Liven Up Your Walls with a Color Wash

Faux painting techniques energize a room with color and texture and can change the look of a room from drab to dynamic.


By Shari Hiller

My decorating partner, Matt Fox, and I are big fans of faux painting techniques. We've found that they energize a room with color and texture and can change the look of a room from drab to dynamic.

We particularly like the look of color washing, a paint technique that can be used in any style of room. To achieve this look, a thin glaze (or water-based wash) is applied over the base coat of paint to create an effect of subtle layers of color. I do find that using the technique on all the walls in a room creates a warm and comfortable cohesive statement.

Recently, however, Matt and I discovered just how versatile color washing truly is. We redecorated a room with cream-colored walls, carpeting and furnishings. Using artwork as our inspiration, we created color-washed accent panels that added just the right punch to produce a bold contemporary look. Putting artwork within the panels completed this technique.

If you'd like to try creating a color-washed panel, even on just one accent wall in a room, here are the materials you'll need to get started.

Large pieces of tag board
1/4-inch nap roller and paint tray
2- and 4-inch latex paintbrushes or cotton rags used to apply the glaze
Paper towel or soft cloth
Low-tack painter's tape
Plastic bucket
Drop cloth
Practice board
Interior satin latex paint
Latex glazing liquid

Matt and I always use a sample board when trying out a new technique. To ensure that you like the effect of color washing, and you feel confident creating this look, you might want to start with a sample board as well. Sample boards are especially helpful when working with paint or glazing techniques because they take all the guesswork out of the process. You can try all sorts of color combinations and effects on your sample boards.

Move the panels around the room to try alternate placements. Once you've found the perfect colors, effect and placement, the hard part is finished.

My least favorite part of any painting technique is wall preparation, but Matt assures me that a clean, dry, dull surface is necessary to achieve a good paint finish. So, go ahead and complain all you want, but make sure to wash your walls with mild soap and rinse them thoroughly. If necessary, scrape any paint that is lifted or loose, patch any cracks or holes and sand the walls smooth. Remove any dust with either a vacuum or tack cloth.

Now you're ready to go.

Since we decided to use boxes or panels of color, we determined the placement and size of our panel and created the outline using a long level, a light pencil line and painter's tape. Be sure to press the tape down firmly, so that panels will have crisp edge lines.

Typically, when washing with two colors, the basecoat is the brighter of the two. This allows the basecoat to be visible through the top washing coat without seeming too intense. When we created our panels, however, we wanted to create a bold burst of color. So, we used an off-white basecoat to really allow bright colors to show up. The technique works best if the basecoat is a satin latex paint so that the topcoat is easier to apply. Paint your basecoat and allow it to dry for at least four hours before applying the topcoat.

To create your topcoat, mix one part interior satin latex paint to five parts glazing liquid. We wanted a cloudlike appearance for our panels so we washed our walls using clean cotton rags. We dipped the rag into the glazing mixture, and patted off any extra glaze onto paper towels. We applied the glaze to the panels using a circular motion, varying both the size and direction of the circles.

If you would prefer a more textured look for panels, try using a brush instead of a rag to apply the glaze. Dip a clean brush into your glaze mixture and wipe off any excess. Begin brushing the wall in short strokes that overlap and crisscross. The more overlapped and random your brush marks, the better. If you would like to add a third color, mix one part interior satin latex to 15 parts glazing liquid. Apply using the same technique as before.

To give panels greater definition, we added a 1-inch border of a darker color. We then hung the artwork within the panels and placed similarly colored accessories around the room. What a dramatic finish!

Our color-washed panels proved to be a beautiful addition. They took very little time to complete and added much-needed color. Even better, the panels seemed to become an extension of the artwork placed within them, making the entire room a real work of art.

(Matt Fox and Shari Hiller alternate writing this column. They also are authors of Real Decorating for Real People and co-hosts of the Home & Garden Television show Room By Room.)

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