Far from being, as some believe, a cheap fix for damaged wood flooring, the art of painting wood floors goes back centuries in the United States. Today, a painted wood floor that is original would be a good candidate for meticulous preservation.
According to the preservation-oriented website Historic New England, the painting of wood floors, especially the soft white pine of colonial New England, was well underway by the end of the 18th century.
It is not difficult to see why colonial era home-owners would paint their floors. Coverings such as rugs and carpets would have been luxuries of the rich, not a standard feature among ordinary folk. By painting their wood floors, early home-builders would be able to both preserve the wood, and to decorate the floor at the same time.
Out of this early development of painted floors has grown a long tradition of floor painting, encompassing styles ranging from a plain coat of paint to the most intricate designs imaginable — some of which create the illusion of carpets, of parquetry, or other motifs. As part of this tradition, floor painting with stencils has developed its own niche.
A typical paint scheme of the 18th century is the black and white checkerboard design. A beautiful example of checkerboard design, meant to look like marble, can be seen in the foyer of Gracie Mansion, the official residence of the mayor of New York City:
Other traditional designs of painted floors included the compass rose motif, which was often painted to appear as a design created with inlaid wood, stencil motifs in floral and geometric designs, wildlife and floral designs, and designs meant to mimic expensive wood inlays.
If you want to recreate a very rustic look, perhaps in a period kitchen, for example, then a painted wood floor is one possibility to consider. If you are restoring an antique painted wood floor, then other considerations may come into play also.
Here are some resources to help you plan a painted floor project. Research your job thoroughly, to ensure sure you do the right prep work, and are working with the correct tools. With some careful planning and a little artistic creativity, painting a floor can be a rewarding and affordable project.
Floor Painting Resources: