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Gleaming, oversize subway tile set with thick ribbons of matte grout: It's the last thing you expect to see in a foyer or a dining room. But when the work is done with paint, the result can be a perfect, playful visual effect.

Decorative painter Ingrid Leess "tiled" this foyer wall in two days, using 1-inch-wide delicate-adhesion painter's tape and latex paint in two colors and finishes. "The exaggerated grid delivers a lot of punch, and it certainly goes up faster than the real thing," she says.

For maximum effect, she used a base coat of flat gray to create the look of grout lines, and high-gloss gold to make her glazed-ceramic-like tiles. "Strong colors work well," she notes, "but the impact comes from the contrasting finishes; you could also choose flat white and glossy ivory."

Read on for the step-by-step process, from blank wall to trompe l'oeil.

Tip: Any color combination will do—even two shades of white. But contrasting sheens are key. Choose a flat finish for the base coat (the "grout") and a high-gloss finish for the top coat (the "tile"). Draw a brush through the wet paint to give the tile subtle texture.

Step 1

Make a Story Stick

Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Once the grout-color base coat is dry, wrap a 3-foot or longer stick with 1-inch painter's tape at 8-inch intervals; you'll use this to mark out the "grout" lines. If you prefer narrower grout lines, use narrower tape.

Step 2

Use the Story Stick to Mark the Grout Lines

Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Using a ladder, the story stick, and light pencil marks, mark the top and bottom of each horizontal grout line. Do the same to mark the vertical lines. Let the marks guide you as you put down rows of delicate-adhesion painter's tape to form a grid of 8-inch squares. Extend the tape a bit at each end for easy removal.

Step 3

Remove Portions of the Vertical Grout Lines

Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Use a single-edge razor to help remove 8-inch lengths of vertical tape from every other row; this will turn the squares into 8-by-16-inch rectangles that are staggered, as shown in Step 4.

Step 4

Seal the Edges of the Tape and Roll on a Coat of Paint

Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Using a putty knife or a credit card, press down the edges of the tape to discourage bleeding.

Step 5

Roll on the Second Color

Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Working in 4-by-4-foot sections, roll on a coat of high-gloss paint. Before it has a chance to dry, draw a lightly loaded 4-inch brush through the paint from left to right, which will give the "tiles" a bit of texture.

Step 6

Remove the Tape

Photo by Wendell T. Webber

When the paint is dry, gently pull up the tape at an angle. Add a small table and a tablescape, and your visual trick is a fait accompli.