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Paint a Decorative Border

Decorating, Drywall, Painting June 6, 2012 Sonia


By Matt Weber

Border Security—A Painting Technique to Brighten a Room






Nesting. It’s what birds do, and wasps, too. As I’ve learned, expectant human mothers do it as well. “Nesting” is a mother’s primal instinct to settle into a new home and prepare a cozy place for a baby. For my wife, Shanna, this provided a good excuse to convert a spare room into a nursery.

Like decorating a doll house on a real-world scale, Shanna had the nursery’s interior design down to a science, with a keen attention to detail that I genetically lack. She resolved that the visual theme for the room would be “sheep.” (Hey, don’t ask me.) The color palette: grayish brown, tan and baby blue. These tones probably go by a fancy manufacturer’s moniker like “Autumn Essence” or some goofy thing that most guys feel silly saying out loud, so I’m using layman’s terms here. The walls were already painted brown, so she wanted a broad tan border surrounding the room, located just above the crib and wide enough to provide a color frame for some “sheep” decals, as well as some photography along the adjacent walls. She came up with the grand plan, and I got roped into painting it.


An Eye for Style

On the border, it’s like the Wild West. There are no hard rules for a wall border’s size, color or style. In our case, we wanted our border very pronounced and wide enough to surround some picture frames. However, smaller “chair-rail” style borders are also popular for many interiors. When locating the upper and lower edges of the border, be mindful of the various obstacles around the room such as door and window casings. At these wall transitions, you’ll need to decide if it looks better to align the edges with the existing visual breaks in the room, or to allow a few inches of reveal around casings, shelves, switchplates, etc.

Edge lines with a level

Locate the border edges and use a level to mark the edge lines around the room.

When locating edges be mindful of various obstacles

When locating the upper and lower edges of the border, be mindful of the various obstacles around the room such as door and window casings.

Locate the edges along the wall and, using a 4-foot level and a pencil, mark horizontal lines around the room. It’s nice to have an assistant lend a hand while doing this. Another alternative is to use a laser level, some of which can project level guidelines completely around the room while freeing your hands to mark the layout.

Press tape firmly

Press the tape firmly against the wall for the best adhesion.

Mask lines with painters tape

Carefully mask the lines with painter’s tape.

Next, line the pencil guidelines with painter’s tape. Choose a quality tape for masking the paint. In this case I chose Frog Tape, which creates a chemical seal when it comes in contact with latex paint. A good paint seal is absolutely critical to achieving a pro-quality border with crisp, clean edges. For the best seal, I ran a rubber roller over the masking tape to press it firmly against the wall so the backing adhesive makes full contact along the tape edges.

The first step of painting is to cut in the edges along the tape with a brush. When painting the edges, brush away from the tape and into the border. Avoid making brush strokes toward the masking tape, which might lift the tape or force paint beneath the edge.

Using a roller

Complete the field of the border using a roller.

Cut in the edges along the border

Cut in the edges along the border by moving the brush strokes away from the tape.

Complete the field of the border with two or three coats of quality latex paint using a standard paint roller for an even finish and to avoid bristle marks on the wall. Narrow borders may be rolled with a smaller 4-inch roller, but for any stripes smaller than that, you’ll be stuck using a brush.

The selection of paint finish may also be a consideration for the border. For example, the brownish wall paint had a satin finish. For the tan border paint we selected a semi-gloss finish to provide a subtle contrast from its surroundings.

Careful taping, painting and scoring will achieve a crisp paint line.

Score the dried paint before removing tape

Score the dried paint before removing the tape.

To help ensure a faultless paint line, carefully score the paint along the tape seam using a sharp utility knife after the border paint has completely dried. It may help to use a straight edge to guide the blade. If you remove the tape without first cutting the seam, it risks peeling the paint along the edge.

Inspiration for nursery decor

Here is the inspiration for the nursery decor: the sheep theme, along with the quilted stitching that was used as a pattern for the border detail.

Shown is the border before the stitching detail

Shown is the border before the stitching detail is added.