Three Secrets to Creating That Perfect Focal Wall

The white sofa is the perfect wingman. Everything looks good next to a white sofa.

It’s the winning supporting actor, best friend, “hey everyone don’t look at me, look that beautiful thing over there”  item you could have in your home.  The white wall is a close second.

Even when the white sofa gets old and decrepit and saggy and wrinkled with age spots, it still shows off all the other pretty stuff in a room.  “Hey young whippersnappers, look yonder at the pretty stuff on the walls”.

But then a fresh young buck came into the picture….

And eventually things change. I love, LOVE my new rich, dark leather sofa, but I’m still mourning the white sofa.  Lucky for me it’s only 10 feet away in the front room so I can visit frequently.  I tried to figure out what it was I was morning and then it hit me.  The white sofa made decorating the room really easy.  It was a crutch.  A muse. And other words that show my dependence on my white sofa.

So, I’ve been struggling with the wall over our new sofa.  It’s the main wall in our house, the downstairs hardly seems to have many walls and this one is like a vast canvas that never ends.  At first I was annoyed that we had such a huge main wall just waiting for me to make look good.  But then, suddenly, after two years of living here and slipcovering our sofa in white, I DID somehow make it look good and it was photographed and got all of this attention and go me! I did it!  I was so happy that I had this huge, huge wall so I could make it such a focal point. I was awesome!

It’s really a lovely limitation.

Then we got the new sofa.  And I knew it would require change, hey, I LOVE change.  But it’s been a challenge.  First off it’s a little higher than the white sofa, so even if I wanted to keep everything the same the whole wall would have to move up about 4 inches.  Also, I have this thing where too many saturated colors make me feel nauseous.  And the deep turquoise and dark browns had me feeling sicky.  High maintenance anyone?  Plus, I kind of don’t like things to stay the same year after year and as much as it pains me, I’m ready for a little change.

I have struggled with even knowing where to start with this wall.  And it’s still a work in progress.  I’ve tweaked, I’ve removed, I’ve fallen off the sofa with frames in my hand and quickly looked around to make sure no one walking by outside happened to be looking through the window in time to see me fall.

And secretly I love it. Because this is the fun part of creating a beautiful, meaningful home.  But it’s easy to lose sight of the goal and become impatient and want it done yesternow.

I ended up neutralizing the mats for the silhouettes with a little coat of paint.  I never buy new ones, just paint over the old ones.  If I hate it I can always paint it back. Rarely is anything permanent.

It doesn’t even look like this right now, but this is the last photo I took.  I’m not showing you these photos to ask for advice or complain about my indecision or for someone to tell me that something doesn’t look right.  I’m hoping that you can see that it’s ALWAYS a process.  And in the midst of the process you have a choice to just have fun with it and evaluate and wait for the right look to come, or you can force perfection and fret and try to make something work that isn’t ready yet.

This wall is so not ready to work yet and I’m okay with that.

Here’s why I can eventually make my walls work:


1. I’m patient. I’d rather wait longer to get a look I love, than settle just to have it done.

2. I’m not afraid of risk.  Sure, I’ll hang my old high school flute on the wall, who knows, maybe it’ll look great.  And, I’ll even show these photos of my undone wall on the internet to 40,000 of you.  You get me.  You know that both me and this wall are a work in progress.  No judging here.

3. I shop the house with fresh eyes.  Everything in my house is up for grabs when I do something like this.  The goal is to have each item we own in the best possible place. So yes, I love the monogram in our bedroom but what if, I liked it even more downstairs?  Wouldn’t that be worth the 90 seconds it took me to carry it down? What’s the worst that can happen? I hate it down here and carry it back upstairs?

Now that I’ve read all of Handmade Walls, my mind is dreaming up all the different scenarios I could create.  I’ll keep you posted, but don’t hold me to keeping it one way for years and years.  You know how I am.


