwell. And don’t forget the ceiling – it counts as a wall, too.

To keep the look from veering into throwback territory, stick to dark colours (matte black, deep blues and greens) or pale hues (chalky blues or pinks). Adding these kinds of moody or subtle accents will result in a very of-the-moment approach – not a sponge in sight.

When it comes to using wallpaper for your wow moment, I think the application is most successful in cozy niches, the wall behind a bed or sofa, or even as a backdrop to a dining bench or banquette. If the print feels too overwhelming, break it up with art or a mirror to achieve balance. For the commitment-shy among you, there are rolls upon rolls of great removable wallpapers and murals to give you that “here for a good time, not a long time” effect. Retailers like Home Depot, Wayfair and Anthropologie are a good starting point and offer a selection of patterns that range from pretty florals to fun geometric prints.

Finally, keep in mind that accent walls aren’t limited to paint and wallpaper. You can achieve the same effect, albeit in a more permanent way, with wood, mirror, stone or tile.

See? The feature wall is back and it’s better – and more creative – than ever.

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