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Paint Misbehavin’

August 16, 2010

Another reader/donor requested post. For the lovely Octavia!!!

Decorating media rarely agrees on much, with the exception of painting, which most tout as the panacea for all your redecorating woes. Whether they are budget woes, design fatigue woes or prepping your house for sale woes.

That said, there are a few myths articles about interior painting I’d like to shatter in hopes of making the process less stressful and confusing.

Painting is a cheap decor makeover

What? No, it’s not. Unless someone gives you the paint and the labor it is not cheap at all. Is it cheaper than buying new furnishings? Depends. When I first began pricing paint I got some serious sticker shock. Benji Moore, which has some of the best colors and is the most mistake proof paint on the market costs around $30 per GALLON. For the average sized living space in a mid range color, you’ll need at least two gallons. I don’t know about you, but sixty bucks for something I can’t eat, wear, sit on or use to contact La Mommie is a lot of cheddar. And the labor. Even if you’re a quick painter and not exactly into taping or accuracy, it still requires that you spend at least an afternoon moving furniture, prepping surfaces (what’s that?) and, well, painting. It’s very labor intensive.

If you don’t like it, you can just paint over it!

Correction. If I don’t like it, I paint over it. Most people want to like what they’ve painted, for the reasons illustrated above. Sure, you can paint over it, but the goal is to be happy with the color choice the first time. I like to paint. I don’t mind living with mistakes for a couple of weeks until I figure out what the hell I’m going to do about it. But I gather most people don’t share this perspective.

There is no such thing as “one coat” paint

Don’t waste your money or hopes. Most interior walls are painted in neutrals and if you’re gonna put any pigmented color over them (without priming) you’re gonna need two coats or else you’re gonna see the color underneath.

Primer is a must

No, it’s not. In fact, one of the only ways to actually realize the fantasy of “one coat” painting is to layer a shade over an existing shade. For example. You have some glorious turquoise color. Putting it over an existing lavender wall means a deeper color and – wait for it – ONE FREAKING COAT. My dining room turquoise is one coat. No primer. Primer is when you want to start with a blank slate, which is fine, but in a lot of cases it’s just more painting.

Now some, Snarky “Trust Me I’ve Done Legwork” painting tips and hints:

Color selection

Pick a color YOU LIKE. Seriously. If you do not like mushroom or pale greens, do not pick them. Most of my color mistakes (and there have been many) have involved picking shades that don’t reflect my likes at all. The worst being a horrible salmon/Royal Tenenbaums pink I just knew I’d love forever. Followed closely by an awful shade of lime green. Most likely any color you already enjoy is already featured in your home. And you will really notice it when you paint a wall in a similar color.

Don’t let your existing color scheme steer your towards colors you don’t like

If your furnishings are neutrals you are in the best shape. Dark brown wood is THE BEST for paintphobes and philes alike. You can do pretty much anything with them. I haven’t really found a color that doesn’t make dark wood rock the house; I’ve tried them all. So if you have espresso furniture and want those lavender walls, OMG GO FOR IT. Ditto for Tangerine, Aqua, most greens, blues and all of the yellow hues.

Forget theories about what colors work best for specific rooms

The color that works best is the one you don’t hate. So if you want a red bedroom, go for it. You want a black living room, go for it.

Start with an accent wall

Accent walls are the best for trying out a color. It takes less than three hours and often times it’s plenty of painted wall. Trying to paint an entire room is overwhelming, particularly for the timid. I started my home with an accent wall and well, y’all have seen where that lead.

Make a beeline to the “Oops” section before you start looking at colors

The only room I have painted only once was painted with an oops color – The Room of Broken Dreams. Don’t let the name scare you. The wall color and the dual windows are the only things I love about that room. The room itself is perfect, except I like my living/dining area more. Oops colors are cheap – around $5 or $7 per gallon – and are nearly always in the higher quality paints.

Stay away from vanity brands

Ralph Lauren makes lovely sportswear but the paint is expensive and awful. It is hard to work with and requires like nine coats to approximate the paint chip.

Cheap paint is actually better for deeper colors

Skimping on paint quality means overcompensating on pigmentation – in my opinion. Besides, like nail polish, it’s all about the application.

Quicker color selection leads to more satisfaction.

The longer you deliberate the more you emotionally invest in your choice, which leads to the kind of painter’s remorse that gives painting a bad name. Make your selection quickly and decisively. Trust me, you’ll be much more happy.