  1. It is definitely a process…it seems never-ending! Thanks for sharing. I love a great, unique gallery wall! Like your idea about the flute!

  2. Our lives are always in process, aren’t they. Changing, morphing, transitioning, evolving. Surprises around every corner. So I guess it makes sense that our homes do the same … And that’s the serendipitous part of the journey!

  3. I love your openness and easy sharing of the process…a lovely home is always ‘a process’, I agree. Change is good, though it can take time. I recently painted my very tiny bathroom a rich chocolate (it had been all white) and now it needs a ‘new’ look – thanks for reminding me that all great things take time… LOVE your leather sofa, beautiful! That is a big wall to ‘make lovely’ and you’ve done it SO well – it looks amazing, even under ‘construction.’ Enjoy your ‘new’ space!

  4. I agree about the white. I just painted the guest room white and it’s lovely how the walls say “look over there at those bright curtains” instead of “look at me!”

  5. carol jane says

    I love your white walls and I did see your post about going white. I was thinking about painting my family room whit also but was afraid it would be to cold during the winter months here in Ohio. I was just wonder are you super happy with the white now that you have had them for awhile? Im always so afraid to take risks with paint colors. Right now my walls are a creamy off white. Im tired of them. Should I go pure white?? So confused.

    • I LOOOOVE the white. But once I pick a color I like, I usually love it for awhile so you know, I can get addicted to a color. I painted them last January so I haven’t had them through the Christmas season but so far I haven’t felt visually cold (like I was afraid of) and tweaking a few things can help bring that warm feeling in.

      So yes, I love them and secretly want all my rooms to be white now!

  6. I’m working on a focal wall right now! I put up the first few elements yesterday. You have made me a big believer in shopping my house.

  7. Your wall looks great. I also have a huge wall in my living room, the first big wall I’ve ever had to decorate. I am so excited to see your process now that you have a leather sofa. :D So do I, and I was beginning to feel that *everyone* has white slipcovered sofas.

  8. Wonder-full post on the creative process. And I think it’s genius that you PAINT the mats for your frames. That never crossed my mind, and since mats are expensive and I let fear too often drive me, I did nothing. You’re brilliant – now I feel like breaking into the Partridge Family’s “I Think I Love You.”

  9. I literally spent yesterday moving around the things on my walls. I am never, ever done making my home more homey…when I was a little girl, my mom would come in my room and find it completely re-arranged because I would get bored. I used to see that as a flaw but now I kind of enjoy it. Especially when I don’t spend any money to make things look fresh.

  10. Hi! Thank you for sharing your process and ideas. The walls look amazing!! One question – can you please tell me where you found your new leather sofa? It is really nice!! Thanks!!

  11. Don’t hate me, but I’m so happy that you got a brown leather sofa… Because that’s what I have … And now it helps me so much to look at your pictures ( not that it wasn’t helpful before– it was!!!) I am working on the wall above our sofa and your process helps me to think through what I have and how I could use it… So thanks!

  12. Amy in Austin, TX says

    I know you didn’t ask for advice, but here goes – I LOVE your new sofa and focal wall – in all its different arrangements, but for me, what I would change (and I think it would really shake things up in a great way) is your curtains. I LOVE the stripes – I do…but with the white sofa. With the the leather one, I’d put a nice abstract or large floral – something with a white background and lots of blues/greens/browns, but definitely something with more “movement”, femininity, and color. I know you live with alot of testosterone, but I think a little bit of “pretty” would be lovely….Just my 2 cents. :)

  13. Oh, I love how you explain your creative process!! I, too, love to “change things up” over and over again until it feels “just right”. Thank you for giving us a peek into how you do that.

  14. This post is just so much fun! And it really helps me to think about doing a little redecorating in my home with the same kind of go for it, what the heck, you can always change it, repaint it, move it, kind of attitude. You really do make this stuff sound fun…and doable. (Despite my decorating challenges…and resistance to change!!) Met you at Allume and it was a delight…and thank you, thank you, thank you for the 31 Day Challenge. Very…challenging!!

