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Sarah Dorsey could have picked any wallpaper for her son’s nursery. But the interior designer and mom of two, John (3) and Jacob (1), had just painted her entire house—a 1980 post-and-beam contemporary in the Washington, D.C., area—in a crisp white, and the unified look let the architecture shine. So when it came time to turn the guest room into a space for her newborn, she and her husband, David, had another idea: a subtle painted pattern.

“This was the perfect way to create some interest without competing with the beams,” says Dorsey. “I wanted a bright, happy space that would grow with him.” She kept the palette light (a range of blues and tans) and came up with a loosely planned design that would complement the room’s geometric architecture. “By not measuring, I was able to move much faster,” she says. An uneven, hand-painted look also helped cut down on time; she managed to complete the project in less than 10 hours, all between several nap times (and the whole thing cost well under $500).

Courtesy of Sarah Dorsey

Courtesy of Sarah Dorsey

What You’ll Need:

  • Frog Tape multi-surface tape
  • Ruler (12-inch or 18-inch)
  • Scissors
  • Level (handheld around 8 inches)
  • 1/8-inch fine-detail round brush
  • Plate for paint (disposable or place foil on plate)
  • Small cup of water
  • Wall paint in a contrasting color to primary wall color
  • Frog Tape drop-cloth pad

Step 1: Make a Plan

Figure out where your design will go on the walls. I chose to eyeball my pattern instead of creating a structured grid, alternating between horizontal and vertical groupings of three 10-inch lines.

Step 2: Create Your Stencils

Tape the first inch of a ruler to the edge of a table. The ruler should hang off the table so that you can easily measure and cut. 

Snip the end of the tape off with scissors so there is a straight edge, place that fresh-cut end next to the ruler at the 1-inch mark, then hold the tape parallel to the ruler and extend it to the 11-inch mark. Cut the piece, making sure the cut is straight. Repeat two more times for a total of three pieces of tape. I also repeated this process with groupings of 5-inch and 2-inch tape strips to place on the edges of the wall to give the appearance that the pattern extends beyond. 

Courtesy of Sarah Dorsey

Courtesy of Sarah Dorsey

Step 3: Get the Area Ready

Place the tape pieces on the wall in groupings of three, alternating vertical and horizontal groups. For each strip, place the tip of one end of tape on the wall. Before securing the rest, check that it’s straight with the 8-inch level and adjust as needed. Repeat for all three strips.

Repeat for each grouping of three. Step back as you go to look at the overall composition and determine placement. Don’t worry about getting it perfect on the first try; you can easily stick and unstick the tape. Continue to work around the wall until you are happy with the placement.

Step 4: Paint Away

Place a drop cloth on the floor. Gather your paintbrush, plate, cup of water, and paint. Pour a small amount of paint on the plate and dip your brush, so just the tips of the bristles are coated. (Note: If your paint is thick, dip the paintbrush in water first to make the paint easier to apply.) You want the brush to glide smoothly, but you don’t want the paint to drip.

Run the brush along the edge of the tape, with half the bristles on the tape and half on the wall. Drag the heel of your hand along the wall to steady your stroke and re-dip in the paint as needed. This will leave a crisp line on the inside to provide structure and a hand-painted look on the outside. Repeat until all of the tape is traced. Wait until the coat has fully dried, then remove the tape. Enjoy your new patterned walls!

Courtesy of Sarah Dorsey

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