Eggshell is the finish of the gods
Personally, I like flat, because I like to repaint without sanding or priming, or hell, even prepping, but most people would do best with eggshell finish. Except in the bathroom, where we’d all do well to go with a semi-gloss.

Okay, this is just my take on painting. Definitely ask any questions in the comments and I’ll be happy to answer them!

21 Comments leave one →
  1. renniejoy permalink
    August 16, 2010 3:52 pm

    GAAAH – I HATE taping! But the result is definitely worth it. 🙂

  2. Teaspoon permalink
    August 16, 2010 9:54 pm

    Any tips on dealing with textured walls? So far, I’ve found approximately 3,729 lumps of texturizer that refused to allow paint to touch the patch of wall they’ve vowed to protect against all comers.

  3. August 16, 2010 10:06 pm

    Thanks for the post! I will definitely check out the oops section at the paint store!

    We’re about to pick out paint for our bathroom, hoping to fix two problems (one of which only I notice, I think). The very noticeable one is that the previous tenant smoked. Sadly, every shower or slightly humid day leads to that ashtray smell. (Sorry, smokers.) So the landlord gave us permission to paint with Kilz and then a color to hopefully get rid of it or at least lock it in the wall.

    The other problem is that the floor is a gray with blue undertones vinyl, with beige wall tile flecked with bits of brown with orange undertones (sadly not shades complementary to the blue undertones in the floor) and a very pale looks beige or light yellow but really it’s a very light lime green wall. Any of these would be fine but none of them go with each other, and the subtlety of the not-going together somehow makes it worse. I’d rather a mismatch go big or go home. So I want to find a color to match at least the tiles or the floor and neutral enough we won’t be asked to repaint when we leave. I’m thinking a very pale peach or orangey sort of beige that would match the tile.

    So the question, I guess is this: do you have experience with using paint to mask odors? For a bathroom, would you do all of the non-Kilz coats in semi-gloss or just the top coat?

    Oh, and any tips on painting ceilings without needing a chiropractor afterwards?

  4. August 16, 2010 10:48 pm

    So the question, I guess is this: do you have experience with using paint to mask odors? For a bathroom, would you do all of the non-Kilz coats in semi-gloss or just the top coat?

    I used to smoke, so hopefully this will be of help. I would start by throughly washing down the walls and all surfaces with a mixture of 3 cups of white vinegar, a couple of drops of dish washing liquid and about a gallon of hot water. The sticky residue left by the tar is what’s being activated every time you shower and whathaveyou. So until you can loosen some of that residue (I know, gross) it’s gonna be difficult to completely rid the bathroom of the smell. You will probably need to do this several times prior to painting until you can’t smell it anymore. Also, if you bathroom has one of those fan things, the filter probably needs to go. If you find after the first washing, the smell hasn’t lessened, add more vinegar to the mixture. Then definitely use Kilz primer/stain blocker with several coats of whatever semi-gloss you’re going to use. This should do the trick. Let me know if that works.

    As for the ceiling, I’ve never painted one! I’ll dig around and see what I can come up with!

    Actually, I would say try to go with a shade in the blue family, rather than anything with a red undertone. Blue is a lot easier to repaint. Red tones (pinks and oranges) are really difficult to cover. Can you take a snap of the tile/floor. I could give you a better recommendation!

  5. August 16, 2010 10:50 pm

    Any tips on dealing with textured walls? So far, I’ve found approximately 3,729 lumps of texturizer that refused to allow paint to touch the patch of wall they’ve vowed to protect against all comers.

    The best remedy with textured walls seems to be going with the texture and doing a wall treatment, like sponging or glazing, rather than trying to paint the wall straight away. I mean it can be done, but it’s definitely a lot of work, and seems to require the services of a professional, which is also lots of cash.

    I’ll hunt around for tricks for you as well.

  6. August 16, 2010 11:59 pm

    I wish you lived here because I hate and am horrible at painting and our living room desperately needs to be painted deep red.

  7. August 17, 2010 6:47 am

    Thank you! I sent some photos in email as I couldn’t figure out how to add them to a comment from my mobile. You have my peission to post them.

    As for the ceilings, the only one I’ve done was one of those high-vault angle ceilings. The angle makes it a bit more like doing the wall. Just need more dropcloths on the floor and regular stretching. Just stumped about the flat ceiling.

