Color-Washed Walls Are Making a Comeback—Here's How to Get the Look

This modern take on faux finishes lends a dreamy, dimensional look to walls.

Forget everything you think you know about stodgy faux-finishing. Today's color-washed walls are a modern take on faux finishes that feature a dreamy, dimensional look that feels fresh. Color washing results in a textured appearance reminiscent of old-world plaster and stone or even a watercolor painting.

Go ethereal and airy with light colors, or achieve a moody, dramatic look by layering on dark hues. Color-washing techniques are rooted in the basics of painting, with a few additional steps, and, in some cases, a specialty glaze. The final look depends on the colors and brush pattern you choose, and how you layer the paints. Whether you decide to color wash an entire room, just one accent wall, or even a piece of furniture, the results will be transformative.

dark color washed walls with styled flowers on a wooden table
Courtesy of Inga Casha of Studio Grey Interiors

1. Choose Colors for the Wall Treatment

The basics of choosing paint colors apply to selecting hues for color washing: Identify a color family and range that works with your space's color scheme, pay attention to undertones and the warmth or coolness of the color, and test out samples in your space to understand how the light of the room affects the paint color.

For a simple color-washing finish, pick two shades from the same paint chip strip—a lighter and a darker hue. For a bolder statement, select two paints from different color families, or even consider three colors. Be aware that the technique involves blending colors together. If you pick colors that are too close together in tone, there won't be enough contrast.

2. Gather Supplies and Choose a Glaze

In addition to paint, you'll need to use a glaze or water to achieve a color-washed look. The glaze or water is used to dilute the paint. Using mixes in several different ratios results in a more layered, varied pattern.

Adding a clear glaze makes the paint more transparent, which contributes a sheen to the finish and helps achieve the dimensional look inherent to a color-washing faux finish.

Lime-wash glaze is another option for color washing. This finish offers a soft, chalk-like appearance. The option brings old-world vibes to a room, but the finish can be decidedly modern when you use rich grays, jewel tones, or cool neutrals.

Water can also be used to thin paint, resulting in a watercolor-type finish. Mix different ratios of water and paint for several variations and color intensities to work into your color-wash finish.

3. Paint Walls with a Color Wash

Typically, paint is applied evenly and thoroughly to completely cover a wall or surface. Color washing takes a different approach. Paint and glaze are applied selectively in a faux-finish project. This selective application is what gives color washing its dimension and variegated appearance.

First, paint walls with your desired base color before beginning to work on the faux finish. Apply the glaze in an overlapping X-pattern, then go over the applied glaze to blend as desired. You can use two different colors for the X-pattern, or the same color, mixed with different amounts of glaze.

Inga Casha of Studio Grey Interiors used this technique to achieve a stone-like finish in her dining room. While perfection isn't the goal, she advises working continuously to get a polished final finish. "Once you start on a wall, don't stop; letting it dry too much can cause inconsistencies," she says.

Different brushstrokes and tools create different looks. Paintbrushes offer a more defined look, whereas a sponge or rag will result in a softer finish. Practice your technique in a hidden corner of your room or on a piece of foam core. This will help you get the motion down and decide exactly which pattern and application method you like best.

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