A beat-up hardwood floor is an opportunity, not a decor obstacle. Paint the rug you've always wanted right on the wood, for far less than a custom woven carpet. Get more mileage out of a playroom; welcome guests in your elegant entry; copy a cherished heirloom or a favorite pattern on the floor in paint. Brushing on a rug of colored latex is one way to cover battered hardwood, if laying a new floor -- or investing in an authentic Persian -- isn't in the budget.
Transform the kids' room with a play-space painted carpet on your worn hardwood. Tape a clear area of the floor -- either round or rectangular -- and paint a game board of colored squares or a life-size model train layout within the taped-off space. Remove the tape and seal the entire floor for easy mopping. Baskets of train and town pieces turn the painted rug into a giant set of tracks and landscape features. Large foam dice and painted game images let the kids become the tokens and move around the colored squares of Candyland or the real estate of Monopoly. When they outgrow the younger games, sand the floor and repaint it as a chessboard -- handy for oversize chess pieces that will wait patiently for a game to resume after school or on the weekend.
Buy pre-made floor stencils or create your own from a pattern and cardboard. A fleur-de-lis design in turquoise on white is delicate enough for a nursery or a little girl's room. Copy a design from Moroccan floor tile, stencil it on the floor and use three colors -- gold, red and cream, or terra-cotta, jade and lapis lazuli -- to highlight the design like real mosaic tile. Stencil a Greek key pattern or basket-weave design right on the wood floor of an entry hall instead of using a carpet runner. Copy an antique patchwork quilt on the floor of an old-fashioned guest room with an iron bedstead and a wood porch rocker. Hang a quilt with a different patchwork pattern on the wall.
A wood floor that needs attention may benefit even more from a re-imagining than a refinishing. Instead of sanding and staining, paint the floor in large black and white diamonds, a theatrical treatment that energizes sleek modern decor as well as more eclectic country and shabby-chic interiors. Select a large square or rectangle in the center of the floor to paint, edging it with a border of black-and-white checks to create an area rug. Cover the entire floor with diamonds for wall-to-wall drama, adding a clear polyurethane finish to protect the artwork from wear. Paint the entire floor white and then block out diamonds with painter's tape, and color every other diamond black. Or tape the floor and paint one set of diamonds at a time, allowing the paint on the white sections to dry completely before moving the tape for sharp edges on the black diamonds.
Teens are tough design customers, but a cool modern floor painted in glossy grass-green with bold white geometric shapes sets the stage for a bright, clean hangout. Add black-and-white paisley or striped wallpaper to the wall behind the bed and keep the trim and the remaining walls white. A shiny black lacquer or mirrored Art Deco dresser is a surprise that works with all-white or charcoal-and-white pin-striped bedding, a turquoise or orange glass pendant light and white shutters. Pick up the color of the pendant lamp in a molded plastic Eames desk chair pulled up to a white laminate desktop set on a base of chrome sawhorses.