  8. August 17, 2010 8:40 am

    I find your painting approach inspirational… one of the reasons I avoid painting is because I’m kinda OCD about the prep… the taping and dropcloths and whatnot, so just like dithering over the color I get overly emotionally invested in the outcome. And I have a great deal of inertia about getting started. I have a whole house I want to repaint so this post is really helping to get me motivated!

  9. IrishUp permalink
    August 17, 2010 10:12 am

    @Snarky – totally agree with you about primer! Unless you’re dealing with discoloration from leaks going right over the old paint with your bright new color works great. The only caveat I’ve ever found is yellows. I don’t know why, but yellows tend to poor coverage and to absorb some pigment from the layer underneath, usually to an unpleasant greening effect. BUT yellows also tend to nice coverage with one layer over a primer that has a beige tint (rather than a grey).

    I do have some thoughts as to some of the questions here. I’ve done a crap load, and have roomied with some professional painters, and these are things I’ve picked up over the years.

    Regarding textured walls: depending on how “deep” the texture is, a thick roller will help, with nap >1/2″. They make naps up to 1.5″, so judge based on the relief of the wall. I also find that natural covers (lambs wool) outperform synthetics, but they are expensive. My technique is light roller pressure with a thick nap, and working the surface in “Ws & Ms” with the roller. You want to work your surface both to get even coating and to prevent thick & not drying layers of paint.

    Painters tip to reduce cleanup and materials cost; save that plastic cover from your roller! When you are done for the day (or taking a break on a hot, dry day), slide the plastic cover back over the roller, then remove the roller from the roller frame, and tuck the rest of the plastic into the tube. No need to wash the roller until the job (or color) is done.

    I hate doing ceilings, so I’ve developed a method I find reduces labor and prep. You need:
    1 big drop cloth, sander attachment, 150 sandpaper (or finer), roller & frame, cut in brush (angled 1.5″ -2″), mask, ladder, wet rags. 1 long paint pole – I do a lot of painting, so I’ve invested in one with a thick rubber handle. It’s now 25 years old, and is my second best painter’s friend. Cuts down on blisters and tendon issues like WHOA.

    Ideally you paint ceiling before you do walls.
    1 – push all the furniture into the center of the room (or most out of the way spot.) Cover with drop cloth.
    2. Sand ceiling if needed, wearing your mask and a hat, using the pole & sander attachment. Sweep ceiling with a broom.
    3. For each wall – Put ladder in your starting corner, & cut in down one edge. I don’t tape, but if you do, tape the wall, pushing down only the edge of the tape nearest the ceiling (makes for easier removal). Do only as far as you can comfortably reach w/r/t taping & painting from where you are standing on the ladder.
    4. When in a corner, do the L of the corner.
    5. When you’ve done what you can reach (for most of us, 2-4 feet in each direction of the ladder) come down and wipe up any paint with the wet rag. This will not work if either the floors are unfinished wood/tile or you’re using an oil-based paint. If either of those you will need a second drop cloth or newspaper for the floor right under where you’re working. I just move stuff around with me.
    6. Move ladder to as far past from where you stopped as you can comfortably reach, and repeat.
    7. Repeat for ceiling fixtures.
    8. Paint center of ceiling with roller and pole. I prefer to work starting from the edge of the cut ins to the center of the open space of the ceiling. This is because by the end of a job, I’m generally feeling tired achy and impatient, which affects accuracy. In a tight edge, this leads to what I call “oops swoops” of the roller. In the center of the ceiling, a little loss of fine motor control doesn’t mean redoing anything.

    Again, I find this system minimizes ladder trips and prep work – including cleanup, and works really well in tight spaces. If I’m doing two coats, I do the cut in twice, waiting for the cut in to dry in between. Then I do the center. I’d also take the tape down after the second coat. As long as the paint is not dripping, you should be able to remove the tape within a few minutes of laying down the paint.

    I realize this is a bit of a tome, but I hope it will be helpful!

  10. August 17, 2010 1:12 pm

    Thank you, Irish Up. This will actually help me both with textured walls and my ceiling. Thank you, thank you.

    I’ve also noticed that yellow is really tricky to work with. I hadn’t considered getting a beige primer rather than one tinted with the shade I was using. That turned out to be a disaster. Though oddly enough it made the shade after it go on like butter.

  11. hsofia permalink
    August 17, 2010 7:35 pm

    Great tips. I really hate all the painting prep, so definitely agree with the “it’s not so easy” as the design shows make it to be. I guess if you’re a professional designer, painting is child’s play, but I grew up in apartments, so it’s a very big deal for me.

