Creating a feature wall is one of the easiest ways to add character to a home and it can also be one of the least expensive. Interior designers liken their role as a scarf to fashion - an easily changeable accessory. So what if you're renting, or have a penchant for paisley? When it's time to move on, or the mood has passed, a wall treated simply can be restored easily to its original state.
Feature walls can be functional or decorative. If it's a look you're after, take a leaf from the design book of husband and wife team Geoff Fuller and Michelle Koller, managing director and creative director respectively of home and lifestyle store Tequila Kola, who have created wall treatments that add warmth and individuality to their home.
In the television room, the couple hang out with Marilyn Monroe - or at least an oversized, black and white stencil of the actress that they bought in Paris for HK$100. They have also made features out of photographs clustered together and from mirrors.
'Feature walls add dimension to a room, making it more stylised and interesting,' says Fuller.
Apart from paint, probably the easiest and cheapest way to create a feature wall is wallpaper, a medium enjoying a renaissance. Design bloggers who've hailed its arrival in powder rooms and on accent walls expect to see entire rooms papered in the coming year. One design that has everyone talking is the vintage-look bookshelf wallpaper by Young & Battaglia. It brings the feeling of a library to a home and, according to interior design blog Chic Tip (chictip.com), it's part of the trend for photo-realistic wallpapers that add a trompe l'oeil dimension to decor.
Joyce Baker, senior interior designer of Joyce Baker Design, looks to create feature walls in surprising places - under a stairwell could be just the spot to hang a length of framed vintage fabric, or an artist's portrait. She loves having something on the wall that exudes a craftsman's touch, comparing the visual effect to 'listening to live music, rather than a CD'. Another of her tricks is to play with forms, lines, patterns and depths. An alcove in a bathroom, for example, can be recessed and highlighted using different lighting effects. 'I like to play with material - like an exposed brick wall to create a New York feel - or mix up different materials to create a focal point.'
Feature walls can be at the forefront of trends, as evidenced by luxury Italian leather furniture brand NotteBrava in its Separe collection of cut-out leather panels (HK$4,800 for a pack of 10 sheets). They can also be functional. Needing storage for household items such as the television, stereo, crockery and cutlery, the Koller-Fullers designed a wall unit for their living room in a stylish dark walnut timber.
Italian company Scirocco has some cool wall treatments - including oversized Lego bricks in bright, fun colours that are actually heaters. Don't reserve these just for the children's rooms - they are great for bathrooms, too, or in black for the adult's den. Other products in the brand's feature wall-cum-radiator range include the Chinese-themed Shanghai design, and the gouaches decoupes-inspired stainless steel Screen, both artworks in their own right.
Glass has long been used as a barrier to divide space or keep the environment out or in. Robert Wall, managing director of Jeb Greater China, says architects are continuing to find creative ways to use glass in residential interiors. Trends include laminating different mediums between two panes. A mirror may be screen printed onto glass to create elaborate, reflective patterns and shapes. When combined with fabric lamination or surface treatments such as acid etching, the results can be stunning. A simple yet effective technique is to create a painted custom wood screen in front of a frosted glass panel that provides an opaque barrier in front of a translucent glass panel.
In a recent project, a custom waterjet-cut metal screen was inserted in the air gap between two panes. 'Both the screen and the glass individually are not so unique but when they are combined, something happens,' Wall says. 'These days Infinity [part of the Jeb group] is collaborating more in the creative process with architects in terms of assisting with graphic design and what is technically possible to create the desired effect when using glass as a medium.'
Working mum Sandra Lee wanted to do away with the solid wall dividing her two children's bedrooms. 'As a time-challenged working mother, I need a flexible space that allows me to continue multitasking at home, that is, talk to both children at the same time while they do their homework and I exercise,' she says. The solution was a folding divider finished in cork, a sustainable material, to meet Lee's environmental sensibilities. 'We open up the panels when I get home and I position myself in the middle,' she says. 'The children then close it when they want their privacy. When guests or relatives visit, we add an extra bed or two and the two rooms are transformed into a dorm.' The cork is stuck on, and doubles as a functional display board for the children to put up their notes, posters and drawings. 'It is about 80 per cent soundproof and requires minimal space,' says Lee. 'Except for the window end where you need to turn and stack the panel, only one to two inches of space on either side is required to slide it open or shut. It is a practical, multi-functional, interesting, space-saving dividing panel.'
Looking around the corporate and retail environment can inspire ideas for home. At the Hong Kong Police Headquarters in Wan Chai, Marc & Chantal Design created a six-metre-high, 24-metre-long wall featuring an abstract and magnified image of the bauhinia flower. The surface is treated like a giant cloisonn?using fine splices of aluminium for the outline and multiple panels of pear wood embedded at slightly varying depth to enhance the effect. 'We've also played with the direction of the wood grain, which helps bring the surface alive,' says Chantal Rechaussat, a founding partner.
Although it stands in a corporate environment, Rechaussat says this project illustrates how a feature wall at home may benefit from an integrative approach. 'A feature wall that reflects and extends an existing choice of materials elsewhere in the interior may feel more comfortable. It animates a surface in a more subtle manner and can help bring forward other more contrasting elements, furniture or display pieces for instance.'
A feature wall the firm created for the East Hotel lobby in Island East, Quarry Bay, made of acid-etched glass and illuminated from the back, produces a wow factor that could also be replicated at home, says Rechaussat. 'The simplicity and scale of the image breathe urban life into the serene, minimalist interior. This contrastive approach, when applied to a home environment, creates a 'show stopping' effect; the wall effectively acts as a giant painting.'
So there you have it: walls can morph from boring to brilliant, as simply or elaborately as you choose.
Sto Paints from Envirobuilding Solutions, 4/F, Tung Yiu Commercial Building, 31A Wyndham Street, Central. Tel: 2810 0325
Separe leather wall panels by Nottebrava from Kitchens + Interiors, Shop 102-103, Ruttonjee Centre, 11 Duddell St, Central. Tel: 2810 0979
Joyce Baker Design; www.joycebakerdesign.com/joycebakerdesign.htm
Marc & Chantal Design; www.marc-chantal.com