This Easy $25 Paint Job Transformed My Living Room in Less than Two Hours

published Jun 9, 2020
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Late last year, I fell in love with what looked like a fairly easy paint project—the painted arch. My second story apartment is rear-facing and now eclipsed by a new high-rise building, meaning natural light isn’t exactly abundant. I’ve kept most of my rooms white so they can reflect what little sun I get, relying instead on artwork, textiles, and accessories for pops of color.

I’m still a big believer in the power of paint, so an arch seemed like the perfect way to add personality and fake a little architectural interest on a wall without darkening the space. But I wasn’t totally sure where I would paint said arch, what color I’d chose, what exact shape it might take, or how I’d do it. Geometry isn’t exactly my strong suit, but I saved a few inspo images on Instagram and Pinterest, including the one above from an Apartment Therapy house tour, and didn’t think too much about it again until about a month ago.

Spending so much time at home made me realize that I actually had the perfect spot for an arch all along: the back wall of my living room. The rest of my space is fairly full, since I’ve lived here for more than six years now, but this stretch of wall only has only a painted arch would be just the thing that could turn this wall into a true focal point—and take some attention away from the tiny kitchen. Pardon the dark photo, but here’s how it turned out.

The end result is not perfect, but my only regret is that I should’ve done the whole thing sooner. I’ve never been happier with a project that took under an hour and a half and cost so little—about $25 for a small roller and a quart of paint. I used Behr’s Sunwashed Brick, a peachy pink that’s close in color to blush accents used elsewhere in my apartment, and went with a flat finish to hide the imperfections in my old building’s walls. If you’ve seen arches or circles or other shapes in an Apartment Therapy house tour or on Instagram and thought it was maybe too difficult to pull off, I’m here to tell you that’s not the case. I’m sure there are plenty of ways to do this DIY, but this is the easy method I used for my arch.

Supplies and materials you’ll need to paint an arch

  • Protective gear for yourself as desired (mask, eye goggles, latex gloves, old clothing)
  • Protective gear for the area/floor (painter’s tape and a drop cloth)
  • Ladder
  • Angled brush that’s sized to your arch (I used a 1.5-inch wide brush) and a paint roller (mine was 4-inches wide) and a small roller tray
  • Pencil
  • Straight edge, long level, or yardstick/ruler
  • String
  • Thumbtack
  • Tack cloth
  • Primer (if necessary)
  • Paint

Before beginning, assess the current state of your wall

Fill or patch any holes. You’ll want to make sure you have as smooth of a surface as possible. That way, your walls will take paint evenly.

1. Clean and Prep Your Wall

Wipe up any residual dirt on your wall with a tack cloth. Tape off the edges of your trim at your baseboards or doorways (if your arch will touch these features and you want to), and lay down a drop cloth to protect your floor from spills. Remove any switch plates that might fall within your design before painting.

2. Decide on Your Arch Shape

Shape- and size-wise, arches run the gamut, but my best tip here is to work with, not against, your existing architecture, be it a door, window, or otherwise. For example, I decided on a half-arch shape for my wall mainly because I could use the left side of my kitchen’s door frame as the straight edge from which my arch’s curve would originate. I wanted a gently sloping but still pronounced, sizable arch. I considered a few different dimensions, ultimately choosing to start the curve about two-thirds of the way up my 9-foot high wall and have it run right into the corner of the door frame.

As far as width goes, 30 inches seemed about right for the width at its widest point. I like a little asymmetry, and at this width, the arch would intersect the painting above my bar cart in accordance with the principle of thirds, which, if my studio art days serve me correctly, supposedly creates a more dynamic composition. To better visualize the shape beforehand, I found it helpful to use the “Mark Up” tool (under the general “Edit” setting in the Photos app on my iPhone) on a picture of my wall to very casually mock up different configurations.

3. Trace Your Arch Shape

Once I settled on shape and dimensions, I used a long level to trace a straight line up 6 feet high and 30 inches over from my doorway. Creating the curve, then, was a matter of connecting this line to the top of the doorway, and that’s where basic geometry comes in. I used a pencil tied to a string attached to a pushpin. For this particular shape, the length of the string should be the width of your half-arch at its widest point. You should tack it to the wall on the opposite side of where you want to draw the arch at the height where the curve will meet the straight line. So for me, the length of the string was 30 inches, and I tacked the pencil to the wall 6 feet up. That said, you may have to adjust the pin’s exact height from this point a little bit to get it to hit the spot where you want the curve to start if it’s not corresponding perfectly. Then starting at the top of the arch, move the pencil on the string down the wall to draw the curve.

4. Prime if Necessary

My walls were white, so I was able to skip this step by using a two-and-one paint and primer product. But if you are going from a dark color to a lighter color for your arch, you’ll want to prime your wall, following the manufacturer’s instructions on coat and dry time guidance.

5. Paint Your Arch

The best part about this project? Beyond taping off your existing trim if you want to, you really don’t have to tape off the design. I actually think it’s better not to because it’s very difficult to tape a curve, and you’ll notice a difference in the look of your lines if you only tape the straight parts of the design and try to freehand the curve. Instead, I just took my time cutting in the design very carefully with an angled brush then followed that up with a small roller to fill in my cut sections. I got on a ladder for the highest parts and did a few quick touch ups to make sure I didn’t miss any spots. I was happy with the look of one coat of paint, but you could certainly do another. It’s important to let the first coat completely dry though before adding a second one.

All in all, this project took me about 90 minutes, and while it’s not perfect, I’m happy with the results. I figured the arch would create a natural focal point along the back wall, and it did. But one thing I didn’t necessarily anticipate was the fact that it helps play up a favorite ink painting I have. So if you are strategic about the placement of your painted arch, it can offer both form and function.