Painting wood floors can breathe new life into a space. This step-by-step guide to painted floors will help you achieve a look you love
For some people, the idea of painting your hardwood floors seems vaguely sinful, just like painting gumwood wainscoting. But in fact, it’s a charming way to add a bright, cozy look to a cottage or Cape Cod-style interior, and you can’t beat it for updating and brightening up a room. Best of all, according to Alison Goldman of CIL, it’s not a difficult project at all, especially compared to sanding and refinishing with polyurethane.
Choosing a colour
Choose a colour the same way you would choose carpeting; off-white is a classic choice, but Alison suggests you might want to consider other options, depending on the room. “For a playroom or kid’s room, you might go with a pastel or even a bright colour. For porches or sunrooms – both of which are a classic choice for a painted floor – one of my favourites is Falling Rain (30BG 56/097), a light blue with a slight turquoise tint, which gives a fresh, seaside feeling.” If you’re blessed with beadboard, board-and-batten or even unfinished walls, you might opt to paint them white or a lighter shade of your chosen floor colour, for a coordinated look.
Stenciling painted floors
Another popular idea is to use more than one colour and create a pattern with stenciling, stripes or any design you want; that’s the beauty of working with paint. “A lot of condos nowadays come with parquet floors, which a lot of people find very boring,” she laughs. “But one of the great things about parquet is once you paint it, you have a built-in grid, which makes it easy to create any pattern you like.”
Choosing the right paint for flooring
The traditional choice of paint for floors has always been alkyd for its highly durable finish, but recently alkyd paints have been outlawed for interior use because of their high VOC emissions. The solution is a product called waterborne alkyd, a hybrid of sorts, which combines the tough finish of alkyd with the easy cleanup and low VOC of latex. “It’s the perfect choice for floors,” says Alison. For sheen, semi-gloss is the hands-down choice; high-gloss can look garish or plastic-y, while flat or eggshell will attract dirt.
The secret to painting floors
The secret to a great floor-painting job, like any paint job, is in careful prep. Start by washing the floor to remove any lingering grease or dirt. Sand the floor thoroughly to take off as much of the urethane or varnish as possible, and to create what’s called a “tooth” that the paint can stick to. Finish with a good vacuuming and dusting with a tack cloth and mineral spirits, to get rid of all traces of dust and specks. If you’re planning to paint a pattern, tape off the unpainted sections with painter’s tape. (If you’re using two or more colours, repeat each of the following steps in turn with each subsequent colour.)
The tools you'll need
A roller makes the job go faster, but it tends to leave a nubby nap that you might find unattractive. A better choice is a four-inch-wide natural-bristle brush, which allows the paint to “set-up” to a gleaming, super-smooth finish. “The kind of brush that you can attach to a broom handle or short pole will save your back and knees,” Alison says.
Apply thin, even coats (Alison recommends three coats will do the job nicely), which will dry faster and minimize the possibility of floating dust settling into the wet paint. Allow to dry for 24 hours between coats; sand and dust with the tack cloth before applying the next coat.
A job well done
You can walk on your floor and even put your furniture back after 72 hours, but avoid heavy traffic or dragging furniture on the newly painted floor for the next two weeks or so, to allow it to cure completely. There’s no need to add a clear top coat of sealer; as Alison points out, many oil-based sealers can add an unattractive yellow tinge that may alter the colour of the floor. A painted floor will last for two or three years and – unlike a worn-out polyurethaned or varnished floor – is relatively easy to touch up when the time comes.
And down the road, should you decide to go back to your traditional wood floors, you can always sand it off and start over.