Before and After: A Tiny Terrace Gets a Luxe DIY Checkerboard Upgrade

published Apr 22, 2023
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About this before & after
Home Type
Project Type
Outdoor Spaces
Skill Level
Rental Friendly
view from living room out to small terrace before terrace makeover. Terrace floor is white painted concrete, small white round table with 2 woven chairs, no decor

Emily Sermons, the content creator behind Shoebox Designs (and last year’s Small Cool winner) splits her time between New York City and Charleston, South Carolina. Her 610-square-foot South Carolina condo is small but mighty and features a private terrace, which Sermons and her partner make use of as much as possible. “My family really embraces the idea of bringing the outdoors in,” Sermons says. “In the spring and summer months, our French doors are constantly thrown open to let in some breeze and sunshine.” 

In fact, Sermons sits outside on her balcony for everything from workday Zoom calls to casual dinners, and she’s partial to enjoying golden-hour cocktails outdoors, too. “This side of the house faces west and gets the most unbelievable sunsets,” she shares. “I truly believe there’s no better spot for a sunset drink in Charleston than on our terrace!” 

Even though the outdoor space is bathed in light and offers just enough room for an intimate gathering, the terrace felt like a bit of an afterthought, at least when it came to its decor. The floor had originally been painted a dingy gray, and Sermons covered it with an outdoor rug to cozy up the space. But when she found herself with some free time earlier this spring, she decided to go all-in with a full makeover so the terrace would feel like a true extension of her vintage-inspired condo. “When I had the house to myself for a week this March, I picked up supplies, watched a ton of tutorials [on painting], and got to work,” Sermons explains. 

Inspired by other historic homes in the city, Sermons set her sights on a checkerboard floor, which quickly became both the focal point of the terrace and the major undertaking of the entire redo. “I’m constantly going on neighborhood walks for inspiration, and a few key themes emerged: checkerboard floors, cast iron urns to hold greenery, gauzy white curtains, and twinkly lights everywhere,” she shares. “I love the idea of really making our downtown Charleston condo feel like it belongs in Charleston, so I’m always looking for ways to inject some of this low-country design style into my home in little ways.” Sermons had also admired fellow content creator Jasmine Rose Home’s renovation within the Holy City. “As soon as I saw her checkerboard piazza, I sprang into action,” Sermons says. 

Although she’s “generally a buyer over a DIYer,” Sermons felt like she could handle gridding out her floor into squares and filling them in with paint. Before embarking on the process, though, Sermons did some research on working with concrete. “Experts recommend thoroughly cleaning, degreasing, and even etching your concrete before you get to painting,” she explains. “Since my concrete floor had already been painted, I opted to skip the etching step and just focused on a good clean and degrease.” After reading about various paint options, Sermons landed on Behr Premium Porch and Patio Floor Paint for the job. “Painting the base white was easy enough and only took a few hours and three coats of paint,” she comments.

Then, it was time to design the checkerboard pattern, which Sermons describes as “the really tricky part.” She opted to use 10-inch square diamonds as her repeat. “This seemed like the sweet spot for a diamond that wasn’t too small and busy but wasn’t too big for the space,” she notes. Using a 10-inch by 10-inch canvas from Michaels as a template, Sermons methodically traced out each diamond in light pencil markings. “I wanted to make sure the pattern matched up perfectly on the most visible edge of my balcony,, so I started there,” she notes. Before darkening each line, she checked her angles and measurements with a tape measurer and level, a process that took almost an entire day. “Ensuring that each diamond was placed in the exact right vertical and horizontal position was the hardest part, and I redrew lines several times,” Sermons shares. “Honestly, the pattern has small imperfections here and there from human error, but none are glaring enough to bother me.” 

Once she completed all of her lines, Sermons taped down the pattern before adding black paint the following day. “Figuring out the tape was a little tricky at first: I added a dot of tape to every diamond that was staying white, and then taped off the inside of those diamonds to maintain the pattern for my black lines,” she notes. The next day, she went over all of her non-taped diamonds with two coats of Behr Porch and Patio paint in a close-to-black slate gray. “I was advised to pull up the tape while the paint was still a bit wet, and this helped ensure that the pattern came out as cleanly as possible,” Sermons adds. “I went in with a small paintbrush and cleaned up any errant lines and smudges before finally calling the painting phase of this project done.” 

To finish off the look, Sermons kept her simple marble and metal World Market bistro table and woven chairs, which she already had on the terrace. For direction on what to do with greenery, she looked to her immediate surroundings again. “Many houses in my neighborhood have potted palm trees in black cast iron urns that flank the entryway to the house,” she says. “I knew this was a style that I wanted to put my own twist on, so I opted for 5-foot paradise palms from Nearly Natural. Lastly, there’s nothing that screams “Southern porch” more than a few hanging ferns, and I sourced these beautiful ferns in hanging baskets.” Because she travels between New York City and Charleston fairly regularly, Sermons made the decision to go faux, but sought out the most realistic versions she could find. “Artificial plants felt like the right option to keep our balcony looking green and lush while not worrying over our plants while we’re away,” she explains. 

Post-project, Sermons feels more assured in her DIY capabilities. “The thing that gave me confidence to tackle this project was reminding myself that, at the end of the day, it’s just paint,” she states. “Mistakes are easy to fix, and changing your mind down the line is no big deal.” 

Learn more about the Small/Cool 2023 Contest here. Submissions open May 1, 2023.