Refurbishing old floors - how to colourwash bare floorboards two colours

This is a guide how to gently colourwash bare wooden floorboards with thin transparent layers of diluted emulsion paint which seep into the wood allowing the grain and texture to show.

Colourwashing is a simple technique to use on bare wood and the effect can be as light or as heavy as you wish ¬just add more or less water to the mixture. Ready-mixed wood stains can also be used for this effect and these tend to sink more deeply into the grain of the wood.

A particular advantage of emulsion paint is that, unlike wood stain, there are hundreds of colours to choose from. It is also possible to blend in thicker versions of the emulsion wash to cover certain areas more opaquely, and so disguise knotting or any repairs in the wood.

To add a simple pattern to a floor, simply mask off square shapes of various sizes on the colourwashed base and wash over a second time in another colour. The base colour affects the colour of the second wash and shows through a little underneath, so for this reason it is easier to paint a darker colour on top of a lighter base.

You can, of course, use any shape or pattern either across the floor or as a border. Diluted emulsion paint dries very quickly, so if you are colourwashing your floor on a warm summer's weekend with the windows open, you will probably have it finished within hours.

Tools and materials you will need

• Fine sandpaper
• White knotting
• Cloth
• Emulsion paint in two colours (to be diluted into a wash)
• Bucket
• Tough acrylic floor varnish
• Large paintbrush
• Smaller paintbrush (2 cm [1 in]) for painting squares
• Paper (to cut out square templates)
• Scissors
• Chalk
• Low-tack masking tape


Step a
Wet the wood and lightly sand it with finishing (fine) sandpaper. This will prevent the grain from raising when the wash is applied.

Step b
Seal any knots in the wood with knotting solution. This is necessary on new wood that has not completely dried out. For pale wood use white knotting as it is transparent. The knotted areas will not accept the wash as well as the bare wood will, so be careful to apply the knotting only on the knot. Do this by dabbing some knotting solution onto a rag and rubbing it well into the knots. This will dry very quickly.

Step c
Prepare the colourwash mixture in a bucket. Pour the emulsion paint into a bucket and slowly add water until it is a thin milky consistency. The more water you add, the more transparent the wash will become. Test the colour first on a scrap of wood.

Step d
Using a large decorators' brush, apply the mixture to the wood with a generous sweeping motion in the direction of the wood grain. Work along the floorboards making sure you do not let an edge dry in the middle of a board. As the paint is diluted it should dry very quickly.

Step e
Use paper cut-outs to lay the pattern out on the floor and decide on the design. I use lining paper to do this.

Step f
Draw round the paper squares with chalk so that it can be wiped off easily afterwards.

Step g
Using low-tack masking tape, mask off the square sections neatly and precisely. Make sure the edge is smooth so that paint cannot run underneath.
Step h
Brush on the second colour. Make sure you brush away from, not towards, the tape – this will create as neat an edge as possible. Carefully remove the low-tack tape.
Step i
Use a clamp cloth to wipe off any paint that has seeped through the masking tape. Do this before the paint dries.
Step j
Wipe off the remaining chalk marks with a damp cloth.

Step k
Allow the paint to dry completely, then varnish the floor with two coats of acrylic floor coating.

I hope this article has inspired you to refurbish oak flooring or any other type of wood flooring for that matter. Look out for more articles on decorating wood flooring soon.


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