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Building a Kitchen Accent Wall: Before & After

When I began planning my kitchen remodel in late 2021, I knew that I knew from the start that one element I would be including in the new kitchen of my 1910 brick cottage in St. Louis would be the addition of a kitchen accent wall.

In this post, I share:

Keep reading to see my kitchen accent wall before and after pictures and learn about making your own.

I have written previously about accent walls to conceal hidden storage, and accent walls built to provide soundproofing on a shared wall in an apartment, but in this case, the accent wall I was planning was sheerly for aesthetic value.

Uusing vertical paneling to subtly add visual interest to a wall

When most of us think about accent walls we think about big statements that draw the eye or have a big pop of color – like mural walls, walls with a busy pattern, or panels of variegated reclaimed wood, but there’s so much to be said for subtle accent walls that create a barely noticeable texture. Layered with more assertive design elements- like the forest green kitchen cabinets I installed in my kitchen, subtle accent walls build cozy comfort and style without packing a punch.

Why do an accent wall in the kitchen?

Accent walls are most common in dining rooms and living rooms, and occasionally make appearances in bedrooms – but a kitchen accent wall is a bit rarer.

In my case, I chose to add an accent wall to my kitchen because the plainest wall of my kitchen can be seen directly from the front porch when my front door is open. I didn’t love that when I came home and opened the door to my cozy 100-year-old cottage, the first real view of my home was a lackluster wall and boring door to the backyard. By putting an accent wall in my kitchen, I knew that I could create subtle interest while contributing to the historical authenticity of the house.

A simple subtle accent wall in a 1910 cottage kitchen in Saint Louis.

Choosing an Accent Wall: Ordinary or Custom

Shiplap paneling is in – that’s an undeniable fact. Whether it’s here to stay or soon to cycle out for a season, it’s not – as many people think – entirely a creation of the 2010s.

Paneling and shiplap, in various forms, have been present in interior design for many generations. Both horizontal and vertical paneling has cycled in and out of fashion for hundreds of years. While most shiplap is installed horizontally, there’s there is precedent in many historical homes for vertical paneling. While beadboard is always installed with the grooves running from top to bottom, vertically aligned, other types of paneling can be interchangeably installed vertically or horizontally.

Researching Vertical Paneling in Historic Homes

Because I knew that vertical paneling accent walls are historically accurate, and I wanted my accent wall to add visual impact without looking like an overly modern addition to my century home, I studied images of the paneling in historical homes from around the same time the cottage was built – 1910. Interestingly, the National Parks Service has an impressive archive of these architectural features, including guidelines for maintaining old porches.

In the images of the accent walls in historic homes, In these historical homes I saw medium-width planks placed on a wall aligned vertically, not horizontally, in many homes, particularly the porches of Southern homes. Of course, 1910 homeowners would not have called these textured walls accent walls at the time, but rather, they functionally served dual purposes of insulation and providing an architectural sense of depth on the wall.

While Hawk Hill Cottage is far too modest, in its 1000 sq. ft. urban footprint, to include expansive porches like I had and enjoyed decorating at the original hawk-hill farm, the positioning of my kitchen with the back door extending to a small deck was the closest thing my home had to a southern style sunporch. For this reason, I decided to design a kitchen accent wall using a variation of vertical shiplap.

A luxurious budget kitchen remodel for this small galley kitchen.

Skipping Shiplap for DIY plywood strips

I’ll confess to letting a professional step in at this point. Table saws and unwieldy sheets of plywood are just a little out of my comfort zone, so while I budgeted for the cost for an IKEA kitchen remodel, I also budgeted to have a professional install my kitchen accent wall with vertical shiplap.

Advantages of Cutting my own Kitchen Accent Wall Paneling

One thing I don’t love about a lot of modern wall treatments is how uniform they appear. With the exception of beadboard which has a very traditional ratio of planks to grooves measurements, shiplap always looks a little too obvious to me when it’s straight from a packaged bundle. Something about the slick MDF finish and uniformity strikes me as artificial – something I definitely didn’t want to add in my home which features so many original historic elements.

Cutting my own paneling meant that could save money by purchasing plywood sheets instead of packaged shiplap, I could select a plywood product with an exposed to grain which would create a subtly textured finish, and by using a custom width of board, I could avoid that straight-from-the-package look that shiplap can sometimes have.

A luxurious budget kitchen remodel for this small galley kitchen.

Final Thoughts on my Kitchen Accent Wall

While it’s a small kitchen with a small accent wall, I’m thrilled with how my vertical paneling turned out. Just like I’d hoped, when I open the front door I can now see a beautifully textured wall instead of the ordinary painted drywall and boring back door. The addition of vertical paneling, chosen specifically to replicate the look of Southern back porches from the 1910s, set against forest green and mixed metals, creates a modern accent wall that looks at home in my 100-year-old cottage.

If you’re thinking about a kitchen accent wall, shiplap or otherwise, consider hanging your paneling with vertical grooves. Not only is vertically-hung paneling historically accurate to many homes, but paneling with vertical grooves can help reduce the amount of dust caught up in the texture of the accent wall and, because it’s slightly different and somewhat unique, it can help your accent walls stay in style longer, even if shiplap goes out of style.