15 Decorative Paint Ideas
Bold paint is an quick and affordable way to refresh any tired space
A ho-hum foyer can become a focal point if you have a few paint leftovers and a bright idea. Armed with five half-full cans of interior latex, Arlene and Seth Perlmutter pictured a patchwork quilt opened up on the floor, but finding the right proportions for a 4½-by-13-foot space required some tinkering. "The rows had to be at least four squares across to give the pattern symmetry and proportion," Arlene says.
After cleaning the floor, Arlene taped off 13-inch squares, allowing partial squares to bump up against the thresholds at each end. She painted most of the squares the same color as the walls. Then she worked her way down the hall, using a 2-inch painter's brush and four other shades—deep blue, brick red, bright red, and teal green—in a semirandom fashion, as if stitching together fabric scraps. The elongated petals, in white, went down with the help of a hand-cut Mylar stencil. Their alternating red and blue centers bring order to the patchwork.
The whole design got a protective top coat of amber-tinted shellac. It's kept the floor pristine despite foot traffic and pets.
Replacing an old concrete path with natural stone or cast pavers is always a good way to go, but it can also require loads of cash. So instead of repaving, give your walkway a face-lift—with paint. Sweep the surface, then prime it with a concrete resurfacer, like Rust-Oleum's Epoxy Shield. Let dry; then, starting in one corner, use a 4-inch roller to create a "brick" with a terra-cotta-hued concrete paint. Paint another one below it, and so on, to make a border; repeat along the other side. Fill the space in between with a running bond pattern of 8-inch bricks. Don't worry about keeping them exactly the same size or the lines pin-straight; imperfections make the design realistic.
Let dry, then watch visitors do a double take as they walk toward your door.
For a one-of-a-kind look that is more personal than wallpaper, grab some blackboard chalk and start sketching. In the dining room shown here, Brian Carter hunted up a swirly floral wallpaper pattern to adapt as a larger, looser drawing. Then, using tracing paper, he copied the biggest shapes, stripping away the small stuff. Finally, he transferred his drawing to the walls, stepping up the scale dramatically for a fresh, whimsical effect.
His oversized flowers, tendrils, and leaves never repeat, making them even more dynamic as they travel around the room, bumping up against the trim. Other tools of his trade include a chalk line to create a grid on the walls and an artist's round brush for maximum control when making curving lines. The paint itself is regular interior latex. Carter recommends trying out this technique in a little powder room, where it's easy to take a big risk, or in a dining room, adding, "It's a good place to be theatrical since you're mostly there in the evening."
View the complete step-by-step instructions at How to Paint an Oversized Wall Design.
Big fat stripes would dwarf a small bath—right? Paradoxically, just the opposite is true. "Wide horizontal stripes appear to 'push out' the walls, making the room look larger," says Debbie Zimmer, a color expert at the Paint Quality Institute.
"Choose two hues that are closely related for an 'analogous' scheme," says Zimmer. Pick one (usually the lighter of the two) for the base color and apply two coats. Then measure the wall's height in inches and divide by 5. The resulting number will be the width of your stripes. (If you end up with an awkward fraction, add a little extra to the top and bottom bands to round off the number.) Measure stripes, mark them using a pencil and a level, then tape them off. Paint top, middle, and bottom stripes with two coats of the deeper color. Finish the room with a few black accents—such as the mirrors shown above—to give the pale wall colors a sophisticated edge.
Remember Harold and the Purple Crayon, the book about the kid who liked to draw on walls? You don't have to be a fan of the book—or even be a kid—to share Harold's compulsion to scribble anywhere you like. Luckily, with the right surface and writing tool, you can erase your scribbles and do it again.
Chalkboard paint isn't new, but creative minds keep coming up with new ways to use it. Consider the dramatic wall calendar shown here. It began with a floor-to-ceiling coat of standard gray chalkboard paint. With the help of a yardstick, squares were drawn in pencil, then taped off. Three-fourths were filled in with different shades of light and medium gray, leaving the remaining squares the same color as the wall.
