Creating a Plaid Pattern on Your Walls Using Paint

Most of you know that we love to use paint in bold, high-impact ways. We’re big fans of wallpaper, but if it is impractical or outside of our budget, painted patterns can offer an alternative. A few patterns we added to our previous home:

The farmhouse’s hallway is a perfect candidate for a painted pattern. The entry that opens into the living and dining rooms, simple enclosed stairway, and small upstairs hall call for character and a bit of fun, but wallpaper – due to the sheer volume of surface area, archways, niche, and more – seemed too problematic. Even if it wasn’t, we weren’t able to find a pattern that worked for the area.

The solution? Paint! We brainstormed on a few designs before settling on plaid – a decades-long love of ours, as anyone familiar with our work can attest. The three-color pattern gave us the opportunity to mix the dramatic color of our living room with some lighter, happier hues in the same family.

The end result – particularly with the plaid on various intersecting walls matching up perfectly – is a delight. It’s fun, farmy, and preppy. A perfect mix for the Modern Americana vibe we want.

Check out the quick video below for an overview of the process, then read on for details.

While this project involves a tremendous amount of painting, it also requires a lot of planning and precision taping to get the pattern right.

This simple plaid (or gingham) pattern consists of three colors: a dark, a light, and a medium ideally about halfway between the other two. We’re simulating the way plaid fabric is woven, with dark and light threads intermingled.

The easiest way to create this look is to find a color you love at your local paint store, grab the color card, and pick two additional colors from the same card.

We started by painting the walls with two coats of the lightest color, a very pale blue called Sherwin-Williams SW 6519 Hinting Blue. Now, looking at the finished pattern, you would be correct in pointing out that it might make more sense (and require less painting) to do the medium blue first, and then paint over that with the darker and lighter colors. Possibly! But we think it’s usually easier to paint darker colors over light ones, so we start with the lightest first.

Because we created the pattern from scratch, we had the opportunity to size it to match the dimensions of our walls. With a little cheating here and there, our pattern worked out at about 12 inches square. (This makes the overall pattern repeat 24”x24”.) We would advise against going much smaller than this because you’ll be doing substantially more taping and painting.

For getting your pattern mapped out on the wall, we start with the vertical lines. A laser level really does come in handy as you try to set straight lines, particularly if your home has old, slightly wavy walls like ours does. We used a Bosch GLL 2-20 professional laser level, which can display both horizontal and vertical lines and is, well, very lasery. Make little pencil marks at 12 inch increments left to right, and then repeat those marks up and down the wall, lining them up with your long bubble level. You’ll need these marks for reference points when you apply tape.

The same goes for your horizontal lines. You’ll want to go up and down the wall in 12 inch steps. The laser level is perhaps even more useful for getting even horizontal lines, particularly because ceilings and floors aren’t very reliable for making measurements.

This process can be tedious, but if you don’t take time to get it right, your plaid will look like…well, whatever you call a wavy, messy plaid. A bad plaid, I guess. (Sorry.)

Next, time for tape. You should be using Frog Tape, because there are two types of painter’s tape in the world: Frog Tape, and garbage. Why does it matter? Frog Tape seals tightly to the wall preventing seepage, retains tackiness even if it has to be removed and repositioned, and can be pulled off without causing damage. We are huge fans of this product, despite them still failing to get the hint and hook us up with a few free rolls. Oh well – it’s good enough that we’re happy to pay retail.

There are a few different widths of the green stuff available. We recommend the widest, because this tape is, by design, a little stretchy to make it easier to hew to corners. We’ve found that the wider tape is less likely to go curvy on you, making for straighter lines.

We start by running the tape vertically. Why? Because we’ll do two sets of squares, stacked upon each other, and can reuse the vertical tape for the second set. When taping, remember to apply the tape just outside of your pencil marks. We want the full 12” by 12” surface area of the wall to get painted. Be sure to run your finger across the edge of the tape to seal it tightly to the wall.

Next, add horizontal strips, again placing the tape just outside of the pencil marks. Remember that the tape is stretchy, and particularly when taping horizontally can bow a bit. Keep an eye on this – you may have to tug up or down a bit on the middle of the span of tape before sealing it to the wall to get a straight line. I know this sounds confusing, but you’ll get what I mean after doing a few of these.

Here at Double Heart Farm, these projects are a two-person job. Chris figures out the pattern and applies the tape, and Roger does the painting. It is very easy to get confused with which square is getting which color, particularly when the painter isn’t the taper, so we always mark off the areas that are not receiving paint with a little piece of tape.

Finally, we’re ready to paint the first squares. We’re starting with the dark blue – remember, our light color is already on the walls. For the dark blue, we’re using Sherwin-Williams SW 6523 Denim. Be sure to do two coats and allow ample drying time. You’re going to be taping right over this paint in the next step, so it has to be dry.

When you’re ready, you can remove the horizontal tape strips from your dark blue squares. At this point, it may not look like a plaid, but it looks like…something…is starting to happen.

Immediately apply fresh tape, once again horizontally. This time, we’re going inside the dark blue squares. Be really careful about this – you want to make sure that your tape exposes just a tiny bit of the dark blue to avoid unsightly light blue lines showing through on your finished pattern.

Now, apply two coats of your medium color. For our pattern, we’re using SW 6521 Notable Hue. Have a snack while it dries. You’re getting close to the finish line.

But not quite there, unfortunately, because the last bit of the pattern requires a lot more taping. After you’ve removed the horizontal tape, you can peel off the vertical tape as well. You’ll definitely be able to see the evolving pattern at this point. Just one last set of squares to add!

For taping these final squares, we recommend doing the horizontal tape lines first, and then the vertical. Why? Well, it’s easier to play connect-the-dots with the horizontal spans if you can see the corners of the dark blue squares. After you’ve applied the horizontals, the vertical spans are easier – just again make sure that you’re leaving a tiny bit of dark blue exposed to avoid those lines of light blue.

All taped up? Time for your final two coats of paint, again with the medium color. Let it dry, and then get rid of all that remaining tape. Step back, admire your handiwork, and – just a suggestion – take a well-deserved nap.

Do you have questions about how to create your own plaid masterpiece? Need tips on figuring out colors or determining scale? Or have you already tackled the project and want to share it? Let us know down below in the comments!

CategoriesHallway Tips

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