The wood floors in your home -- old or not so old -- are in need of serious, and expensive, attention. You can spend thousands having them replaced or professionally refinished, or you can paint them for a few hundred dollars and a few hours of your time. Painted wood floors are actually a traditional art form. The floors are fairly forgiving, and you can be as elaborate or one-color basic as you like.
Pick a Color
Sand that messy floor at least enough to remove ground-in surface soil and any protective coating remaining on the wood. Fill in gaps with wood floor filler that dries to a hard finish. Apply a primer coat -- you can skip this step but it does prepare the surface for an even coat of color. Then lay on your preferred shade. White is a favorite choice for floors, because it brings a lot of light into the room and expands the space. Don't overlook a startling choice -- cinnabar in a home filled with Chinese antiques; jade in your traditional dining room; barn-red or medium-blue in a rustic kitchen; shimmering lilac in the princess' bedroom. Single colors are wipe-down easy to maintain after you apply two coats of clear polyurethane, and you can add interest with a complementary area rug.
Big diamonds or a harlequin design in at least two colors camouflage damaged wood floors and enliven the room. Try a very soft gray and white for something subtle. Stick with traditional black and white for impact. Play with combinations of contrasting colors: pink and mint; terra-cotta and teal,; lemon and lilac; red and forest. Or paint every other diamond and leave adjacent diamonds in the original stained wood. Use painter's tape and a yardstick or tape measure to keep lines straight, and mark alternate spaces with a taped X so you remember which ones to paint. Begin marking spaces dead center in the room, and work outward so that any partial shapes are against the baseboards. Use a flat or glossy clear protective finish to minimize foot-traffic wear. Ventilate the workspace with open doors, windows and fans, even if you use non-VOC paints and finishes.
Borders and Stencils
A Greek key design around a bleached wood refinished floor changes the design vibe in the room and creates a "finished" appearance, almost like a carpet. Any painted border adds interest to the room and can pull a specific shade from the rest of the decor. If you're not fond of the herringbone but don't want to replace it, trim the floor design with a stylized floral border, painted the same color as the walls or in a tone that picks up the lighter herringbone shades from the floor. Stencil a repeat pattern directly on the wood floor in a conversation area to define it -- cream-colored paisley against an ebony floor gives that section its own personality. Sand the stenciled design very slightly to simulate natural wear before adding a protective clear coating. Or scatter a stencil pattern -- a puffy dandelion, a toy train -- randomly over the floor and leave the paint sharp and opaque.
Paint a rug right on the wood floor, and seal it with the rest of the wood to protect it. A small area rug inside the front door "finishes" the foyer. A painted runner down the hall or up the wood staircase is economical and fools the eye. Paint an oriental carpet under the dining room table and stop worrying about chair legs on or off the rug when guests are seated; also give thanks for the painted rug every time you sweep or mop the dining room instead of worrying about costly carpet cleaning. Add a bathmat to the bathroom that won't slip or require laundering. Copy a rug design you like; stencil a repeat pattern within a painted border if you're not artistic; match drapery material in a modern "rug" you color in before the hearth.