The hardest part is coordinating the taping: After you paint the first set of squares, pull up the tape, wait a day, and put down a new line of tape to do the next set.
Once it's had a couple of days to cure, the chalkboard should last years. It's the kind of project that might inspire a Harold wannabe to paint erasable surfaces almost anywhere, including tabletops and canisters. Can't quite picture it? Click "Next."
Shown: Most chalkboard paint comes in a classic deep gray. A paint store can lighten a quart by adding white colorant. Back home, dark and light can be blended to get a couple of different shades in between.
Wall-frame molding can help make a large room feel more intimate, but those rectangles can also be a challenge to work with. Interior designer Meridy King, who likes to give period rooms a contemporary touch, originally decided to simply paint the paneled dining room walls in this Atlanta home a soft French blue with linen-white baseboards and chair rail. Artwork didn't sit right within the frame molding, and wallpaper inserts would have looked too fussy.
But something was still missing, so she turned to local decorative painter Brian Carter to provide the needed finishing touch. The solution came in the form of gentle tree branches, a natural motif for a room with a garden view. He let the branches grow up naturally, as if rooted in the dark oak floor, their leaves bumping up against the wall moldings as if they were framed by windows.
View the complete step-by-step instructions at How to Paint a Decorative Twig Wall Design.
When decorative painter Brian Carter was asked to turn a bland dining room into a magnet for good food and conversation, he instinctively thought of warm tone-on-tone squares. He started out by painting the walls a creamy beige, then applied two shades of tinted glaze (all from Benjamin Moore) to create a pattern of 17-inch squares.
After applying a base coat of Philadelphia Cream eggshell latex, he used a measuring tape and chalk line to create his pattern, tweaking it to avoid partial squares. Then, using a 1-inch painter's brush and random strokes, he painted every other square with a mix of 1 part Antique Bronze Impervo Satin to 3 parts Studio Finishes alkyd glaze. The next day, after wiping off stray chalk marks, he lightly painted the entire surface with a mix of 1 tablespoon of Mink Impervo Satin paint per quart of glaze, using a 2½-inch painter's brush and random strokes.
Tip: "Use chalk to mark off the squares and avoid taping them. Using the chalk lines as your guide will give you a softer look," Carter says.
Love hosting dinner parties and big holiday gatherings, but hate hauling out your collection of mismatched chairs? Before the event arrives, give orphaned chairs with flat backs a cohesive look with a coat of paint and decorative decals in dressed-up furniture styles. The decals go on in a few simple steps (just make sure the surface is clean and smooth before transferring the design) and peel off easily when the look wears thin.
Blik's Classic Chair Backs; about $30 for a set of six; whatisblik.com
Remember those potato stamps you made in school? Now imagine a less starchy—but no less fun—medium made with a sheet of flexible craft foam and squares of scrap wood. The pattern shown here was applied with two homemade stamps and semigloss paint. Decorative painter Brian Carter who came up with the pattern as a way to enliven a plain white bath painted with Benjamin Moore's White Dove. "The wainscot provides an orderly block of color so that the handprinted pattern can dance above it." A base coat of Benjamin Moore's Hawthorne Yellow serves as the pattern's backdrop.
Carter likes the contrast of a semigloss pattern on a flat base coat. To keep the look loose, he moved across the wall, stamping squares with diamond cutouts at 4-inch intervals in freehand fashion. Then he went back and added smaller circles in the blank spaces. "Try out your pattern on a piece of colored paper, and if you don't like the way it looks, vary the amount of paint on the stamp or make a new one," he says.
View the complete step-by-step instructions at How to Create a Stamped Wall Design.
Bamboo has been a popular design motif since the 18th century. But decorative painter Brian Carter had a fresher, cleaner look in mind when he updated this beige bath.
Carter used painter's tape to create 2- to 4-inch-wide stripes on walls painted with Benjamin Moore's Shaker Beige. "Make the stripes different widths for the most natural look," he says. Starting at the top, he brushed on glaze in sections 9 to 12 inches long, leaving every other one blank—and making sure to offset the sections from one stripe to the next. Once the glaze was dry, he filled in the blank areas, overlapping brush marks to create the nodes. The walls were done in a weekend.
