Punch up a soft base coat of paint (like this ethereal gray) by using a stencil to create a high-contrast pattern. Prep your floors first by scuffing the wood to remove any existing finish and to make paint adhere well. To minimize sanding time, Karen Burke of Bravura Finishes, in Portland, Oregon, suggests using a deglosser (like Krud-Kutter Gloss-Off; $21, homedepot.com) and then giving your floors a light sand pre-paint.
How-To: Paint the floor your base color. When dry, position your stencil in one corner—you'll want to paint yourself out of the room, towards the door. Dip a stencil brush in a second color, and wipe it with a towel to remove excess. "Dry" the brush over the stencil with gentle, even pressure. Then lift the guide and move to the next position. For crisp edges, clean the stencil frequently by laying flat in the sink and cleaning gently with running water and a soft brush. Blot dry, never rub.
Whether you're preparing a nursery or making an existing one grow up, you'll love this idea for its fun technique and its sophisticated, versatile color palette. As toys change and adult furniture comes in, the design goes from whimsical to edgy. It's also practical enough for a work room and stylish enough for a contemporary office.
How-To: Cover the entire floor with your base color. (For an opaque finish, you'll need two to three coats.) The size of your splotches will depend on what tool you select; you can pick anything from a fine-art paintbrush for tiny dots up to a four-inch flat brush for large spots. Load the brush with about a quarter-inch of paint in your second shade, hold it perpendicular to the floor, and gently tap it with a dowel so the pigment spatters. Let dry before repeating the trick with your third shade.
If your design looks too dense, open it up by spattering with your base color, says Chris Pearson of Chris Pearson Floors, in Roselle, New Jersey. For splashy color combos, go for three shades that offer vivid counterpoints to one another. Each can look softer or stronger, depending on what color you put on the walls. Alternatively, for a lighter effect, reverse the colors.
Play with Patterns
Spruce up an old wood floor with simple contrasting stripes or pick two shades to fall in line together. We love this idea for hallways, mudrooms, and even kitchens.
How-To: To achieve this checkerboard look, tape off every other floorboard and paint horizontal six-inch green stripes. Once they're dry, measure six-inch rows perpendicular to your existing ones, and finish the grid.
A simple room gets some major personality (and an easy-to-clean surface) with a bright pop of color.
How-To: To achieve this look, lay down two to three coats of any paint. Top it with two coats of high-gloss polyurethane to add luster. Know that reflective finishes magnify every imperfection, so it's especially important to sand the floor well before you start, and fill any dents or holes with wood putty for a smooth start.
Step Up the Contrast
With three parts to play up with paint, you can get super creative on your staircase—just brush a wide swath of color down the middle to create a faux-runner effect or, as we did here, partner up metallic-gold risers with cream treads and soft-pink walls for an understated elegance. Both are surefire ways to make going up the stairs (again) a pleasure.
How-To: Start by painting the risers with two coats of your chosen color. Let dry thoroughly, then tape off the bottom of each section so you get a crisp edge where the risers meet the treads. Next, paint the top of every other step. When those dry (about 12 hours), paint the remaining treads. Cover treads—which must stand up to a lot of wear and tear—with multiple coats. For white, go with three, plus two coats of polyurethane.