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Painted Floors

Martha Stewart Living, June 1996

Painting a floor can give form to a room where everything is function, offset the formality of a living room, and restore life to a tired stairway. It is a bit of trompe l'oeil underfoot -- a visual pun that plays to an entire room.


These floor projects illustrate the point. Though painting is still a practical solution for covering less-than-perfect floors, particularly those in upstairs hallways and bedrooms where second-quality lumber is often used, it can also lend comfort or drama to a space. In lieu of rugs, an all-white floor can seemingly enlarge and soften a living room where the focus is rightly on the decorations. It gives the room sparkle and intelligence, and can be applied to a modern space as easily as to a classical one.


Bear in mind that, in the grand tradition of folk artists and decorative painters, you will make mistakes. Most of these -- a squiggle, a hesitant stroke of the brush -- will be so insignificant they won't be worth bothering about. If anything, they'll give your project character, a human touch. But if you do make a mistake you don't want to live with, just wipe the area with a clean cloth, let it dry, and start over again.


If painting a floor seems a more intimidating project than, say, painting a night table, it's a good idea to do your first one in an out-of-the-way bedroom or an upstairs hall. And try to remember that the same rules apply to painting a floor as to the rest of life. Be prepared. Don't expect perfection. And always leave yourself a way out.




To create the gingham floor, you first need to measure the dimensions of the floor and make a scale drawing to work from. The width of each gingham square is based on these measurements. For example, if your floor measures fifteen-feet-by-twenty-feet, you will create 300 one-foot squares (fifteen across and twenty deep). Disregard the width of the floorboards when measuring.


1. Paint specialist Eve Ashcraft assembles her equipment: a bucket of glaze, a roll of brown painter's tape, a four-inch-wide foam applicator for the squares, a nylon bristle brush for the border, color swatches of glazes she tested on pieces of heavy white cardboard, a metal ruler, and her scale drawing of the pattern.


2. The floor is first painted with the base color, Pratt & Lambert Silver Lining #2288. Once it has dried, Ashcraft follows the scale drawing of the pattern, marking the floor with yellow dot stickers to designate the width of the gingham bands. She then lays brown painter's tape in strips to connect the stickers, outlining the squares that are to be painted first. The tape should be pressed down firmly to ensure a tight seal.


3. Using a foam applicator, a dark-green glaze is applied to the squares that are outlined with tape. The painter's tape will overlap adjacent squares, which will be glazed later in a lighter green. Immediately after glazing the darker green squares, Ashcraft removes tape from the right and left sides of each square.


4. Once the glaze has dried, she uses new tape to outline the unglazed squares to the right and left of the darker green squares (the tape will overlap the already glazed squares). Apply a lighter green to the unglazed squares.


5. Remove all the tape, revealing bands of alternating dark- and light-green squares. Ashcraft then uses tape to outline the unglazed squares above and below the painted dark-green squares. She glazes these areas in a light green. Ashcraft then tapes out the border that will run around the edge of the gingham pattern.


6. She glazes this border in turquoise. Once completed, she lets the whole floor dry overnight and seals it with a water-based floor sealer, Varathane Satin.


7. Ashcraft then tapes out the border that will run around the edge of the gingham pattern.


8. She glazes this border in turquoise. Once completed, she lets the whole floor dry overnight and seals it with a water-based floor sealer, Varathane Satin.


Wood Graining

Both the wood pattern for this floor and on the combed basket-weave floor are made by covering a painted or natural surface with glaze and then using a patterning tool to remove some of the glaze.


1. To apply the "faux bois," or false oak, graining to a pine floor, Ashcraft uses a five-inch-wide wood-graining roller from an arts-and-crafts store (other widths are also available). The width of this tool will determine the width of the painted planks. She uses a metal ruler, with a yellow dot at five inches, to mark off the floor. The first plank to be glazed is outlined with blue painter's tape. The edges of the tape are firmly pressed down to ensure a tight seal.


2. Once the area has been outlined, Ashcraft uses a two-inch nylon brush to apply a customized glaze made by mixing waterbased glazing liquid and universal tints. (Tints can be used to simulate any number of wood finishes.)


3. Starting at one end of the taped-off plank, Ashcraft drags and rolls the wood-grainer to pattern the glaze, creating a grain. If mistakes are made, they can be corrected with a pencil eraser, or glaze can be wiped off and reapplied. (If necessary, practice on scrap wood until you feel proficient.) As the painted plank dries, Ashcraft will tape off and glaze a plank that is not adjacent to the freshly painted one. The whole process takes several days.


4. The resulting floor is a perfect counterfeit, complete with growth rings.




1. Ashcraft begins by painting this basket-weave-patterned floor with a base color of Pratt & Lambert's Osprey #1292. Once it has dried overnight, she uses a foam applicator to apply a tinted glazing liquid to a workable area, about twenty inches by twenty inches.


2. She then uses a handmade five-inch-wide rubber comb to remove some of the glaze in alternating directions, forming a basketweave pattern. Between combings, excess glaze is wiped off on a cloth. The width of the pattern is determined by the size of the comb. Ashcraft made hers of industrial rubber, because she wanted it to be more flexible than the metal combs used by folk artists. As each twenty-by-twenty-inch area is finished, Ashcraft removes the glaze around the edges with a damp cloth, then moves on to a new area. Mistakes are corrected and the pattern continued in difficult spaces with a pencil eraser, which Ashcraft calls "a one-toothed comb." Once the glaze has dried for twenty-four hours, two coats of Varathane Diamond Finish satin sealer are applied to seal the floor.


3. The finished treatment gives a trompe l'oeil texture to the floor.




1. To paint a border or a striped pattern, measure out the desired width of each stripe on the floor with a tape measure; mark with yellow dot stickers. Outline the measured space with painter's tape.


2. With a bristle brush, paint evenly between the tape borders, overlapping edges of the tape by roughly half an inch.


3. Remove tape and let stripe dry. When dry, reapply tape along the edges of the next stripe to be painted; apply the next color. Continue until floor is completed.


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