Ryan’s Eye: Decorating with Paint
by Will Ryan
Illustration by Gray Abraham
With regard to the subject of painting, there are two schools of thought. One is that some people actually enjoy the physical aspect and the feeling of accomplishment of painting, while others actively hate it and will avoid it at all costs. I may be wrong, but I don't think there is a middle ground on this.
First of all, a little background on paint. Historically, paint colours were influenced by the available pigments and their costs. As most historic paints were made of natural pigments, the colour choices were limited. Further to this, the way paint was used has a relevance as there were no bright whites available historically. The large range of today's colour pallet simply didn't exist. Today, many of the better paint manufacturers have historic colours, which are often shown as a separate grouping.
As with many things there are fads and we see evidence of the thinking of the time when we visit historic sites. It was once very fashionable to create a faux-grained finish on doors to simulate a more prestigious wood, for example, by creating a mahogany, oak or bird's eye maple over plain pine doors.
Slate was often marbleized as a fireplace mantle as were baseboards on some occasions. Today, this is still a valid faux finish, but to be done well is very time consuming and really only necessary when a period-correct approach is required.
In the 1980s, there was a vogue for faux finishes that came from historical thinking of the past when they were very much part of painted decoration. If you are in the category of those who like to tackle a painting project I can offer tips from my personal experience and from professionals who have shared this information. First and foremost is the prepping, which is the part that most people really hate or sometimes actually skip, erroneously believing it is unimportant. It is very important. Areas that have not been correctly prepped will simply not last or perform to the expected level.
Wash the area with a solution of sodium phosphate and lightly sand with fine sandpaper to further enhance the bonding. If you are not certain of paint adherence to an area use a product that goes by the name of Fresh Start, but most manufacturers have a similar product.
Buy a good quality paint. Cheaper paints don't seem to stand up to being washed, and often show where it has been washed.
Good quality paint is very expensive so buy equivalent good quality paint brushes. Despite the technical advances of rollers I can still tell if an area has had the paint applied with a roller as it gives, although slight, an orange-peel effect. On the subject of rollers, never use them on high gloss paint finishes or on trims. When using a brush on trims try to paint in the direction of the grain of the wood..
Now onto some rules that obviously don't have to be slavishly followed, but if I give the reasoning they might make more sense.
To achieve a sense of continuity, try to have all the ceilings painted the same flat colour throughout. Keep the trims and door casings in the same colour, but in a semi-gloss finish. This resolves the tricky problem that occurs when the trim and door casing is a different colour on one side than the other—at what point does the colour change?
I have a particular aversion to spray-on stucco ceilings. This can be remedied but, even when tackled by professionals, it is a very messy job. As smooth ceilings are much better looking, it may be an idea to include factoring in the cost of hiring a professional team for this part of the project.
Cornices can match the trim throughout or can be the same colour as the wall. In some cases, it looks well for the walls and trim to be painted the same colour, particularly if the rooms have panelling that are outlined with mouldings. This gives the room a quieter, less-busy appearance.
Another tricky situation is when there is an opening through a space that doesn't have a trim surround. It is visually very awkward for a line of paint of one colour to abut a different colour on a corner. This is when a decision has to be made to either install a trim or keep both spaces the same colour.
Radiators look better when they are painted the wall colour or the trim colour.
Now I would like to discuss paint colours and levels of gloss. We are so fortunate today to have such a range of colours and levels of finish. There are times when very high levels of gloss turn something ordinary to extraordinary. Think of all those beautiful front doors you've seen painted in high gloss black or red or yellow to name but a few. The look is completed with good looking hardware and creates quite the impact. Gloss paint goes to a certain leve,l so to achieve a really high level of gloss it is over coated with a clear coat of varnish, not varathane.
Choosing a colour is one of the hardest parts of a painting project. Again, I can only offer some advice and tips. If you are not sure of your colour choice, buy a small amount and paint it on a large area of the wall. Remember the colour is affected by adjacent surfaces, carpet, flooring, furniture and by the lighting. All colours have a multiplying effect as when all the walls are painted, the wall surfaces reflect the colour back to each other. When choosing a colour, try not to match it too closely to a shade in your carpet or upholstery, just ensure it is in the correct tone.
Colours change greatly between summer with the green outside the window or light reflected from the snow. The same applies to the lighting. Overhead lighting is different from floor and table lighting, and whether the light bulbs are "cool" or "warm."
Go with your first thought and don't turn cautious unless it really proves wrong. Remember, if trying to judge whether or not the colour is a success, you cannot make an informed decision looking at a bare wall. The furniture must be moved back, as well as lamps, tables, curtains and artwork, then live with it for a while.
If you love the colour but find it too intense, you can ask the paint supplier to dilute it by reducing the amount of pigment. This is particularly useful if, on the paint chart, you find the tone above your colour too strong and the colour below your choice too light. Cutting back the pigment by a percentage will eventually achieve the tone you want.
You can also customize your own paint colour, but be warned this is dicey. If you feel your choice is too sweet or pastel, add a drop of the opposite colour on the colour wheel. It will make the colour more complex and settled. The addition of black or white will not achieve the same effect.
Paint is one of the cheapest redecorating tools, so whatever your project follow your heart and don't be too slavishly influenced by the current trends. Although, if your taste is really adventurous, be prepared to repaint when you are reselling your house. With a different light level in the spring it does show up any areas that are tired and worn looking so if you get started, you'll be finished by the time the really good weather comes. How is that for incentive?