  15. I’m also giving my “opinion”, and I just LOVE the last photo u took where everything on the wall was more neutral with the pops of blue in the tables and accessories.. GREAT JOB! :-)

  16. Oh my gosh you have a huge brown sofa. Hello isn’t that what everyone has been getting rid of. It’s gorgeous and now maybe I can stop thinking I need a lighter colored sofa. Hurry up and finish so I can copy you:-). I might agree in the need for different curtains????

    • OH you are cracking me up! Yeah, isn’t that how trends start? They just watch what everyone just got rid of and then declare it the ‘next thing’? So funny!

      And drapes, gosh, part of my likes the idea just because it’s a change and I’m a tad addicted!!!

  17. It’s *such* a process.

    I love so many things, so expensive, some not. Some DIY, some off the curb. But, what I *don’t* want to do it have to store lots of things. So, I’m trying to figure out what will keep my interest…er, I mean, “make a warm and inviting place for my family to feel cared for.”

    I guess it’s an evolution. Little by little I’m getting rid of holiday stuff – even seasonal stuff. Don’t want closets of stuff. So, I’m focusing on natural and rustic. Spring, well, rather than bunnies, I did branches with buds. Rather than Halloween and T-day, we have prints up of pretty leaves. (Shh, don’t tell – those have been up year round for 3 years.)

    I could be the person who has an 11×14 frame with a coordinating holiday photo for each season. And, they would be gorgeous. From local artists. And, I would love them. But, that means storing. Instead, I’ll buy natural rustic elements from local artists and have them up all year. And, some of the most creative natural artists I know, live under our own roof :)


  18. Long time follower….not much of a commenter. Seems the older I get the more I become the minimalist in so many areas! I will say it has simplified life in general. My new motto “less is best” is so comforting. Having to look at too many things in my home was exhausting, aside from the “stuff” that is continually lying around because we are a large family! Now, one pretty candle or picture or whatever I really enjoy! Sorry for the rambling….love your color scheme!

  19. Ruth in NZ says

    Your comment about taking a risk in what you put on walls made me laugh. My daughter and I recently did a mini makeover in her room with the colour red. She broke her arm a while ago and “saved” the bright red cast so when it came to putting some things up on her wall she begged me to put some hooks into it so she could hang it up. Funnily enough it does look great as a pop of colour and a lot of people think it is just a big tick (it was an elbow cast) and like it. THe main thing is, she loves it. So… anything goes when it comes to walls! LOL

  20. Love your thought process Nester! Cannot wait to see how it turns out! And I super duper love the idea of hanging a wreath on the chalkboard. The chalkboard is like the new mirror…minus the whole reflecting concept…you know what I mean, right!? It is a standard staple these days and I love how you styled it!

  21. So, I feel the need to share a little story with you. I first started following your blog after going to your seminar at the Becoming Conference. I am fairly new to the blogging world and struggled at times because I felt like a stalker when I had to check your blog everyday for ideas. Then I realized that you guys blog for a reason and that that reason is so that people like me will find some inspiration. So, I have been scouring your posts and of course I have at least one very daunting scary big wall to decorate. Just trying to wrap my head around all the ideas. I’ve also been trying to purge my 11yr old home of “stuff” I no longer love and find new uses for the things I do love…so, tonight I came across a decorative box that I used to use to corral remote controls in the living room. I thought, “I bet if I painted this, I could bring some life back to it.” I found the Annie Sloan sample that I was given at the conference, invaded my daughters vast supply of paint brushes, and went to work. Problem was, the paint that I thought was a mushroom shade turned out to be more of a ballerina pink! Ha! So, it didn’t turn out perfect, but thanks to you, I know that I can paint it again. My daughter and I shared some great moments of impromptu painting and laughing. And we have already decided that once it dries, we will try again with some chalkboard paint! Thanks for your inspiration!

