House to Home: Look to paint, stencils to create affordable wall decor

Stenciled designs offer an affordable alternative to expensive wallpapers.

Q. I am redecorating our guest room on a budget. I’d like some sort of design on the walls, but I don’t want the expense of wallpaper. Is stenciling out of date? Are there more contemporary designs?

A. Painting and stenciling will always be a great replacement for expensive wallpaper. You can emulate special effects such as marbling, inlays and relief. Or build a mood with motifs that characterize your theme.

A stenciled design can run across the wall, over window frames, even onto floors. There are so many options. I have always liked the feeling of dimension and painterly style that stencils offer.

One of my favorite examples is the bedroom vignette shown here.

The background is a rich shade of lilac, a cheerful and peaceful color in its own right. I wanted to build on this mood, and chose to stencil a series of flowers that appear to float across the room.

I photocopied and enlarged a picture of a single poppy to make the stencil. I made a large grid of vertical and horizontal lines as a guide and then staggered the poppies in a symmetrical pattern. (Tip: Use chalk to mark off your grid, as it is easy to wipe off.) One line of poppies is positioned at the point where the lines cross. On the next row, the poppies are at midpoints from the line above.

I doubt that stenciling will ever go out of date. However, styles change and popular new motifs are continually appearing. You might note that large print designs are on trend now, and you have many options. Check out modern stencil designs online — and are excellent sources with lots of graphics and funky designs from which to choose.

Q. It’s time to paint over the stenciled borders in my little girl’s bedroom. A few years ago, I created an 8-inch-wide band a couple of feet above her bedroom floor, and filled the band with her favorite teddy-bear motifs. How do you suggest I cover the stenciling? The surface is kind of bumpy.

A. This question is a good one to consider when you first decide to stencil a piece of furniture, a whole wall or border.

I do not mean to dissuade you from such a fun and versatile decorating form, but it is good to know what steps to follow when you want a new look.

When you paint a stencil, even though you are only adding a light coat of paint, it will stand slightly above the base coat. Run your fingers over the stenciled portions and you will feel the difference.

A fresh coat of paint will hide the colors but not the impression that the stencil has left on the surface, so the edges of the stencils will need to be sanded to smooth out the surface.

There are small sanders on the market that will make this job easier. Look for mouse sanders or craftsman sanders; they are small and easy to use, very good for detail work. Use one of these sanders to feather the edges of the stencil lines and flatten out any bumps.

After sanding, clean away the dust and then apply one or two coats of high-quality high-hide primer. You will quickly be able to see if the stenciled motifs are still visible. If so, sand some more. Once you have a smooth, primed surface, apply your new paint color.

Debbie Travis’ House to Home column is produced by Debbie Travis and Barbara Dingle. Email questions to Follow Debbie on Twitter at, or visit her website,