  12. August 17, 2010 8:05 pm

    IrishUp, thank you! That will be very helpful. The fun part will be balancing the step stool in the bathtub to get that ceiling.

  13. Octavia permalink
    August 18, 2010 6:48 am

    Thank you! This is very helpful. I love the point about quick colour selection; I need to leave my marked tendency to fixate at the door when decorating because I get too, too emotionally invested in things. I’m thinking of a bright feature wall. Because this? “Don’t let your existing color scheme steer your towards colors you don’t like” – I was thinking of going neutral, but I don’t actually *want* neutral.

    I didn’t even realise you could get vanity brand paint! Admittedly we have like two big paint brands here.

  14. August 18, 2010 10:03 am

    Yay! All of y’all are so awesome. So much info. I’m THRILLED about new info re: textured walls.

  15. IrishUp permalink
    August 18, 2010 10:54 am

    @tg – I did a faux-finish on the ceiling around the skylight over my bathtub, and DIDN’T take my own advice – I couldn’t reach comfortably that high, and didn’t put the ladder in the bathtub because of the PIA factor. Well, 3yrs later, it’s all peeling b/c my poor reach & etc left bubbles for the water/steam to get in and expand, peeling everything off. ARRRGH!. On that note – the water resistant formulas are worth the extra money for the bathroom. Everywhere I COULD reach is holding up beautifully.

  16. IrishUp permalink
    August 18, 2010 10:58 am

    @Snarky – you are welcome! I’ve had to deal with textured surfaces, so a lot of trial and error has gone into it. One last note on natural roller covers – they do tend to shed. I have a high tolerance for that sort of thing, and IMO, it’s not worth worrying about on a not flat surface, but I know it drives some people crazy, and lots of painters say not to use natural on deep deep colors. The 50/50 nylon/wool covers are a good alternative in such cases.

  17. Teaspoon permalink
    August 22, 2010 4:26 pm

    I can’t believe I forgot to subscribe to the comment thread for this post. Thanks, Snarky and IrishUp for the textured walls tips. If fate smiles on me, and I actually own this house soon, I think I’ll need to start a blog to document all the redecorating and renovations I’m planning.

  18. Jex permalink
    August 27, 2010 1:14 pm

    I was a painter for 6 summers, and houses that had been smoked in were my least favorite interior painting job. If you’re trying to get rid of the smell, make sure you take care of the ceilings, especially in areas people smoke a lot (over the bed, over the couch, the bathroom) because the tar penetration is heavier there. I really hope washing the helps, because the method we used to cover tar, especially on ceilings, was priming with shellac (this is also the stuff we used to seal un-removable wallpaper to the wall permanently). Shellac is truly horrible (stinky and thin/drippy) but since it is not water based nothing bleeds through- even kilz will allow heavy smoke damage to bleed through. A warning if you go this way; open every window and door possible, and unplug cabon monoxide testers, shellac kills them for some reason. I know, creepy.

  19. August 27, 2010 1:35 pm

    Thank you, Jex!!!

  20. October 15, 2010 11:31 am

    Thank you again everyone! The ceiling tips helped me with applying the vinegar cleaning solution. The room smelled better after even just one cleaning. My taller MIL did most of the painting and has her own way of doing walls and ceilings, so I just let her do her thing while I got to do some of the trim and cut-ins and all of the touch-up. The Kilz and cleaning and painting really worked and there’s no noticeable smoke odor left.

    Ace’s Dover Gray that we went with is sort of blue-gray (thank you, Snarky!), nearly the same as Benji Moore’s Brittani Blue, but a combination of coupons bringing it to $10/gal and this being a rental persuaded us to the Ace. The room is slightly darker but so much calmer. We can tell it’s the right color because the floor looked cleaner immediately after the painting, even though it should have been dirtier with all the foot traffic.

  21. October 15, 2010 3:01 pm

    Ace’s Dover Gray that we went with is sort of blue-gray (thank you, Snarky!), nearly the same as Benji Moore’s Brittani Blue, but a combination of coupons bringing it to $10/gal and this being a rental persuaded us to the Ace. The room is slightly darker but so much calmer. We can tell it’s the right color because the floor looked cleaner immediately after the painting, even though it should have been dirtier with all the foot traffic.

    I’m soooo glad! It sounds like a lot of work, but ultimately worth it. What did you think of Ace paint? How does it cover? Odor?

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