How to change your wall color without painting your walls (perfect for renters)

By Brittni • Updated on 04/21/2016

How to change your wall color without painting your walls (perfect for renters)

Since we seem to be perpetually renting here in ATL until our house in Florida sells (which seems more and more like it’s never going to happen), I know a thing or two about renters rules. Some places are cool with tenants painting the walls and some aren’t. And if you happen to fall in the latter category, you typically don’t have many options when it comes to revamping those drab renters walls.

So, today I’ve partnered with Valspar to share how you can change your wall color without actually painting your walls. It’s a great renter-friendly option that you can take with you from place to place and you won’t have to paint over it when you move out. Win-win!

What is the magically renter-friendly option?! A (hand stretched) giant painted canvas. I’m taking you back to my college art school days for this one to show you how to stretch a large (5 ft) canvas by hand, that will act as a ‘wall’ of color you can take with you with every move. It’s not hard, I promise, and can make a big statement in an otherwise average space.

How to change your wall color without painting your walls (perfect for renters)

How to change your wall color without painting your walls (perfect for renters)

Before tackling the canvas DIY, let’s talk paint and materials…

Being that today is Earth Day and our planet is on top of mind at the moment, this is the perfect project to be sharing because it’s reusable again and again. AND Valspar’s complete line of Zero-VOC paint (which I used for this DIY) means no harmful chemicals impacting the indoor air quality when I’m painting, which is obviously pretty important to me and the rest of the P&S team. No strong paint fumes and no harmful chemicals. Each product has earned GREENGUARD Gold Certification, which means that it meets rigorous indoor clean air standards, while maintaining the highest standards for durability, performance, and color consistency. 

Here are the Zero-VOC paints and other materials I used to complete this project…

Valpsar Paint


  • raw unstretched canvas (large enough to cover canvas and wrap around to the back – see step 2 in instructions for more info)
  • four 64 inch stretcher bars (or whatever size you’d like to use for your canvas)
  • manual staple gun (and staples)
  • mallet
  • scissors
  • paint brush or roller
  • interior paint*

*I used flat finish Valspar Reserve Zero-VOC paint (my fave because it’s paint and primer in one) in the following colors: Coral Reef 2004-4A // Dancing Mist 5005-7A // Iris Moon 4004-9C.

How to stretch a large canvas by hand

How to stretch a large canvas by hand


1. Start by connecting the stretcher bars to one another to form a square (or rectangle, depending on the stretcher bar lengths). You may need to use a rubber mallet to secure stubborn bars together, as shown in the photo. If you’re not familiar with how stretcher bars work, there is a notch on both ends of each bar that allows it to fit into the next. Super easy.

How to stretch a large (5ft) canvas by hand

2. Next, lay your canvas down on the floor and place your assembled stretcher bars frame centered on top, making sure that the beveled edge side is facing down, touching the canvas.

Note about canvas size: Make sure your canvas is at least 3-4 inches larger than your finished stretcher bar frame on all sides. Example: My finished frame is 64 inches square and my raw canvas is 72 inches square, giving me 4 inches extra on each side.

How to stretch a large (5ft) canvas by hand

3. Now, starting on any side, pull the excess canvas over the back of the stretcher bar and use the staple gun to place 2 staples an inch apart in the center.

How to stretch a large (5ft) canvas by hand

4. Then on the side directly across from the side you just stapled, pull the canvas as tightly as possibly with your hands (you can use canvas pliers instead if you prefer), then staple 2 staples an inch apart in the center.

5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 with the remains two sides that have yet to be stapled.

How to stretch a large (5ft) canvas by hand

6. Next, repeat step 3-5 for the remainder of the canvas working your way out from the middle to the sides and stop roughly two inches from each corner. Be sure to continue pulling the canvas as tightly as possible before stapling and switching back and forth with sides across from one another as you staple.

How to stretch a large (5ft) canvas by hand

7. Once you’ve stapled all the way around the canvas, minus the last 2 inches on the corners, it’s time to make the corners look nice. Start by pulling the canvas at the corner to create a fold, as show in the photo, that comes out from the corner. Staple it down.