  22. I LOve. Love. LoVe. the hanging lantern you put up….Please tell me that got to stay!?!
    And once a transformation addict, always a transformation addict! :) ~Kim

  23. New sofa looks great with the teal carry some of the sofa color to the wall and you will love it! Not a lot but small amounts in a couple places!

  24. The rug is who is starting all the trouble. Plus all your colors are icey, but the sofa is rich and warm. Like drinking hot chocolate while eating pineapple. And yes, I know you dont want advice. Lol.

  25. Brown loves green, not blue. Bet if you switched your accent color to a shade of green you like- the room would feel better to you. Not that you asked for that, or anything. ;)

  26. So I love your house, your walls, your process, etc. but I have a logistical question: what about holes in the walls? Moving all those items, hanging new things…what do you do? It is (sadly) one of the things that paralyzes me when it comes to decorating our home, the dang nail hole issue! I don’t want holes, so I end up not hanging stuff. We have some stuff, but it still looks like we just moved in….nine years later!

    • great question: here’s a post I wrote years ago

      And also, I didn’t even make any fresh holes for moving stuff around, just reused the nails that were there, once I know what I want, it may require a hole or two. I do use command strip things for lightweight stuff and, most of my downstairs is painted “Simply white” not all my walls have this many holes (only two) so it’s a small task after living here for 5 or so years if I want to quickly spackle and repaint. It would take about 45 minutes. A small price to pay to get to play around!

    • and also :

      I had 83 nail holes on that wall. I beg of you, read this post. What if it changes the way you think about making a hole?

  27. Gosh that sounds like me. It’s nice to know I’m in good company!
    Thanks for sharing the journey,

  28. Well-written post. You will find the perfect arrangement for that wall. Rearranging can breath new life into your decor/room. Love it. Thanks for the reminder to be patient.

  29. Love your focal wall! I want to do something similar, but it’s just about getting that initial motivation to get started. I’m afraid to just start poking holes into the walls, especially since we have plaster walls. So my question is – do you just work with the existing nails/holes or do you poke new ones as need be? I’m afraid to end up with a swiss cheese wall!

  30. You know, it is HARD to find good pictures for inspiration that involve brown sofas! It seems like most of the rooms I like tend to have white sofas. Plus the brown trend being O-vah makes it even harder since the new fancy designers aren’t using that color. I’ve got a household that will never tolerate pale furniture (and honestly I would not want to do the slipcover cleaning if I could), and I don’ t like med/dark grays myself. So I’m looking forward to seeing how your LR morphs with the brown leather sofa now.

  31. I have to say, I miss the painted walls. I liked how the little pieces of color would pop up in between the items on the wall. I liked the white couch with the white walls, but Mr. Brown Couch seems to want more than the white walls. Of course, I’m sure that you will figure out a way for it to look awesome. :) Can’t wait to see what you come up with.

  32. a) certain colors and combos of colors totally make me nauseous, too. physically ill and thisclose to barfing. i totally understand. (and i also have that thing that your sister has with the circle of months of the year and days of the week–sensosyne–whatever. maybe i’m a long lost relative??)

    b) you’re a daily inspiration. thank you. i’ve been mixing and matching and swapping things on my walls for months now, and i love it… and NOW finally when i have everyting right where i want it with no free space…there was a fab deal on a 16 x 20 picture & i’ve always wanted a giant family pic, so i ordered it… it’s on it’s way..and i ALMOST stressed out that i didn’t have a spot for it…and then i thought….NOOOOO. it’s OKAY. I can change stuff. It’s not a big deal. It’s a picture and it’s of our family and it’s NOT SCARY. I’m not sure I would have evercome to that conclusion w/o your blog. :) so, thanks!

    (sorry so wordy–geesh!)

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  36. Where did you find your white chair cover? Love

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