"Oil-based glaze dries slowly, so you can keep the color even and clean up any mistakes," says Carter. Using a 2-inch-wide brush, he created translucent stripes, overlapping glazed sections an inch or so to suggest the nodes on stalks of bamboo.
Tip: "Choose a tint for your glaze that reinforces a color in the room," Carter says. "The raw umber I chose here brings out the shading in the limestone tile."
The trick to pairing colors, says Mark Chamberlain, a decorative painter and colorist in New York City, is to select hues that are neighbors on the color wheel, a tool that designers use.
Then keep in mind that warmed-up hues often pair well with cooled-down ones. The two here are Climbing Lily and Limeade from Ralph Lauren Paint. Limeade is a warm, yellowish green; Climbing Lily is a cooler, greenish yellow. Rooms with wainscot naturally lend themselves to the two-related-shades treatment, but you can also create separate color fields by taping off the wall halfway up or adding a chair rail.
Tip: Chamberlain says,"To give a traditional room a more contemporary look, use two bright colors. For a more conservative pairing, choose softer hues that have gray or brown in them."
The burgundy red floor in the master bedroom of Sara and Andrew Taylor'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.
View the complete step-by-step instructions at How to Paint a Floor.
Floor paint: Bay Harbor Beige and Patio White by Benjamin Moore; about $39 per gallon
While Stephany Kropman was awaiting the birth of son Zane (her sixth child!), she found inspiration for the nursery in a catalog shot of a room with a tree mural. She sketched the tree in chalk first. "If you don't like it, you just wipe and redo." To add dimension to the branches, she hung them with six wood crafts-store birdhouses—one for each of her children—that she painted.
Previous projects had left her with half-full cans of loden green and deep red latex. So after painting the crib wall white, she called on her husband, Scott, for help taping off 8-inch-wide stripes. Still, she says, adding the green stripes was easier than she thought. "The trick is to pull off the tape slowly—at an angle—when the paint is still tacky." Stephany chose a grayish blue for the other walls, tying them to the striped wall with horizontal bands of green and red, plus white polka dots dabbed on in between with the end of an artist's brush handle.
To give your walls a dimensional look, start with a neutral base coat, then pick a secondary color that'll pack some punch. Use a pencil, ruler, and plumb line to outline the stripes, suggests New York City-based decorative painter Alison Shapiro. Then, to give them an icing-like translucence, mix one part interior latex paint with two parts latex glaze, and pour it into a small roller tray. "The glaze-paint mix may be different from what you're used to, so practice on some illustration board until you get the right look and can do a stripe in one swipe," Shapiro says.
Roll on the wide stripes, and if your edges are slightly uneven, don't worry too much. You want your work to have a made-by-hand, folk-art quality. Wait a day for the paint to dry, then add the pinstripes with a ½-inch-wide round artist's brush. To introduce a little contrast, use straight color with no glaze for these.
Used here: Whizz Roller System's 2¾-inch roller, $4; Benjamin Moore's Regal Interior latex, about $16; Studio Finishes latex glaze, $8 per quart
This trick-of-the-eye runner looks ambitious, but if you start with ivory-painted stairs, you need only add two black stripes, two yellow stripes, then two rows of triangles and one of squares.
First, calculate the placement of the black and yellow stripes. Section off the black stripes with painter's tape, smoothing the edges with a credit card. Using latex porch and floor enamel and an extra-firm sash brush, paint two thin coats. Next, tape off and paint the yellow stripes, also with two thin coats. The remaining center section will serve as an ivory stripe.
Using flexible posterboard, make templates for the triangles and squares, sizing them so that they climb the risers and wrap the treads. Outline the shapes in pencil and tape them off. "To reduce bleeding in the corners," says Jeffries, "pounce on" the paint, one color at a time, with a stiff, lightly loaded stencil brush. Repeat for two coats.
Finally, protect your work with two coats of polyurethane—one glossy, for durability, and the other matte, for ruglike verisimilitude. Then get ready to climb your stairs in style.