In Jermaine Gallacher’s interiors column for Vogue, the maverick London-based furniture dealer and designer offers his tips on taking interiors building blocks—bookshelves to blinds, curtains to chairs—and switching them up to reinvent your living space at any budget. Strange, surprising, and sometimes even sorcerous, here’s how you can do it too. Mirrors not included.
My earliest memories of accent walls—or as they are sometimes referred to, “feature walls”—were those of my childhood home. Once, when I was a kid, my mum covered an entire wall of our sitting room in cork: a very “in” thing to do at the time, as I was later told. To be totally honest, however, it was less of a design choice and more a matter of necessity, placed there to mask the giant patches of damp brought about by a Marlboro Lights billboard on the other side of the wall. Still, I always thought it looked like the bee’s knees—and to this day harbor a soft spot for cork walls. And Marlboro Lights.
When I was growing up, it was the great British home makeover programs of the early noughties—Changing Rooms, House Doctor, and later on 60 Minute Makeover—that I turned to for my interiors fix. I remember Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen, sleeves-a-swinging, drawing giant hieroglyphics all over a bedroom wall with a golden pen to recreate Tutankhamun’s tomb for a floor-to-ceiling headboard. Or Anna Ryder-Richardson wallpapering a chimney breast wall, normally in some bracing, Barbie-pink abstract floral. And of course, Sue Barker was the queen of the DIY stencil (when she wasn’t too busy smashing teapots, that is).
Garish wallpapers and stencils aside, though, what I really loved was the can-do energy, pure creativity, and outright ballsiness of those years. It’s so easy (and boring) to snub trends from the past when they become ubiquitous. But quite frankly I don’t care about trends, or being cliched, or what any so-called tastemaker says: I still love an accent wall, and I believe they are the perfect opportunity to show off your creativity and decorating flair.
If paint isn’t your thing and you’d rather roll out the wallpaper, be warned. If you’re not careful, the world of wallpaper can be an intensely daunting, intensely expensive, and intensely ugly one. Yet while I seldom use wallpapers in my projects, recently I uncovered an original Georgian woodblock wallpaper while peeling back layers in my client’s and decided to keep it. In fact, we loved it so much that we decided to use it as the inspiration for the whole house.
Of course, not everyone is lucky enough to unearth a handmade wallpaper from the early 19th century during their renovation, but there are some fabulous block-printed wallpapers out there if you have time and willingness to hunt around. Personally, I find the best place to source vintage wallpaper is good old eBay—not always the most inspiring shopping destination for a browse, but most dealers are on there if you dig a little deeper. Events like the Decorative Antiques and Textiles Fair in London or The Winter Show in New York are great places to visit for more tactile inspiration, even if you’re not there to buy.
But the most fun approach of all? Making your own. Potatoes are a perfect wood block alternative, while simple shapes like diamonds and zigzags work best—just ink up, and stamp them directly onto a primed, smoothed wall. Personally, I couldn’t think of a better accent wall than one I’d handpainted myself from a bag of potatoes.