Smithsonian Institution Photo
'I felt utter bliss, sitting for an afternoon in Whistler's Peacock Room... I never for a moment dreamed about actually living in it.'
I love pretty much everything about paint, from the little tool I use to pry open the can to the wet latexy smell. I love the way it pours out in a v-shaped stream of thick, viscous color.
I love the squishy sound of the roller and standing back to admire as those first swipes of color blanket the wall. I even love the hollow sound of pounding the lid back onto the can.
Among our acquaintanceship, I achieved a certain notoriety after repainting the living room walls in our first home five times, looking for the exact shade of cedar rose I'd been imagining. Few friends understood the delicate balance between it looking either too pink or too beige.
Paint is a cheap and fairly immediate way to get a new lease on life. Even one wall of new color can change your perspective. It helps that paint company marketers work so hard to give their tints names that are poetic or exotic, evoking times and places you've always wanted to be (even if you only just come to realize it on first viewing that little chip of luscious color).
Recently I discovered Hallman Lindsay's Historic Colors of America collection. Sure, Benjamin Moore has its own inventory of historical hues, though I'd begun to find them boring and predictable. The Hallman Lindsay collection comes in magical names: Melville (a gray sea green), Woodstock Rose (a rich pinkish red that is neither too warm nor too cool), Wooly Thyme (a rustic olive brown), Flaxen Field (a woody gold), and Andover Cream (a paler than butter yellow), to name a few.
I've learned a lot, experimenting over the years. For one, it really does save time and money to prep your walls first. Wash the dirt and remove the artwork, hardware and switch plates. Fill the nail holes with quick-drying spackle, and sand. It takes less time than you think, and you'll be much happier with the result.
Next, it pays to invest in good-quality angled brushes (I've never gotten satisfactory results with those charcoal spongy things), long screw-on handles to lengthen the reach of your rollers, and lots of blue masking tape to protect your moldings. The plain old tan masking tape works just as well, but the blue is easier to see and makes me feel ever so much more professional and competent.
I have fallen in love, too, with those miniature rollers. For painting doors and woodwork, they cut your time in half. They're also extremely helpful for small or tight wall spaces like soffits and those annoying bits of wall between window or door frames.
Drop cloths just make good sense. I've used old bed linen or canvas and bought sheets of cheap polythene. In a pinch - sometimes you need a new color on that wall now - I've laid out old newspapers. Just don't fool yourself into thinking you're going to be so careful that you won't spill. And keep a moist rag handy at all times. Moisten it and stick it in the back pocket of your painting pants so you'll have it when you forget you're holding a wet brush while answering the phone or grabbing a little snack.
When painting over dark or bright colors, it saves time, extra coats and, therefore, money to use primer. Most paint companies offer a primer and topcoat in one. I only discovered this after expressing at the paint counter my frustration after it took a primer and three coats of an expensive, high-quality paint to get a cream color over periwinkle walls.
Benjamin Moore paints have perhaps the best-known reputation for quality. They also cost more than the competition. Painting contractors I've talked to who favor the paints at Hallman Lindsay or from the Behr line at Home Depot like to say you're paying for Benjamin Moore's advertising. I have not tried to verify this, but I've worked with all three brands and been equally happy with the result.
Finally, forget all those fancy faux finishes: the metallics, the two-toned color washes, striations and sponge techniques. Certainly, they can be stunning in just the right room, and possibly you'll enjoy the challenge. I got a big kick out of redoing my bedroom a few years back, sponging green and gold washes over the terracotta-colored wall. I marveled at the effect, which made me think of dappled sunshine on a Mediterranean walled garden. And within a month I was already sick of it.
Ditto with the monochromatic stripes and squares that Thom Filicia, the designer member of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, made so popular a mere six or seven years ago. A great idea that quickly grew old. It makes me remember that despite the utter bliss I felt, sitting for an afternoon in Whistler's Peacock Room (at the Freer Gallery in Washington, D.C.), I never for a moment dreamed about actually living in it.
Colors have their fashions, and our tastes change over time. After years of treating my walls with strong color, I've begun thinking about neutrals. The seed was planted from a scene from Jeeves and Wooster, in which Bertie Wooster plays and sings at the piano, the camera panning the living room of his townhouse, with its pale taupe walls and vanilla woodwork, just gorgeous in its calm austerity. There are, I discovered in a subsequent trip to the paint store, hundreds of permutations of gray and white that I've been ignoring: the creams and oysters and shades of antique or china white, the taupes and smokes and variety of fogs, stones and mists.
I haven't decided which way to go yet; I need a little more time to imagine. But pretty soon, our living room is in for a change.