By Jessica Bennett
When I bought my first house, I knew one thing: The beige uniformity of the walls had to go. My nesting instinct kicked in hard and told me this house couldn’t really become my home until I added my colors to the place. I was excited and oh so naive. The next day found me in a daze, lost among the seemingly endless, looming shelves filled with paint cans at my local Lowe’s. I clutched two dozen paint swatches.
My experience goes to show that painting a home is far more complicated than grabbing a bucket of paint from the hardware store, popping the lid, and slapping a coat of Stars Forever (which is apparently a shade of blue) onto the walls. If you are as equally paint-innocent as I was, or if you’re just interested in knowing more, allow me to take you under my paint-spattered wing and explain what I wish I had known before venturing into the paint department.
Why You Should Take Up a Paintbrush
Coming in to the paint game with some knowledge and preparation can save you a lot of frustration. A well-done paint job is one of the best, most cost-effective ways to change the look and feel of your home.
Interested in a kitchen remodel, but can’t afford to spend the time or money to capture the latest trends? Consider a bright white paint color for the kitchen cabinets, and maybe addi a sage to the trim and baseboards. Suddenly, your kitchen is a whole new space that looks brighter and more inviting.
There are many reasons to consider repainting a wall, a room, a door, or the entire interior or exterior of your home. You can:
- Give your home or a room a new feel or personality
- Refresh the look of a room
- Give the room a new purpose (for example, painting a nursery or home office)
- Create a focal point (for example, painting cabinets or a fireplace)
- Prep a home for a sale
Whatever reason you have for taking up the paintbrush, I commend you. The next step is to pick that perfect color.
Color Me Pleased: Picking the Best Paint Color for Your Home
It is all too easy to suffer what I’ve dubbed “color-swatch overload.” Choosing a paint color for your home can be a challenge, especially since you’ll see this color often for the foreseeable future.
The internet is filled with interior designers who can tell you what the “it” color is this year. But if someone doesn’t know you, can they really tell you what color should go into what room? Instead, here are some general color truisms to help you make a decision you can live with after the paint dries.
Think of the Mood You Want to Set
Each room in a house has a different duty. Your living room is likely a gathering place for play, activities, and movie watching, while you might want your bedroom to be an oasis of calm, harmony, and balance. Colors go a long way toward setting the mood of a room. Generally speaking, cooler colors, such as blue, purple, and muted greens, promote calm and reflection. Warmer colors, including red, yellow, and orange, support energy, movement, and powerful emotions. Myriad shades exist within each of these colors that can further fine-tune the mood you want to set.
How You Want to Use the Color
How will the color exist within the room? Painting an entire room fire-engine red is a bit… loud, but brick-red accents in a kitchen or dining room can add a splash of color without overwhelming your eyes. In this same vein, bold colors can look great on an accent wall or on an accent piece, such as a fireplace, mantel, or cabinets, as long as the other colors in the room are neutral or muted so they don’t compete but complement each other.
Keep Furnishings and Decorations in Mind
The color of a room or of a painted accent piece within a room needs to work in harmony with the pieces in the area. Consider what type of furniture you want or have, the color of your throw pillows, and the flooring. For example, you may want to consider a soft, neutral shade for the walls so you can hang vivid curtains that tie into the bright pillows and matching baseboards.
Test, Test, Test
Let me tell you from personal experience that color swatches look different in the hardware store under the fluorescent lights than they will in your home. Before the big paint day arrives, test the color or colors you are considering. Purchase a sample of paint. Swipe a section of your wall with each of the contenders, then leave them up for a few days. This lets you see what the colors look like in different lighting conditions: direct sunlight, sunset, the glow of your interior lighting at night. You’re going to be looking at the color you choose a lot, so take your time and test, test, test.
The Right Paint for the Right Job
You have chosen your color. Now’s it time to figure out what type of paint you need. There are enough types of paint that a craft store will carry different varieties than a hardware store. If you are at a craft store searching for wall paint, you are probably in the wrong place.
Different Surfaces Require Different Paint
The first step in choosing paint is to recognize that not every surface is the same. You probably had a sneaking suspicion that you shouldn’t paint your kitchen cabinets with the same paint as your garage door, right? Wood, drywall, brick, and siding are all markedly different surfaces that require paint with unique characteristics. For example, kitchen cabinets usually do best with latex paints or paint with an oil-water base.
When shopping for paint, look for paint that is specifically designed for the surface you are painting. A quick internet search, the person at the paint-mixing counter, or a contractor can help you find the right type.
