Foolproof instructions for creating perfect painted floors
Written by Tim McKeough
Photo: Simon Upton
Although it's relatively uncommon to see painted wood floors today, as clear-coated hardwood has become the preferred option for most homeowners, they were once a staple of interior design. From decorative patterns, some of which mimicked parquetry, to monochromatic schemes, painted wood floors were in widespread use in American homes by the late 1700s. Popular colors included white, yellow, red, and green. But it wasn't just about aesthetics-paint also helped protect the wide-plank pine floors of the time.
After taking a backseat to carpet and clear coats for decades, painted floors are now making a comeback, in both historic and contemporary homes. John Lahey, founder of Fine Paints of Europe, is a big fan. Painted floors "are dear to my heart," he says.
Lahey has plenty of advice for homeowners ready to add some color underfoot. "It's the one time that it's most critical not to put the paint on thick," he stresses. "This has to do with the chemistry of paint, but thin coats wear much slower than thick coats," because they dry harder. He also prefers oil-based primers and paints on floors, for long-term durability, although a waterborne enamel or other specialty floor paint would also be a good choice.
Here are Lahey's step-by-step instructions for a foolproof painted wood floor:
• scarify the surface with 150-grit sandpaper
• wash the floor with a powdered detergent cleaner to remove all dust and deposits
• allow floor to dry completely (this may take a couple of days)
• apply a primer suitable for your paint type
• allow primer to dry overnight
• lightly sand primer with 220-grit sandpaper
• wipe floor clean with mineral spirits, using tack cloth or a rag
• apply the first, thin coat of paint with a natural-bristle brush (which creates a smooth finish, rather than with a roller, which creates a stippled finish)
• allow paint to dry 24 hours
• apply two more thin coasts, allowing 24 hours between each
After the final coat of paint, it's acceptable to walk on the surface in socks after 24 hours. "But we really don't want high heels or to drag that piano yet," says Lahey. "An alkyd paint dries overnight, but takes 28 days to cure to maximum hardness."
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