Color over the lines

With a decorative stencil and some paint, you can decorate not just walls but just about any surface of your home.

Wall decals and stencils are growing in popularity because they are “a no-fuss way to create a big impression,” says Emily Bidwell, an in-house style expert at the crafts website

“In under an hour you can create a mural effect without the mess of paint, and it’s an affordable alternative to wallpaper,” she says. “Plus, you have the added fun of having done it yourself.”

Stencils go not only on walls. There are intricate medallions for ceilings and designs for floors. Think of a curling vine pattern on an outdoor concrete porch. Stencils can be used on fabrics, too, from decorative pillows to window treatments to shower curtains. If you use the right paints, you can even embellish glass and ceramics.

Smaller stencils can be used for personalized gift bags, tags and cards, as well as for scrapbooking and, of course, sign-making.

Melanie Royals, president and creative director for Royal Design Studio, a stencil manufacturer in southern California, says one customer recently used a stencil and acrylic paint on a throw rug. Furniture stenciling also has become popular, she says; one of her ideas is to stencil the sides of dresser drawers for an artistic touch when they are opened.

“There are so many designs that are available that really can coordinate with almost any decor,” Royals says. Plus, she says, “there is just a really short learning curve for using stencils, and you get the instant gratification right away.”

Basically, you paint, pull the stencil off the wall, and see the design.

Ambitious do-it-yourselfers can create their own stencils using a cutting mat or stencil film, and cutting tools such as X-Acto knives, says Tara Custer of Jo-Ann Fabrics and Crafts. Draw your own design or find free ones online, then transfer them to cardstock or other durable paper. Or try see-through plastic such as stencil film that can be taped to your design; then you can start cutting in whatever shape you’ve chosen.

Greg Swisher, co-founder of the New Jersey-based Cutting Edge Stencils, says cleaner colors and eye-catching patterns on walls are in fashion.

“Families are on a budget. They want to decorate their homes but they can’t afford designer wallpaper,” he says. “There is so much value in a stencil – you can custom-color to match the decor, and work with the architecture in the room to accent a wall or around an entryway.”

Stephanie Olmstead, senior graphic designer with Stencil Ease of Old Saybrook, Conn., offers three tips for do-it-yourselfers:

•  Practice your technique before you apply the stencil to your intended surface.

•  Less paint is better. You don’t want the paint bleeding or seeping under the edges of the cut-outs.

•  You don’t have to doggedly follow the colors recommended by the artist or company of store-bought stencils. She advises trying “any colors that appeal to you.”

Also, keep some of your base color on hand to touch up any problem areas, Swisher advises. But overall, he says, stenciling is very forgiving.

“You stencil one print. Say it’s crooked – you paint over it and you’re ready to go,” he says. “You want to redecorate? You want to change color or style, or add to it? It’s super-versatile that way.”