Ideas for painting wood floors

The Old House Web

By Anna Kasabian

painting diamonds










-- Photo: Bill Chapman

Painting a geometric pattern floor. Read about this family's adventure with floor painting.

Decorative painting of wood floors has become quite popular in the past few years -- and with good reason.++CTA++

Painting offers an inexpensive, fast way to cover up a wood floor that may need work. It offers a number of interesting decorating options for formal and informal rooms. And, while it might be a bit of a mess to undo and go back to natural wood, its possible.

Here are the basic steps to taking artistic license with your wood floor:

Prep work

The secret to any quality paint job is proper surface preparation. Basic preparation steps include washing, scraping or sanding, priming and finally painting.

Some of the preparation work depends the type of finish your floor already has. If you're painting over an already painted floor, for instance, all that may be needed is a thorough washing and vacuuming to remove any loose paint and dust.

A bare wood floor will need to be sanded and primed, while a varnished floor will need to be sanded to remove gloss, primed and then painted.

Follow this link for specific directions on preparation of different floor types.

Choosing paint

I likeBenjamin Moores latex self-priming floor and patio enamel. No sealer is needed with this low-luster and epoxy-reinforced paint. If your floor is in a very high traffic area, adding an extra layer of water-based polyurethane will give added protection from wear and tear.

I do not recommend using oil-based paint for floors. It takes too much time to dry and clean up is inconvenient!

Exploring shapes, colors, patterns

One popular pattern people are using for halls and formal rooms is a checkerboard of black and white or chocolate brown and white squares.

If this doesn't appeal to you, and you'd like to explore other design possibilities, here's some homework for you:

  • Go through your favorite magazines and tear out pages with color combinations, wallpapers, and fabric patterns you like. Keep them in a box or binder and review.
  • Go on the internet and look at wallpaper manufacturers you like and print out the samples of their paper patterns in various color combinations
  • Look at the room where the floor is and take pictures of the wallpaper, the rug pattern, the wall colors, and close ups of any pretty details like the moldings.

stenciled floor
Carl and Judy Rife of York, Pennsylvania painted their entry hall and then stenciled a simple pattern. Despite heavy foot traffic the paint has held up for several years.

Stencil pattern close-up.

-- Photos: Carl Rife

More pattern ideas

You don't need to be an artist to plan your pattern and create your floor.

Get yourself a set of markers in a wide range of colors and tracing paper. You are going to develop little color combinations and patterns that you pull out of what is already in your room.

For example, let's say you have a molding that wraps your fireplace, and you love the leaves you see there. Well, trace those leaves and then color them with the markers to get an idea of what you could do on your floor. Or, maybe your wallpaper has a beautiful yellow rose with three bright green leaves at the base. Trace that and color it. Imagine duplicating that rose on a painted floor.

If you prefer to duplicate patterns that are in your rug, take a close up photo of them and then trace. Color the pattern with markers. Try a few color combinations, and don't forget to experiment with background colors too.

Use your tracing paper to play with some design options. Try putting flowers or leaves at the edge of the floor drawing, or just cluster them in your drawing, keeping them within the shape of the floor space you are considering painting.

Consider putting down a poem or line of a poem on the floor. You could wrap the periphery of the foyer in a pleasant line, or put a nursery rhyme in front of the baby's cradle. Imagine having a high gloss white floor in the baby's room, and floating little yellow ducks across the floor -- ducks you have traced from the wallpaper. Or, consider writing the nursery rhyme in gold paint.

Here are some other sources of shapes and objects that you might use: a fruit, shell or botanical that exists in or complements the theme of your wallpaper, birthday and greeting cards, wrapping paper, fabric and book illustrations.

Think about the floor as your canvas and consider painting the entire floor a color and then adding these shapes on top.

Creating the floor

Once you've got your design, you're ready to create your floor pattern.

paintcanFirst, paint the background color on the floor and let it dry thoroughly.

Whether you choose a repetitive geometric pattern of squares or diamonds or a freehand floral pattern, you need to plan the placement of the design elements.

  • Freehand elements, like flowers, leaves or words can be traced or drawn on the floor with pencil (Don't use pen: It will bleed through paint.) You can use a stiff piece of cardboard to make simple designs that can be traced onto the floor with pencil. Simple designs can be traced onto a stiff piece of cardboard. To create more detailed patterns, make a stencil using the tracing paper and washable Mylar (plastic). Then trace the shape on the floor with pencil and paint. Use masking tape as a border around the shapes to keep paint where it belongs.
  • If you're going do diamonds or squares as a complete pattern to cover the floor, use a measuring tape to divide the floor space properly for the size shape you want. An easy way to do this is to evenly divide the floor space and create masking tape columns on the vertical. Then draw in diamonds with the tape going down each column. Fill all the vertical columns and you fill the space with diamonds; then paint away.

Depending on your palette you may need to do two to three coats of color on the shapes over the background color.

Finishing the floor

Keep traffic off the floor for a few days to let the paint set.

If you use a different paint from the brand I've recommended, you may need to use a water-based polyurethane to seal the floor. Check with your local paint store for specific recommendations.

A final word of advice

Don't get all caught up in perfection with your floor. The idea is to personalize your space. If you don't like the results the first time, you can always paint yourself a fresh canvas!

Anna Kasabian regularly contributes design features and advice to The Old House Web. Her eighth book, New England Style, was published in November 2003/Rizzoli.

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