When it became clear that allergies would prevent Nancy B. Westfall’s infant daughter from having a rug in her room, the Atlanta-based artist turned instead to paint, a few stencils and a plan.
Westfall used the baby’s bedroom floor much like she would a canvas, painting on it a diamond-shaped pattern that gave the space a custom look you simply can’t achieve with a kid’s area rug.
Eleven years and another house later, Westfall remains a big fan of bringing floors to life with color instead of covering them up.
“They look pretty refinished, and they look even better painted,” Westfall said.
You don’t have to be a professional artist like Westfall to do it, although proponents of painting the floor say it does require patience and nerve.
Rachel Cannon Lewis, an interior designer in Baton Rouge, La., encourages clients to consider it. Painting a floor, whether it’s wood or concrete, can be more affordable than tile, carpet or other floor coverings, she said.
And in homes that date back more than a century, painted floors are more historically accurate: Back then, people frequently painted their wide, plank wood floors to protect them from warping, Lewis said.
Plus, painting just looks good.
“I’m starting to think of the floor as the sixth wall,” says Lewis, who considers floors “an overlooked opportunity to get creative and introduce color.” (The “fifth wall,” by the way, is the ceiling).
Painting floors yourself can be a lengthy process, Lewis says, primarily because the thin, oil-based paint she recommends requires multiple coats, with lengthy dry times between each one. Getting fancier by, say, creating a pattern with paint or a stencil, requires even more patience and precision.
Painted floors are not as durable as some of the alternatives, especially in high-traffic areas, says Sidney Wagner, a Charleston, S.C., interior designer.
“Over time, even with polyurethane, they will show scratches and the paint will scratch off,” she said.
“However, a tip to help combat your floors from looking too shabby is to paint a contrasting layer of color underneath. So when that second layer of color comes through with the scratches, the marred floors will look planned with your color scheme.”
Carol Charny, a Larchmont, N.Y.-based interior designer, says that painting floors requires a bit of throwing caution to the wind. “You just have to disengage from fear.”
She warns that the margin for error grows with the complexity of the project. “You’re not going to paint an Oriental rug,” she said.
On the other hand, the beauty of using paint is that, if something goes awry, you can cover it up.
“It’s only paint.”