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Gorgeous & Affordable: Painting A Hardwood Floor

Homeowners and DIY enthusiasts update a traditional approach to personalizing and brightening up a room.

photo by karina kaliwoda, courtesy houzz


Why would you paint a floor?” 

Chuck Stockdill is manning the counter at the PPG Paints shop in Hampton Township, where I’ve come for advice. He thinks I’m crazy, speaking over me as I try to explain. 

“Why would you paint a floor?” he repeats.

Painted floors are a hot topic on design blogs these days, I tell him. They’re trending on home-design TV shows, and they can look really stunning. Great for rehabbing a worn bedroom floor on a budget.  

And the coolest part is that this hot trend actually has roots stretching back into Pennsylvania’s history. Americans in this region have painted their wooden floors since the early 1800s, and now this traditional method of beautifying a room is back in a big way. 

​Stockdill, expert on all things paint-related and manager of this particular store, is not convinced. 

“It’s a wood floor,” he says with mock irritation. “Stain it brown. Paint the walls, stain the floor. Wood is supposed to be brown.”



Or maybe a basic, worn hardwood floor can become the gleaming centerpiece of a truly stylish room — rejuvenated inexpensively with just a few cans of paint, a long weekend’s worth of effort and a dash of imagination. 

Because oddly enough, while painting wood floors is sexy and trendy right now, it’s also quite practical: As a do-it-yourself project, it requires a lot of patience and some focused effort but no real experience or training. There is prep work involved, and it must be done with care. But the outcome is totally up to you. 

Want a sleek, glossy, formal floor? Paint can do that. Want the casual charm of a vintage farmhouse or beach bungalow? Paint can do that, too. 

A painted floor isn’t right for every house, of course. But in the right room and done in a style that suits your taste, it can be a design solution perfect for your home and your budget.

photo by KIMBERLEY BRYAN, courtesy houzz



There are as many painted-floor styles as there are colors in the rainbow. They fall into three general categories: 

1. The warm, weathered farmhouse look. South Hills-based interior designer Cathy Davin says fans of the casual-chic fashion brand “Anthropologie” love this approach, which is perfect for a guest room, a cozy master bedroom or sunny family room. Paint the walls a creamy white with a slight satin finish, then do the floor in a matte version of that same creamy white color. The key to pulling off the look, according to Davin, is not to aim for full coverage. Put down a very thin coat of primer (no worries if it’s uneven), then add one or two very thin coats of white paint that partially hide the grain of the wood. Aim for about 80 percent coverage to create a deliberately uneven, white-washed, slightly weathered look, Davin says. Then cover with at least two thin coats of a clear, matte, water-based polyurethane. The end result is bright and cheerful, a beach house-inspired style that looks great with modern or industrial decor but also works with more traditional furnishings. Perfect for floors in older houses that are already quite worn, because it turns a liability — scratches, scuff marks and tiny spaces between floor boards — into a source of charm and patina. 

2. A simple pattern. Does a checkerboard sound daunting? It isn’t. It just takes patience. Take the time to lay out painter’s tape and adjust the pieces as necessary, measuring to make sure your angles end up perfect. Putting down the tape is a tedious way to spend an afternoon, but anyone can do it. Once your checkerboard is mapped out on the floor, you can either paint all of the squares in two contrasting colors or leave half of the squares unpainted with the wood exposed. One great combo: Deep charcoal-gray paint in a matte finish on half of the squares, alternated with squares of previously stained wood. 
An easier option is very thick stripes laid out parallel to a wall or diagonally across the room. Again, you can alternate painted stripes with visible wood, or choose two or more colors that look great together. This playful style is great fun for a child’s bedroom or family-room floor. 

3. ​One sleek, shiny solid color. The style gives the floor the look of being lacquered with even coats of high-gloss paint, totally hiding the wood’s grain. Davin recommends it as a possibility for a formal dining room or dramatic entryway, done in white or black. A pure white floor can make a small room feel bigger or a room with minimal light feel brighter, and it’s gorgeous as a way to set off a stunning Oriental area rug. Even bolder, consider a glossy black-and-white checkerboard that evokes ceramic tile. 
To achieve this look, you’ll want to begin with a fully sanded, smooth floor. You’ll put down at least two thin coats of primer, then three coats of color and two coats of clear sealant. Given the perfection you’d be seeking with this style, consider hiring a professional unless you’re a seasoned DIYer.

photo by holly marder, courtesy houzz



Much of the buzz around painting wood floors involves the minimal prep work required, compared to thoroughly sanding and restaining a worn floor. Many home DIY bloggers post about washing their wood floors thoroughly, going over them lightly with a handheld electric sander, washing them again to remove any dust, then putting down their first layer of primer. 

Tom Silva, general contractor on the long-running PBS television series “This Old House” and general manager of “Ask This Old House,” says this approach should work on most older wood floors. There’s no need to remove the old finish entirely, he says. Just “make sure that it’s scuffed up a little bit” to create a receptive surface for paint to adhere to, then prime and paint.

​Stockdill still isn’t convinced: A quick rub with sandpaper, in his experience, won’t create the right surface for paint to successfully adhere. He recommends thoroughly sanding the floors first, taking up all traces of old stain.

“Remove everything,” he says, or “don’t be surprised if it peels.”

After prepping, apply an extremely thin coat of primer, and, if necessary, a second coat once the first is entirely dry. “People want to roll a coat on, go eat lunch, then put on another coat,” Stockdill says, but patience is the key to a great outcome. Leave at least 12 hours between coats, even if the floor feels dry to the touch. You’ll thank yourself later. 

Once those primer layers have dried, add your first, very thin coat of paint and let that dry thoroughly. Depending on how much of the wood grain you want to cover, add thin coats of paint until you’ve achieved the desired look. Then add thin coats of clear, water-based sealant to protect your work.  

photo courtesy ppg paints


Before You Start

Choose exterior “porch and patio” paint for durability instead of an interior paint meant for walls. Pay close attention to the finish you want — totally matte or with some degree of shine. One option is PPG’s Break-Through! paint, which home-design bloggers recommend for its durability and heavy coverage. When choosing a sealant for your painted floor, famed TV contractor Tom Silva says oil-based polyurethane “may add a little bit of a goldish color” to your floor, while “water-based will give you the true color of the paint.”  

SAFETY FIRST: In houses built before the 1970s, floor coverings may have included lead. Be sure to research safety guidelines before sanding older floors. And always work with primers, paints or polyurethane in a well-ventilated space.

START SMALL: Worried a painted floor will look too bold? Try it first in a small space, such as a powder room with wood floor or small covered porch. Or, paint a simple border around the outer edge of a floor. Another option: Mark off just one area on a bedroom floor with painter’s tape, sand that space, prime it and paint inside that rectangle as though it’s a rug on the floor. Use a solid color, and after it dries, tape off the outer edge to paint a contrasting border. Or get super-creative and paint your own design within the “rug” area.

Staining remains the most common approach for wood floors. But in a 2015 poll of more than 1,200 users of the home remodel and design website houzz.com, 15 percent of those responding said they would consider painting their floors, while the remaining 85 percent said they would stain them.


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