If you’re craving colour, a fresh coat of paint is an easy and affordable way to make a change without going for a complete makeover. From subtle gradients to all-over colour, you can’t go wrong with an easy, high-impact DIY paint project. Here, design experts share their favourite ways to brighten up blank walls, ceilings and staircases without breaking the bank.
(Photo, Vanessa Béland)
1. Be bold
A fresh coat of paint in an adventurous hue effortlessly takes a room from drab to fab. Exhibit A: Blogger Vanessa Béland’s adorable peachy-pink kitchen in Saint-Hubert, Que. From the terracotta pottery on the open shelves to the marble countertop and classic hexagon-tile floor, the space is soft, inviting and perfectly coordinated. After replacing their dated kitchen cabinets with sleek new ones from Ikea, Béland and her husband settled on the joyful flamingo-inspired shade. Though it’s a bold choice, the couple considers it a livable neutral. “We love pink,” she says. “It makes me so happy to be surrounded by my favourite colour while making coffee in the morning.”
Pro tip: Choosing the right primer is crucial when painting cupboard doors. Consult a professional before you buy.
2. Set the tone
Ombré—the gradient blending of one colour tone into the next—has graced everything from tea towels to tresses for over a decade, yet the trend is as popular as ever. Designer Julie Reinhart used the technique to create a cheery foyer for a family of five in Toronto. “We loved the charm of the original staircase, so we updated it with an unexpected pop of colour to make it feel fresh,” says Reinhart. The treads were sanded and stained light oak, and the spindles and handrail were painted white, while the weathered risers were given the tonal treatment with shades of blue, ranging from a soft aqua to a deep teal. “Don’t be afraid to have fun with paint,” adds the designer. “It can transform just about any corner into one you will love.”
Pro tip: When painting high-traffic areas, pick a durable finish that can withstand wear and tear—for this project, Reinhart opted for semigloss—and seal it in with a clear topcoat.
3. Hit the ceiling
When it comes to decorating, ceilings are often overlooked. Give yours what it wants: an eye-catching coat of royal blue that draws the eye upward, or an electric yellow that makes the room feel airier. Or paint your space top to bottom in the same shade to create a soft, cocoon-like effect. Charisma Panchapakesan and Brian Hagood—the wife-and-husband team behind Toronto’s CAB Architects—painted their ceiling a soft blue hue with green undertones, picking a pearl finish that bounces light around the pint-sized room. The only tools needed for the job: drop cloths, ladders, rollers and stamina. “There were some achy shoulders for a couple of days, but we love the results,” says Panchapakesan. “This is the only colourful ceiling in the house. It signifies that this is a special place where our family comes together.”
Pro tip: Always test paint colours before committing. Ceilings catch the light differently than walls, so make sure your chosen shades read the way you expect them to as the light changes throughout the day.
4. Embrace curves
A punchy painted archway is an easy way to create a graphic focal point without redecorating. And the options are endless: fake a headboard, create a playful background for basic wall-mounted shelves or add interest to a charmless entryway. To give her home office an instant refresh, U.K.-based design blogger Medina Grillo opted for a tangy mustard hue that makes the black industrial shelves pop and anchors the desk in the space. “The arch really defines my workspace, which is in my dining room,” says Grillo, who completed the project in a day. “It’s such a happy colour! It makes working here more enjoyable.”
Pro tip: Create a perfect arch by hammering a thin nail where you want the centre of your shape to be. (Don’t forget to fill the hole before you start painting!) Then, tie a string to the nail that only just extends to the outer reaches of the archway, and tape a pencil to the other end of the string. This will help guide you as you trace the outline on the wall. Carefully paint the edges with an angled brush, filling the inside with a roller.
5. Enjoy lime time
Can’t wait to escape the cold? Bring vacation vibes home with romantic limewashed walls. The texture and tonal depth set a sultry mood, making the chalky, suede-like patina ideal for a bedroom (or any room that could benefit from a dose of warmth). Eco-friendly mineral-based limewash paint has been around for centuries—it was a staple in Roman homes—and is your ticket to achieving the look. The dreamy, cloudy walls in this bedroom, painted using Pure & Original’s Fresco lime paint in Elephant Skin, are easy to replicate, says Hélène van Os, a Montreal-based brand manager for the paint company. To achieve the streaky effect that gives the wall its dimension, she recommends prepping the surface with one coat of the brand’s WallPrim primer before applying two coats of paint in a simple cross-hatch pattern. And once you start painting, be sure to finish the entire area you want to cover. “Order enough paint for the whole project to avoid differences in colour,” says van Os. Don’t you feel warmer already?
Pro tip: This type of paint cannot be rolled or sprayed on. Instead, use a lime paintbrush with long natural bristles—the strands create faint lines that give the wall texture.
6. Go halfsies
To replicate the upscale look of custom wainscotting on a budget, take a cue from Vancouver-based architect and interior designer Stephanie da Silva. She brought personality to her kids’ room by painting the lower half of a wall in a striking forest-green shade that easily conceals sticky little fingerprints. Three-year-old Ivan (pictured) and four-month-old Maksim share the space. “I wanted to bring colour into the kids’ room, but the architect in me also loves a crisp white wall,” says da Silva. “The two-tone wall was the perfect solution.” She used a level and painter’s tape to mark off the midway line. Then, using a roller, she applied primer followed by three coats of paint to ensure even coverage. “I love how it turned out,” she says. “For how easy this project was to achieve, it makes a bold statement.”
Pro tip: To create a razor-sharp line, seal the painter’s tape with a flat-edged tool to keep the colour from bleeding underneath.
7. Sponge it up
When kitchen sponges first migrated to paint kits in the ’90s, the results were. . . splotchy at best. Today, the technique has been honed and simplified—and the results are surprisingly chic. Think plenty of white space and patterns that mimic trendy wallpaper. Whether you speckle polka dots over a wall with the tip of a paintbrush or use a triangular makeup applicator as a stamp, sponging can bring a fun vibe to any blank wall. DIYer Cecilia Moyer and her sister, Niña Williams, a design blogger, worked together to spruce up the entryway of Moyer’s Des Moines, Iowa, home with an olive-green pattern. Working with the narrow end of a basic sponge and a paper plate filled with a little paint, Moyer used light pressure to create repeating triple lines. “I can’t believe how such a simple project can transform a space and give it life,” says Moyer. “I get so many compliments on it.”
Pro tip: “Use a level to make sure the lines are straight before pushing the sponge into the wall,” advises Moyer.
Originally published 2021; updated 2022.