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The burgundy red floor in the master bedroom of Sara and Andrew's Massachusetts farmhouse didn't fit the fresh and energetic personality of the newlyweds. But refinishing wasn't an option on a limited budget. So to update the space, they painted the floor in a light checked pattern, using beige and white to warm up their cool blue walls. Recently, This Old House senior technical editor Mark Powers used their techniques to create a similar floor in his own house. Here he shows how a little measuring and a couple of coats of durable floor paint can add a little personality to a room for a small price.

Floor paint: Bay Harbor Beige and Patio White by Benjamin Moore

about $39 per gallon

Step 1

Overview for Painting a Floor

Illustration by Gregory Nemec

Day-to-day timeline

Friday: Sand and clean the floor; paint the base color.

Saturday: Lay out, tape, and paint the pattern.

Sunday: Apply a second coat or polyurethane as needed.

Step 2

Prep the Base

Photo by Kolin Smith

To make the paint adhere better and the finish last longer, sand and clean the floor first. Coating the entire floor using the lighter of the two colors as a base coat creates a clean slate for laying out the pattern and acts as a primer for the darker pattern color.

Using a sanding sponge, gently rough up the floor finish and level any high spots from previous stain or filler. Wipe the floor clean with a damp sponge and allow it to dry thoroughly. Cover the space beneath doors with plastic to prevent dust from blowing in and ruining the wet finish.

Step 3

Paint the Base Coat

Photo by Kolin Smith

Paint the base color around the edges of the floor with a 2½-inch paintbrush. Using a paint roller, coat the entire field, starting opposite one door so that you paint yourself out of the room.

Let the paint dry completely. If necessary, lightly sand the floor and apply a second coat. Let the paint dry overnight before laying out the pattern and applying the second color.

Step 4

Measure and Mark the Pattern

Photo by Kolin Smith

Setting a checker pattern on a diagonal looks dynamic and makes the room appear bigger. But the pattern will look best if it ends in perfect half-square triangles at the most visible walls. So figure out which wall is least visible and start measuring on the opposite side of the room. Keep in mind that the painter's tape outlines the box you're painting, so it will fall on alternating sides of the pattern's lines from square to square.

Estimate the number of squares you want to fit across the center wall of the three most visible walls. Divide the length of the wall by the number of squares. With this measurement, mark the wall from corner to corner.

Step 5

Make the First Square

Photo by Kolin Smith

Find the center point between the first two marks and note the distance from the corner to the center. Using a framing square, draw a perpendicular reference line out from the point, making it the same length as the distance from the corner to the center point. Then connect the corner to the end of the reference line. This is the side of the first square.

Step 6

Complete the Pattern

Photo by Kolin Smith

Using a straightedge, extend the line out into the room. Mark the entire line at intervals to match the length of the side of each pattern square. Using a framing square as a right-angle guide, complete the squares at each mark. Double-check your layout by making sure you connect back to the marks on the first wall.

Step 7

Mask the Squares

Photo by Kolin Smith

With all the squares drawn, use painter's tape to X out the squares you don't intend to paint. Then tape around the outside edges of the unmarked squares.

Step 8

Cut the Tape with a Putty Knife

Photo by Kolin Smith

Cut each piece of tape perfectly by tearing it against a putty knife: Hold the blade on the tape and rip away from the knife to execute a perfect cut and make sharp corners for each square.

Step 9

Complete the Tape Outline

Photo by Kolin Smith

Seal the tape to the floor by pulling the putty-knife blade over the tape to remove air bubbles and prevent paint from bleeding underneath and onto the lighter-colored squares. Continue taping until all the unmarked squares are outlined.

Tip: Clean up pencil marks with a damp sponge instead of an eraser, which could damage the freshly painted base coat.

Step 10

Paint the Pattern

Photo by Kolin Smith

The tape around each square is an excellent guide for painting, but an uneven wood floor is a difficult surface on which to tape. So to help keep paint from bleeding under the tape, cut in the edges of each square with a brush. You can speed up the finish with a mini roller.

Using a sanding sponge, lightly sand the squares to be painted and wipe them clean. Using a 2½-inch paintbrush, apply paint around the edge of the square. Start each stroke on the tape and pull it into the square so that the color doesn't push under the edge. Coat the entire perimeter of the square this way. While the edges are still wet, fill in the field using a mini roller. Roll the paint on in the same direction as the floorboards. Continue painting the squares in this manner until the floor is finished. Clean up any drips or mistakes by wiping them up with a damp rag while they're still wet.

Step 11

Remove the Tape

Photo by Kolin Smith

Remove the tape before the paint dries so that it doesn't pull up any color with it. Peel the tape up and away from the paint at an angle to leave a clean edge.

Step 12

Finish Coat the Floor

Photo by Kolin Smith

Porch and floor paint is very durable, but for high-traffic areas consider topping the floor with a coat of polyurethane. After the paint has dried for a full day, use a roller to apply the finish evenly across the floor. If you plan to add a second coat of paint, lightly sand the first coat before putting the second one down.

Tip: The higher the gloss on paint or polyurethane, the more durable it is. If you want the resilience of high gloss without the shine, put on a top coat of satin polyurethane to tone down the gloss.