We just finished our first we-are-newlyweds DIY home improvement project. The project started as most enormous ugly down-and-dirty home improvement projects start out – small. We need to replace a fan. One fan. The scouting mission returned from Home Depot with not one, but five fans. A week later, I was sharing my daily working office (my living room) with a construction crew attempting to replace our popcorn ceilings with new bright fresh drywall. (Because why would you put new fans on old ceilings?)
Then one sunny Sunday afternoon, we were a little bored, and so we decided to just go to Home Depot and check out some paint colors. That night, and the next night, and almost every spare waking moment for the next two weeks involved paint. If it didn’t involve paint, it involved scraping.
I’ll be honest – our little painting project turned out to be a ton of work. I’m not sure either one of us had any idea what we were getting into.
The trim, doors, and windows on our main floor were originally painted in a deep brown . . . striking, but extraordinarily difficult to cover with white paint.
To make matters worse, our main floor has two sets of beautiful antique French doors. We’re pretty sure they are original to the house and they’re a lovely tribute to history but a NIGHTMARE to paint. They had been painted before in the same deep brown and brown splatters covered large portions of the glass. Antique wood also has all sorts of cracks, crevices, and misfitting corners that make painting and scraping a tedious task.
Covering the dark paint on the French doors and scraping every inch of the antique glass was a task that took up easily half of our total painting time.
There were disastrous moments – like when Mark took hours to painstakingly tape every inch of our living room ceiling only to pull the tape off and find that the tape was bringing large chunks of the newly painted ceiling and patches of the fresh blue wall with it.
And there moments of sweet relief, such as at 9:30 p.m. on Saturday night when we collapsed, totally exhausted, on our couch and gazed at our bright snazzy new paint job.
I love the new look of our main floor. It’s so bright and crisp that just walking upstairs to make my coffee in the morning is exciting. We learned a lot of lessons during our painting excursion and I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I would definitely do it again. I also think that, with the lessons we’ve garnered, we could probably do the same project again in half the time. Live and learn.
So, in the hopes of saving someone else some of the agony that we endured, here are 10 lessons from a painting newbie:
1. Do test the colors with real paint.
Don’t just use swatches. We tested a number of colors that we thought we liked on the walls, only to realize that they didn’t look the same on the wall. When we found the color we liked, it looked good on the swatch and both walls that we tried it on.
2. Do pick a color you absolutely love.
Painting involves a lot of work and time even if it is an fairly inexpensive home update. Don’t settle on something that someone else likes or a color that is simply safe. Look at lots of samples and pictures until you fall in love with the right color. We went through an absurd number of blue, gray, and blue-gray swatches and samples (as well as some yellow, green, and cream) before we found the right color.
3. Do test the color in different kinds of lighting.
Even if you are only painting one room, test the color in the morning, afternoon, evening, and in different shades of lighting if possible. Colors change with weather and time of day and some colors that look great in the morning look drab in the evening.
4. Do cover everything.
There were several nights during which Mark or I just grabbed a scraper or a paintbrush to work for “just a few minutes”. Not the best thing for our floors or furniture. I am still scraping paint off of our floor (fortunately latex paint comes up without too much fuss!). We could have saved ourselves hours if we had only taken a few minutes at the beginning to cover everything diligently with a disposable material like plastic.
5. Don’t tape.
Every time we used tape, we were disappointed. We taped the floors and our line was less than straight. We taped the ceiling and damaged the ceiling paint, causing hours of extra work. We spent some really painstaking hours taping the French doors and then realized that a paint scraper took paint off of the glass with less effort than the taping took. Unless you have perfect lines to work with (our old house has very few perfect lines and lots of funky edges), taping is going to require a lot of time and the result will be less than satisfactory.
6.Instead of taping, do edge the trim and ceilings using a plastic spatula edge and a paintbrush.
Mark rolled the walls, leaving about a 1″ border around all of the edges. I was able to quickly edge our ceiling in all three rooms in only a few hours by using a plastic smoothing tool for a straightedge and a small paintbrush. I used a wet rag to quickly clean up any mistakes along the edges and in less time than it would have taken to tape, I completed all of the ceiling edging. The floor trim, doors, and windows were equally easy.
7. Do get a glass scraper and a box-cutter and learn to use them.
If you have French doors, these two tools will be priceless. Our glass panes took a while because our doors are very old, but these two items still got the job done. Newer doors would be much easier to scrape because the wood lines would be cleaner. This tutorial from Centsational Girl saved us hours and hours and hours of painful (and probably frustrated) labor.
8. Do turn the music up.
There’s no reason to paint and swear in silence. Find some lively music and turn the volume up. It will preserve your sanity.
9. Do leave your equipment out and accessible.
We didn’t clean up our painting tools for the entire two weeks. Yes, it was a pain to be constantly stepping over paint cans and scraper tools. But it was much easier to motivate ourselves to paint in the evening because our tools were right in front of us on the living room floor, ready to use. It saved us hours of clean-up and set-up time. Yes, your house will feel like a construction zone for a week or two. But it will look that much better when the job is done and the tools are put away.
10. Do give yourself some grace while you’re painting.
Painting is like life. It’s not a perfect art. It’s especially not a perfect art if you live in an old house. Nobody sees the corner and lines and edges like the painter does. Aim for 95%, not 100%. Probably no one will notice that 1/4″ spot behind the door on the left that you just couldn’t patch perfectly. Don’t agonize too much over the tiny details.