The latest trend in bringing color and design to a room has people rolling up the carpet and using bright paint colors on their wood flooring.

Painting hardwood floors is an innovative way to add punch and dimension to any room in a house. More than just incorporating color and lifting a room's mood, a painted floor can also help solve design problems. For example, vertical stripes extending down a hallway can give the illusion of length and depth. A bold geometric pattern in a small foyer can make it appear larger and add dynamic personality to a space that's often overlooked. A painted border around a rooms' edge can be a way to introduce multiple colors and pull out elements or themes found in the rooms' wall coverings, furniture or rugs. A floor painted in a common color can help unify interconnecting rooms.

There's no limit to the wonderful looks that can be created with today's glazes, paints and finishes on hardwood floors. Stains can look like inlays of exotic woods. Paint can mimic virtually any material, including marble, granite, tile, brass and gold. According to Joe Boone Jr., owner of Wood Floors International in Jacksonville, Fla., having a professional create a complex pattern or faux look often costs less than half what using the real materials would. Plus, painting is an inexpensive trick to turn a not-so-beautiful floor into something truly unique.

The secret to any quality paint job is proper surface preparation. Basic preparation steps usually include washing, scraping or sanding and priming. The floor surface needs to be clean, dry, dust-free and as smooth as possible. You'll need to fill large depressions and cracks in the wood flooring with a product that dries hard. Cover bare wood floors with either a primer or a sealer. A primer will help hide the wood grain that otherwise might show through the finish paint. However, if you want some of the wood grain to show through, use a clear sealer so that the paint from the design doesn't bleed into the wood. Hardwood floors that have a varnish or urethane finish must be sanded before a primer or sealer is applied.

Foot traffic inevitably scuffs, scratches and wears down the paint, giving the floors a soft patina and suggesting a sense of history. Some people even use sandpaper to hurry along the timeworn look. However, if you want to ensure your newly painted floor lasts for many years to come, make sure to apply two coats of polyurethane over the dried paint. In high-traffic areas, apply a third coat six months later, after the initial coats have completely cured.

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