Stencils date to ancient Greece and Rome and have endured because they are attractive, relatively easy to produce and inexpensive. Plus, they aren't just for walls anymore.
Modern stencil work can be found in such unexpected places as furniture, lamp shades and vases — even floors, doors and windows.
Stencils are a great way to add interest and color to a room, said Manhattan designer Florence de Dampierre, author of "Walls: The Best of Decorative Treatments" (Rizzoli, 2011).
"They last, and you don't need to be an incredible artist to do them," de Dampierre said. "You can buy them at any craft store or create them yourself by tracing a picture you like."
Best of all, stencil work is easy to fix or retouch if you mess up, or leave imperfections to add character, said designer Cynthia Merrick, who likes to use stencil work to give homes a vintage look.
"If it's looking like peeling wallpaper, then that is OK," said Merrick of Cynthia Leigh Designs in Atlanta. "It doesn't have to be perfect; so it's not something to be afraid of. It's just paint. You can always go right over it."
Part of the appeal of stencils is their versatility, said designer Jamie Duncan of Designer's Haven in Leesburg, Fla.
"There is a wide array of stencil designs on the market — modern, retro, whimsical, graphical — if you can name it, it probably exists," she said. "And if not, you can always make your own."
The look and placement of the design is limited only by your imagination.
"Depending on the effect that you are trying to achieve, layering and mixing patterns to create depth and interest is a great idea," Duncan said. "The only guideline I have is to choose what you like. Be as creative or as daring as you want. Experiment with colors, finishes, sizes and patterns."
Here are some tips to keep in mind when plotting out a stenciling project:
* Do a test run: Practice a few times on some paper or cardboard. Once the images looks good, move to the ultimate surface.
* Measure carefully, then trace in pencil: Don't commit too soon with paint only to find the stencil work isn't positioned right. If the pencil outline isn't spaced correctly, it can always be erased and redone.
* Tape stencil to the surface: A stencil that moves around will not create a clean image because it allows paint to seep into unwanted spaces.
* Make sure paint has the right consistency: If it's too thin, it may drip. If it's too thick, it could look lumpy.
* Choose the correct paint: Is the stencil work destined for indoors or outside subjected to the elements? Will it go on fabric? Wood? Drywall? Paint store experts can advise on the best choice for a particular project.
* Use the right brush: Stiff-bristled brushes with flat tops are better for dabbing and swirling. Brush dry on a textured surface before purchasing to see if they shed.
* Use the right roller: A dense foam roller will drip less than a standard fluffy roller that holds too much paint.
* Blot excess paint: Wipe brushes, rollers or sponges on a napkin or paper towel before beginning. Too much paint increases the likelihood of dripping or seeping, and can render a lumpy appearance.