Exterior Versus Interior Paints
Looking to paint your garage door or your porch, or to give the exterior of your home a fresh color? Interior paint won’t last long (or look very good after a few rain storms) on exterior surfaces. Exterior paints can stand up to the elements, including rain, wind, ice, and UV rays from the sun, so this type of paint tends to contain flexible resins that can move as the surface beneath expands or contracts during hot and cold temperatures. They should also include special additives that help combat mildew, staining, and fading.
Not so long ago, painting any surface required an undercoat of primer. Primer helps prepare a wall for paint by preventing the outer coat from absorbing into the wall. Primer can also hide small imperfections in a surface.
These days, you can purchase paint that includes primer, which eliminates the need to use one or two layers of primer before adding the color. These combo paints generally work great and can save you a significant amount of time. They tend to cost more than paint without primer, but since you won’t have to purchase separate primer, the costs are likely to even out.
There are some cases when it may still be a good idea to use a separate layer of primer. If you intend to paint a dark-colored wall with a light or neutral shade, for instance, you may need a tinted primer to help ensure the dark color doesn’t bleed through.
The Sheen Debate
Finally, you need to know about sheen. Different types of paint offer differing levels of luster and washability. To make the right choice, you need to balance the aesthetic look you want with a realistic view of how many dirty fingers are likely to be touching your walls and surfaces.
A flat or matte paint looks chic and it can hide a wall’s existing imperfections, but this type of paint doesn’t clean well, and you won’t want to put it into high traffic rooms, especially if you have children who love finger painting. A semigloss or a satin stain is a good compromise, offering a beautiful finish along with good washability. High-gloss paints gives a highly reflective finish. It can stand up well to scrubbing and is best used on surfaces that require frequent cleaning, such as handrails.
Do It Yourself or Hire Help?
Last decision on your to-do painting list: Do you dunk those paintbrushes yourself or hire a professional to make those sweet sweeps for you? There are pros and cons to each option, so let’s consider the relevant factors.
The primary reason most homeowners choose the DIY paint route is to save money. According to HomeAdvisor, here are some of the average costs you can expect from professional painters:
- Kitchen cabinets: $1,000
- Door: $100 to $400
- Garage door: $200 to $500
- One wall: $100 to $200
- Ceiling: $150 to $300
- Trim: $200 to $600
- Full room (not including ceilings or paint): $380 to $790
- Home interior: $988 to $2,722
- Home exterior: $1,688 to $3,798
These costs will vary greatly depending on the normal rates in your geographic area, the season (winter tends to be slower, so costs may be lower), and the square footage you want to paint.
Homeowners can save money on large paint jobs by doing the work themselves. That might seem like a deal, but keep in mind that you’ll need to buy the right tools, too, including:
- Paintbrushes and rollers
- Painter’s tape
- Drop cloths
These costs will eat into the amount you could save. Then there’s the question of time.
Even painting a single wall is not an easy task. You need to remove all nearby furniture, put down a drop cloth, unscrew outlets, take doors out of frames, and go to town with the painter’s tape. If you use a separate primer, you’ll likely need to add two coats and wait for each coat to dry. Next comes two coats of the paint, with another waiting period in between, followed by a round of touchups. If you’re painting ceilings or the outside of your home, you’ll need to get nice and cozy on your ladder.
You’re not done when the paint has dried: Don’t forget about the cleanup and moving all the furniture back.
A big paint job, such as a full interior or exterior, could steal away your entire weekend. Your time is valuable, especially if free time is an important commodity in your life. Consider whether spending a few hundred dollars to hire a professional painter is worth getting your weekend back and saving your muscles all the strain of lugging around furniture.
Painting may look easy, but you can often tell the difference between a professional paint job and the painting of someone tackling a weekend project.
Professionals follow all the right steps, including sanding down surfaces when necessary, in order to make sure your results look fantastic. This is especially true when you want specialized forms of painting, such as sponging, stippling, distressing, or stenciling.
Additionally, certain paint jobs may be better left to the professionals. For example, cabinets can be very tricky to paint. A professional knows how to remove oil splatters and other stains, paint with the wood grain, and manage tough corners and hinges. In these cases, you might end up saving yourself more money in the long run by working with a painting professional.
Remember, too, that a nice paint job could increase the value of your home.
If you need help paying for a professional paint job – that may also be part of a larger renovation – a personal loan for home remodeling could provide financing without having to put up collateral (i.e., your house).
Go Get Painting
Unfortunately, we can’t cover every aspect of painting in one article, but I hope I was able to give you a decent primer on what to expect as you plan your big paint overhaul. At the very least, hopefully you can survive your trip to the hardware store without being overwhelmed in the paint aisle.
Now pick up that brush and add some color to your home and to your life.
Jessica Bennett is a writer, editor, and novelist.