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You know that a pop of color on an accent wall is a great way to bring new hues into your palette. It makes a splash without pricey accessories or wall coverings. But why stop at one color when a striped pattern can pull in an entire array of cheerful options? All it takes is a little strategy. Read on to see how This Old House senior technical editor Mark Powers gets away with two rounds of taping to put up this five-stripe pattern.

Overview of How to Paint a Striped Wall

Illustration by Gregory Nemec

Project Timeline

  • Prep Day: Lay out a pattern and create the story stick.
  • Saturday: Tape and paint the first set of stripes.
  • Sunday: Tape and paint the second set of stripes, and touch up the entire wall.

Download the layout for this striped wall pattern.

Step 1: Clean the surface

Photo by Kolin Smith

First, turn off the power, remove any receptacle faceplates, and cover each receptacle with painter's tape. Using a sanding pole fitted with 120-grit sandpaper, smooth the wall to remove any rough texture that could prevent the tape edges from fully adhering to the wall. Wipe the wall clean with a large, damp sponge and allow it to dry completely.

Step 2: Design the repeating pattern

Photo by Kolin Smith

Create a pattern of stripe widths and colors to repeat across the wall (the pattern here is about 4 feet wide). This brings visual order to the sequence of stripes and makes the project manageable. To design the pattern, print pages of each paint color and cut them into strips equal to the desired width of the stripes, such as 1, 3, and 5 inches, as shown. Your pattern can have any number of colors, but they should complement one another when viewed as a whole. We chose five colors, including white.

Step 3: Create a story stick

Photo by Kolin Smith

Rather than fumbling with a measuring tape, cut a thin strip of lumber the length of one full stripe sequence, and measure off and mark the stripes' boundaries. Use tape to extend each line evenly around the stick. Be sure to keep the tape to the same sides of the lines, and, for good measure, draw an arrow indicating which edge of each tape wrap serves as the line. Label the left and right ends of the stick, as well as the color for each stripe, to remind you how to orient it each time you pick it back up.

Step 4: Mark the wall

Photo by Kolin Smith

Hold the story stick against the project wall with the left end abutting the adjacent wall. Align it with a level, then transfer the pattern lines onto the wall with light tick marks. When you reach the end of the stick, circle the last tick mark so that you know where to start the stick on the next sequence.

Step 5: Transfer the lines

Photo by Kolin Smith

Using a 4-foot level, draw the stripes' boundaries with light pencil marks at the top, middle, and bottom of the wall (being mindful that pencil can peek through even dark paint).

Step 6: Tape the stripes

Photo by Kolin Smith

On the first round, you'll tape off and paint every other stripe and let them dry. For round two, you'll mask along the edges of the painted stripes to bracket off the unpainted ones. Before you start, put X's of painter's tape over the stripes you want to skip. Then, from a step ladder, start at the top of each stripe and work your way down, creating solid lines with tape along both borders of the stripes to be painted. Let the tape extend at the floor and ceiling for easy removal. Draw arrows on the tape pointing toward the area to be painted.

Step 7: Seal the tape

Photo by Kolin Smith

Run a plastic putty knife down each strip of tape as you work to be sure the tape edges fully adhere to the wall (a metal blade could mar the wall). This will keep the paint from bleeding underneath.

Step 8: Cut in and roll on the paint

Photo by Kolin Smith

On the first round, paint the stripes between the arrows, avoiding the ones blocked off with X's. Using a paintbrush, cut in the paint along the ceiling and baseboard, and along the wall adjacent to the first stripe. For skinny stripes, stick with the paintbrush for the entire length. And when painting with the brush, keep your strokes vertical and pull paint away from the tape to avoid pushing paint beneath it. For larger stripes, use a small roller to coat the open area between the tape.

TOH Tip: Get one paintbrush per paint color.

Step 9: Remove the tape

Photo by Kolin Smith

Remove the tape before the paint dries. Otherwise, paint can bridge the seam between the wall and the tape, and removing the tape may remove paint, too. Start at the ceiling and pull downward on an angle, as shown.

Step 10: Apply the second round of tape

Photo by Kolin Smith

After the paint on the first set of stripes has dried for at least 24 hours, tape off the second set of stripes by aligning tape on the edges of each painted stripe, as shown. Seal the tape with the plastic putty knife.

Step 11: Finish painting the field

Photo by Kolin Smith

Cut in and paint the remaining stripes with a brush or roller, removing the tape while the paint of each stripe is still wet.

TOH Pro Tip: Hold the story stick up to the wall as a reference before you paint each stripe to ensure you're using the right color.

Step 12: Touch up the stripes

Photo by Kolin Smith

Using a paintbrush, carefully touch up any gaps or overlaps. Create a clean line by holding the paintbrush at a 45-degree angle away from the wall, as shown, then press the tip of the brush to the wall and steadily guide it toward the line. Run the paintbrush along the line until the gap is coated.


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