Photo by Cathy Mortensen Design

We all enjoy rooms with architectural details like fireplaces, picture windows or built-ins. These are focal points in a room to arrange furnishings around. But how do you design a room without these architectural aesthetics, when it’s just big bare walls staring at you?

When I come across rooms like these, I often go to my tried and true “no-fail, four feature focal wall fix.” Here’s my plan of attack:

A. Find the wall that makes the most impact in the room. Usually it’s the largest wall seen as you enter the room.

B. Think large-scale furnishings. After all, it’s the focal point.

C. Acquire and arrange the four features or elements that always work to make a beautiful focal wall.

Focal walls

Those four features or elements are:

1. A large-scale console, credenza, buffet or sideboard. I like this piece to be interesting, different and maybe global in feel. It doesn’t have to match other pieces or finishes in the room.

2. A stylish, large mirror or interesting piece of artwork. Again, this should be an attention-grabber.

3. A pair of lamps that reflect the feel of the composition, but do not distract from the the other pieces.

4. A beautiful piece of art glass or grouping of interesting “objets d’art” for the center of the console.

Now, these are the basics. Of course, there are many variations, but these four elements will produce a spectacular focal wall.

Focal Wall #1

In my client’s living room, in the before photo below, there were no focal features except for a couple of off-center windows. So, we had to create a feature wall to build the room around.

Focal walls1

First, we highlighted the focal wall with grass cloth for some great texture. The blue, Asian-inspired credenza was our inspiration and starting point. The size was in proportion to the wall and room space.

Then came the Enso artwork, with its elegant simplicity and contemporary feel. We chose two matching lamps for their simple shape and to add a little shine.


The coral dish was set on a black lacquer box to elevate its size and stature. The rest of the room was then arranged around this wall composition and beautiful focal point for the room.

Focal Wall #2

Another client wanted a new room arrangement with a focal wall in a coastal style. In the before photo below, her old sofa was against the wall with a dated gold mirror above.


In the after photo below, we used a distressed rustic console on the wall, then refinished her old gold mirror in a verdigris finish and rehung it vertically.


We then added some art work, two coral-inspired lamps and a grouping of objects in the coastal style she loves. The focal wall is a beautiful feature in the room with all new furniture.


Focal Wall #3

During our HomeGoods Design Challenge earlier this year, my living room assignment did not have a focal point, just walls.


Again, a great looking console was the anchor and point of interest. On an accent wall of blue-gray, I placed two large pieces of art above the console to draw the eye in and up into the volume of the room, creating the needed focal point.

Art on wall

Two matching lamps flanked the console and a few accessories accented the top. Then the seating was arranged around the console wall focal point.

I often find many beautiful consoles, mirrors, art and lighting at HomeGoods. Many are featured in the rooms above.

Focal walls2

I love beauty and style on a budget, and so do my clients.

Focal walls3

So, if you find yourself staring at four blank walls and are stumped on what to do, remember to start with this no-fail way to design a focal point wall. Then your furniture arrangement will fall into place.

Happy decorating!

Cathy Mortensen is an independent interior designer in Orange County, Calif., and has been a contributing design writer for Design Happy since 2007. 

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