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Two-Toned Walls Will Make Your Rooms More Nuanced

August  2, 2016

Painting a room takes a certain amount of thoughtfulness: You dream your dreams, pick out paint swatches, maybe splash a few contending tones on your wall and live with them for a week in order to figure out a winner. And that's all before you actually lay down a drop cloth! But it's the choosing between colors that has to be the hardest part of painting. Will I live out the next year of my life in a lightly mauvey purple-grey room—or a room so dark blue-green it feels underwater? The possibilities! The repercussions!

The good news is, thanks to a recent trend towards two-toned walls, the choice is a bit easier.

Jersey Ice Cream Co., the home design group who overhauled Local Milk blogger Beth Kirby's gorgeous Tennessee kitchen, made this move famous—to me, at least. They seem to work it into every other interior they touch and are fond of carrying it out in plaster of Paris, though you could obviously just use two paints.

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More: Why we're stoked about plaster of Paris' recent comeback.

Visually, two-toned walls recall painted wainscoting, except that you don't need any added architectural features to pull off the look at home. Creating an even line will be the hardest part, but here's how you do it:

1. Decide where you want the line to go.

A hip-height line gives a grounded look to a room, much the way a photograph that's got a bit more matting on the bottom edge feels a bit grander, even steadier, than one that's matted evenly on all sides—but you can draw the line wherever you want! Prime the wall before you start any markings.

2. Mark it.

Cut a piece of string to be the distance from the floor to the height you've decided on, then dangle that string so it's barely grazing the floor. Mark a dot with a pencil at the string's end, over and over along the wall until you have a line of dots. Now tape a long piece (or pieces) of FrogTape all along this line.

3. Paint!

Start with your lighter paint, covering either the top or bottom half of the wall. When it's dry, remove the FrogTape and add a new piece of it right on top of the light paint, up against the line itself. (To avoid a little white line between the two, let a teeny bit of light paint peek out from under it; the dark paint will cover it right up.)

Now paint the other color on the unpainted section of wall. Wait till it dries, remove the tape, and you're done! This method won't produce an pristinely straight line—because I like the look of one that's a little unkempt. I also like the look of darker tones on the bottom half of a wall, but that's just me.

Here are a few more iterations of the look to consider:

Black and peachy-pink—who knew they'd be so happy together? When choosing two paints for this look, you might still paint test patches on your walls to see if you like them side by side and in your particular light. (That way, you can test fun, bold colors you love but wouldn't expect to go together, since you haven't fully committed.)

I love how the two above show a line that goes right across doors (and also that the molding's painted, as well).

Proof that a higher-up line on the wall can still be elegant... can a darker section on the top!

If you do have wainscoting, don't feel like it needs to be white!

Another case for being adventurous with your color combos—you need not only have one dark color and one light!

And don't be afraid to get a little messy with them.

Which colors would you use on a two-toned wall? Tell us in the comments!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Jackson Fust
    Jackson Fust
  • Amanda Sims
    Amanda Sims
Amanda Sims

Written by: Amanda Sims

Professional trespasser.


Jackson F. August 4, 2016
Love this look—had dinner at Walter's in Fort Greene recently, and they had painted their walls and trim half white/half black and I loved the look. If only I felt risky enough to paint my rental!
Amanda S. August 4, 2016
Do it ! ! !