Painting Interiors: A Primer

Finally, spring is in the air! Time to open the windows, clear out the winter cobwebs and, if your spring cleaning is truly ambitious, put on a fresh coat of paint.

Nothing adds pizzazz to a room like a colorful paint job ‚Äî it’s big impact for a small outlay.

Color

Choosing a color throws most homeowners into a tizzy ‚Äî they just don’t know where to start and they are terrified of making a big mistake; lots of homes remain white not by choice but by default ‚Äî white is safe and it goes with everything. But, if you’re ready to go for color it’s never been easier: lots of paint manufacturers provide paint samples you can try before you buy. Paint a sample of the color on several walls in the room ‚Äî the color will appear to change in other locations and at different times of day. Be careful if you are painting a sample over an existing color ‚Äî the sample will be very influenced by the existing color.

Let the furnishings in the room drive your color decision — if you have a wonderful painting, a special rug or favorite upholstered piece, work with it to inspire your color choice. You can stick with the same colors as your furnishings to create a unified monochromatic look or try a complementary scheme (colors on opposite sides of the color wheel) for a more lively room.

Be bold in small spaces: the powder room, laundry and utility rooms are all good candidates for a big bright color and create even more fun and drama with contrasting trim. Do you want warm colors like passionate red, warm terracotta, rich gold, olive green or chocolate brown? Or are you attracted to cooler hues like ice blue, teal or lemon yellow? Neutrals are a good strategy if you want your furniture and artwork to take center stage.

Personally, I like all the woodwork and the trim to be painted the same color and that is almost always a version of white. It gives a house unity to match the trim color throughout, or at least in the “public” spaces that are open to each other.

Preparation

While 95% of the talk about a paint project is about color choice, 95% of the success of the paint job is in the preparation. Don’t skimp on the preparation if you are doing it yourself, and if you are hiring a painter be sure to discuss the preparation with him; make sure he takes note of problem areas before he gives you a bid.

First of all, everything should be protected from paint drips and from dust; this means tarps on the floor and plastic over everything else. All hooks, nails, plastic screw anchors, outlet and switch covers, and miscellaneous hardware should be removed from the walls. All holes need to be filled, all loose paint scraped away, and if there are cracks or damage from water leaks — all these need to be scraped back to sound plaster and patched. Large patches may require a couple coats of spackle or joint compound. Sand in between applications. Pay attention to the grit of the sandpaper; if the texture of your walls is coarse, use a coarse paper and conversely a finer grit for smooth walls. Painters will use a raking light to see the imperfections in the walls; after the first coat of primer, the walls will be checked again.

Paint finishes

Benjamin Moore has at least seven different paint finishes ranging from flat (no sheen) to high gloss. Flat paint is used for walls and ceilings; the matte surface masks imperfections in the wall surface and touch-ups are apt to be much less noticeable with flat paint. The drawback is that it is not as strong as the higher sheen paints and will not tolerate washing or scrubbing. Personally, I don’t know many people who wash their walls but if you are one of them, you might opt for an eggshell finish or a matte finish enamel ‚Äî it will withstand washing and wiping.

Woodwork and trim should be painted with a glossier finish, anything from satin finish up to high gloss depending on your preference. The finish sets off the walls nicely and highlights the profile of the molding, and the more durable finish also protects the trim which is apt to take more of a beating than the walls.

Fifteen years ago, my painters would only use oil base paints; they felt that the latex paints were inferior and difficult to work with. Since then, all the major paint companies have developed much better quality latex products and painters are happy to use them. The latex paint has very low VOC (volatile organic compounds) emission so the paint is much less harmful to the environment and the objectionable paint smell is virtually non-existent. For the highly sensitive, Benjamin Moore and Pittsburgh Paint both offer a special non-toxic line, “Eco-Spec” and “Pure Performance” respectively; the finishes are slightly more limited and darker colors are hard to come by, but there are still lots to choose. Water-based paints are now the best and most responsible choice with one exception; a surface that has been previously painted with an oil- base paint must be repainted with oil; a latex paint will simply not stick — the paint will be peeling up in no time.

Hope this gets you on your way with a painting project; the results are worth the time and effort!

Barbara Sternau is an Interior Designer with offices at 37 Main Street in Tarrytown.

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About the Author: Barbara Sternau