DIY: How To Give Your Apartment A Bold New Floor For Less Than $100


Do you suffer from acute boring floor-itis? Welcome back to DIY, where solutions for all your wardrobe- and decor-related snafus are at hand.

Here’s how to cheaply, easily, and non-permanently change the look of your floors with vinyl tape (ed. note: as recently featured on Apartment Therapy!).

The inspiration for this project was the work of the Scottish artist Jim Lambie, seen in the above video talking about a 2011 installation at the Bass Museum in Miami. Lambie uses vinyl tape in a beautiful array of colors on the floors of the spaces where he makes his site-specific installations. The tape follows the edges of the space, zigging and zagging around door frames, pillars, and baseboards, and eddying out into the room — thereby drawing attention to architectural details (and occasional quirks) that might otherwise escape the eye’s notice. I find Lambie’s work surprisingly soothing: you might think a floor like the one gallerist Tim Nye has in his home would be busy or clash with older, more traditional architectural elements, but to my eye, a Lambie floor looks warm and beautiful, like a kilim rug. The colors dazzle but don’t distract.

After a move last fall, I found myself battling a virulent case of Boring Rental Apartment Floor. The dull linoleum in my kitchen and bathroom gave me the sads just looking at it. But my options were limited; there was no point spending big $$$ to renovate an apartment I don’t own and won’t live in for more than a couple years, and whatever I did had to be both durable enough to stand up to daily use and temporary enough to remove without hassle.

A Lambie-esque vinyl installation presented the perfect solution: eye-catching, unique, and inexpensive. And — most important of all — easily removable and non-damaging to the existing floor. Covering my 90-square-foot kitchen and bathroom took about six hours of work, $70, and half a six pack. Here’s how I did it.

Here’s what you’ll need:

1. Vinyl tape designed for floors, in sufficient quantity to cover the desired square footage

2. A measuring tape and/or ruler

3. A chisel or putty knife

4. Scissors (not pictured)

Now, you can’t just slap any old tape on your floor. Most tape — including duct tape, electrical tape, and even painter’s tape — is far too sticky to use on floors, and will leave a nasty residue. You need a tape that is specifically designed for floors. There are many kinds of vinyl tape designed for durable but clean-removing use on floors, for instance in warehouses and gyms. 3M makes one called 3M 471; if your local hardware store doesn’t have suitable tape in stock, try Googling “vinyl floor tape.” I ordered my tape from a site called Identi-Tape because I liked their prices and their colors. Total cost, including shipping: $69.67. The tape is hard to describe, because it’s unlike any other I’ve ever seen: it barely feels tacky when you touch it, but it adheres well (and it adheres best of all to itself). It’s water-resistant and it comes up clean. It’s like the tape equivalent of temporary adhesive vinyl floor tiles.

To begin, calculate your square footage. Then calculate the total square footage of each roll of tape. (For example, a 36-yard roll of 2″ wide vinyl tape will cover 18 square feet. A 60-yard roll of 2″ tape covers 30 square feet.) You’ll want to buy enough tape to cover about 1.3-1.5 times your floor’s square footage. This is for three reasons: one, you’ll be overlapping each strip of tape by about 1/4″. Two, you may want a wider variety of colors. And three, depending on how temporary you want this change to be, it never hurts to keep extra tape on hand for patching and repairs.

This was my kitchen and bathroom floor before. Typical rental linoleum in a shade I believe is named “Impersonal Grey.” (Let’s not even talk about the countertops.) My long, narrow galley kitchen is lit by only one window. That much grey just made the kitchen seem dark and dingy. The rest of my studio has beautiful original wood floors; the linoleum looked cheap and tacky in comparison. And notice how the fake tile lines don’t even line up across the bathroom threshold? My O.C.D. ass was never gonna tolerate that.

Once you have your tape, test it. Apply 6″-12″ swatches of tape to your floor and see how it wears over a period of a few weeks to a month. Use this as an opportunity to practice laying and overlapping the tape. Note any shrinkage or shifting. See how the colors look in different lights and decide if this is a look you want to commit to. Then remove the tape to check that it comes off cleanly. My test swatches left no residue.

The first step to your new floor? Clean the old one. You want the tape to adhere as well as possible, and that means the floor has to be spotless. I’m talking some down-on-your-knees-scrubbing Cinderella shit. This is not the fun part. The fun part comes later.

This was the grossness that greeted me when I moved my refrigerator (incidentally, for the first time since moving in). There were green candy-covered chocolate balls under there. I would just like to note in passing that I have never eaten green candy-covered chocolate balls. Thanks, previous tenant!

Once your floor is clean and dry, start laying your first line of tape. Get it as close as possible to the edge of the floor — tuck the outside edge of the tape under the baseboards if there is room. As the tape comes off the roll, be careful to keep it straight and not to stretch it. Vinyl floor tape is slightly elastic, but it will retract to its original dimensions once laid, so if you stretch it you’ll face eventual shrinkage.

Cut new pieces of tape to work around your architectural details. Make sure to store and lay your tape at room temperature because temperature affects tape elasticity. I found that tape that is too warm is more prone to accidental stretching as it’s laid, while tape that is too cold is stiffer, harder to work with, and more prone to wrinkling.

Carefully use a chisel, putty knife, or similar to ease the tape underneath details like floor thresholds or baseboards where you can.

Laying the tape is not hard — the material is forgiving and easy to reposition if you don’t get it right first time — but this is fairly physical work. I needed a long soak in a tub with epsom salts the following day, and I only had to cover 90 square feet. If you’re doing a larger space, make sure to stretch, take breaks, and consider wearing knee pads.

If you have to work around curves, you have two options. You can try to carry the curve out into the room (Lambie does this extremely elegantly). Or you can turn that rounded shape into a geometric shape. I mixed both methods. First, I used about a dozen 2″ long pieces of tape to follow the curve of my toilet base.

But on the next pass, I turned the shape into a kind of octagon. Much easier.

Continue working your way towards the center of the room. Overlap each tape color by at least 1/4″ or so for durability and a clean edge. Lambie has lots of variation in the width of his tape lines — his stripes go from teeny-tiny to super-wide — but I opted to keep mine more consistent because I wanted a slightly different look.

Kitchen progress shot!

Although laying the first couple lines of tape is tedious, the project picks up quickly: as you get closer to the center of the room, it takes less tape to make a full circuit. That quickening pace makes this a very satisfying DIY job.

From then on, it’s really just a matter of picking colors.

And ta-da!

You may be wondering just how durable this tape is. Since installing my temporary floor, I have become a shoes-off household. Better safe than sorry, I figure. The vinyl is water-resistant — sweeping, mopping, and ordinary bathroom water-splashing are all no problem. For what it’s worth, four months in, the vinyl is holding up great and I haven’t had to use any of the tape I saved for patching.

I did have some issues with tape shrinkage in front of my fridge, where cold air hits the floor. Some pieces I hadn’t laid quite straight were warping and wrinkling. I peeled up, smoothed out, and relaid those pieces about three months in, and was pleased to see that — just as the product promised — there was no residue or other damage to the floor.

Here’s a view from the living/bedroom into the kitchen and bathroom. The space is completely transformed. And I didn’t plan this, but I really love how the vinyl tape picks up the colors of the Moroccan rug in the other room. The new floor is personal and reflects my taste much more than the old linoleum. Not bad for a night’s work! And when I move out, I can easily put the floor back to the way it was. Win-win.

If there’s something you’d like to see as a DIY project, you know what to do. In the meantime, to check out past DIYs:

How To Make A Belt From Scratch

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