How to stretch a large (5ft) canvas by hand

8. Then, pull the extra piece that’s still loose over the folded stapled piece, as shown in the photo, and staple down.

How to stretch a large (5ft) canvas by hand

9. Repeat this process of steps 7-8 with the remaining 3 corners.

How to stretch a large (5ft) canvas by hand

10. Then cut off excess canvas all the way around (if applicable -cutting excess is optional) and flip the canvas over.

How to stretch a large (5ft) canvas by hand

11. Paint canvas and sides with a roller or paint brush (if you’re using paint and primer in one like I did you won’t need to to gesso / prime your canvas beforehand). Wait for the paint to dry. Apply a second coat if necessary. Wait for the paint to dry. And it’s ready to hang OR rest against a wall if it’s too large to hang.

Coral pink + green

Not sure you want a giant canvas? You can just as easily do this on a smaller scale and treat it almost like a piece of art, hung on the wall.

How to change your wall color without painting your walls (perfect for renters)

How to stretch a large (5ft) canvas by hand
How to change your wall color without painting your walls (perfect for renters)

Step photographs by Amelia Tatnall 
Styled photos by Brittni Mehlhoff

What do you think of this idea? Have you ever stretched canvas before?

This post is in partnership with Valspar. Thank you for supporting the brands that help keep Paper & Stitch running.

21 comments | Click here to reply

Hi Chang. You can totally use a pre-stretched canvas or even just raw canvas (un-stretched) if you prefer. -Brittni


This is brilliant! Just because I don’t have many of the tools necessary to build the stretchers, do you need to hand-stretch the canvas yourself? Is there any difference in just finding a pre-made canvas large enough at some store and painting it?


This is a really good idea! Painting your own walls can be really tedious and can get really messy. This is a simple fix! It really helps that you give such thorough instructions and provide pictures of every step. This is awesome! Thanks so much for sharing!


This is absolutely brilliant even if you aren’t renting but just want a pop of color you can move around.

Carla Jacinto Renard

I LOVE it!!! Love the idea, the colors you chose and your stylism!! i hope to have one day a place like yours :*

Koral • Fábrica de Imaginación

Where did you get your canvas? I would love to try this but I don’t know where to shop!

Elizabeth Mayberry

Clever idea! If I go to rent again (and I likely will), I’ll certainly try this out.

Tracy Kathleen

If you want/need to go even bigger, find a place that makes sails for boats. I do not know about the price they might charge you, but the have bigger canvas than you can find in a fabric store or art store. You might be forced to use a home made stretcher due to the large size. and do not forget to reinforce your “skeleton” in the middle due to its large size. Torque is your enemy and too tight a canvas will warp wood that is still a little green. Transport can be tricky as well, as I had to tack into the wind when I carried mine from my car in college. We called ’em coffin lids back them as I had to make them as large as I could fit in my old station wagon.

Dianna Tebbe

Brittni, Have you ever painted on a drop cloth? Do you know if it takes or absorbs more paint and also when you cut it will the edges fray? I have some ideas for other uses for drop cloth and thought you may have answers. Thanks, Pat S

Pat Schwab

Hi Irish. It really depends on the size of the canvas you want to create. To give you a better idea though, using remade stretcher bars and a high quality raw canvas, the materials cost under $100. If you make the stretcher bars yourself with 1x2s and quarter round (there are several online tutorials for how to do that) and use a canvas drop cloth or light weight canvas, you can get that cost down considerably… less than $50. Hope that helps.


I am a senior citizen on a small disability pension living in HUD assisted apartment. About how much did everything come to? I would probably have to budget for it.

Thanks for the geat idea!


Hi Pat. Yep, you can use a canvas (or another fabric material) drop cloth as your canvas. It’s an affordable option too.


Brittni, This is a fantastic idea. Could you use a drop cloth? Thanks, Pat S

Pat Schwab

Hi Andrea. Yes, you could use 1×2 boards from the hardwood store, along with some quarter round, to make your own stretchers. For sure.


Super idea! You could also use colored burlap, which is what I used for a room divider.

But could you not also use molding, or narrow boards instead of the stretcher frames? It would be a bit more difficult but much less expensive.

Andrea Friedell

Thanks Michelle! I love being able to switch out the colors so easily, and move canvases to different rooms, etc for a totally different look.


This is an amazing idea, especially when you can play with different canvasses in different colours and change them depending on your mood!


Agree N. Kumar. Glad you like the idea.


Great ideas love it. Even if your landlord has a strict no-painting policy, or you know you will be moving before long, you can still have a home that is vibrantly colorful 🙂

N. Kumar

Love the idea of turning it into a room divider Emily. So smart.


Neat idea – it could make a cool room divider, too, if you have a giant space.

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