7 Ways to Fake the Look of a Custom Finish for Less, According to Designers

published Jan 21, 2021
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Room designed by Leanne Ford for Portola Paints

Let’s face it: For as gorgeous as beautiful custom decor and finishes can be in a room, they often come with a hefty price tag. Fortunately, interior designers say you can fake the look of certain finishes and materials without breaking the bank or even calling a contractor. If it sounds too good to be true, it’s not. From peel-and-stick wood panels to antique-inspired furniture stains and more, these seven designer-approved faux finishes can be DIYed at home to give you the custom look for less. 

Credit: Bo Dabi

Use removable panels that add character to walls

When you can’t afford to install pricey wood panels on the walls of your home, interior designer Emma Beryl says Stikwood Peel+Stik Planks, which are backed with strong but temporary adhesive stickers, are the next best thing. “These peel-and-stick wood panels infuse texture and soul into a space,” she says. “It’s real wood, so it lends the same warm feeling as reclaimed wood planking but for a fraction of the cost in both materials and labor.  It’s also less permanent, making it a great option if you’re in a rental!” If you’re really trying to stretch your dollars, try an accent wall at the end of a hallway or in a bedroom behind the headboard.

Give furniture an antique-inspired finish

To upgrade a lackluster side table with the illusion of a weathered patina, designer Isabel Ladd of Isabel Ladd Interiors recommends giving it a faux finish with an umber-colored glaze or stain. “When working on a recent project, I inherited an existing bedside table that needed some new life,” she says. “I had the table sanded down and rubbed with umber to create an antique finish. It’s an easy and an inexpensive way to make a new piece of furniture look old.” You can also try chalk paint and wax for the timeworn look, too.

Credit: Life Created

Consider stone-patterned wallpaper or stencils

To infuse your home with some pre-war charm without making any major renovations, Lauren Lerner, principal designer and founder of Living with Lolo, recommends applying stone-inspired wallpaper. “We love the high-end look that is created by installing patterned wallpaper to your space,” she explains. “If installing wallpaper is not in your budget, try DIYing the look of wallpaper using a homemade stencil in a graphic pattern and bold paint on the wall.” The great thing about a project like this is that you can get creative with what “stone” means to you, whether that’s graphic but uniform pebbly shapes as seen above or a more abstract, cross-sectional quartz motif that spans a full wall as a mural.

Expose the brick under your walls

The brickwork under the drywall or plaster walls of your home is brimming with design potential; it just takes a little elbow grease to find it and some TLC to play it up. “We had a project in an old factory that was converted into lofts, and the building’s exterior walls were brick with a layer of plaster,” explains designers Penny Francis and Casi St. Julian of Eclectic Home. “To create a naturally distressed look on the walls of the bedroom, we chipped away at the plaster randomly, to expose the bricks and added layers of glaze and paint to the plaster.” 

If you can’t do any excavating, you can also find fairly convincing “brick” temporary wallpaper and paneling designs. Instead of trying to replicate the natural variations in red brick, your best bet with installing these kinds of products is embracing the painted brick look to add a subtle touch of texture to your walls.

Use limewash paint to patina a wall

If you love the look of old school plaster walls, designer Carneil Griffin of Griffin Direction Interiors says you can use limewash paint to score a similar look for a fraction of the price. “If you’re bored with your flat drywall, limewash paint can create the illusion of a weathered patina that doesn’t look forced,” he explains. “Portola’s line of lime wash paints, for example, are made with a lime-based finish, so the color naturally softens and changes over time like the real deal.”

Try tile-style removable wallpaper

When you can’t afford a pricey tiled backsplash or accent wall, designer Tracy H. Gould of LT Design Studios says removable tile-patterned wallpaper can achieve a comparable effect for much less moolah. “In a recent project with a limited budget, we used Spoonflower’s prepasted removable wallpaper to create an amazing bold statement in our client’s living room,” she says. “This DIY project not only added a splash of color to the room, but it was simple enough for the client to be able to install it herself!”

Apply paper accents to a wall for a 3D effect

To bring depth and dimension to the walls of a kid’s room without spending a small fortune, Ladd suggests adding 3D paper flowers, such as these accents at Amazon, to the space. “Paper flowers are decorative, playful, and add tactility to a space,” she explains. “You can use them to create something very special for a modest cost.”