Brushing Up

With the holidays approaching, now's the time to brighten those dreary walls

October 21, 2006|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,Sun reporter

A recent Saturday morning was gray, but inside the Home Depot in Towson, Shelley Flenniken saw only visions of green, pink and yellow.

The recent college graduate was standing with her mother before racks of Behr paint chips trying to decide what color to paint her bedroom in the Federal Hill rowhouse she is renting.

"The hardest thing about painting is finding the right color," she says, finally deciding on Bridal Rose.

Many homeowners face the same predicament these days. Now that the weather is cooler, they are spending more time indoors and suddenly noticing that the walls surrounding them are looking a bit shabby. And worse, Thanksgiving and the winter holidays are approaching, raising the specter that guests will also be looking at those dreary walls.

"A lot of people are painting now to get ready for the holiday season," says Yvette Houston, the paint manager of the Home Depot in College Park.

"Color is the cheapest way to transform and the best way to decorate," says Mary Jo Gordon, owner of Gallerie Francoise in Green Spring Station, who was at the Towson Home Depot buying Serene blue to paint her gallery walls.

And painting seems to be the one project even an unskilled homeowner is willing to attempt. According to Jennifer Wilson with Lowe's, painting is the home improvement chain's No. 1 do-it-yourself project.

Although Flenniken was about to move into her first apartment, she felt confident she could paint her bedroom with help from her mother. But Phyllis Flenniken, an experienced room painter, agreed with her daughter that color selection can sometimes be difficult - like the time she painted her mother-in-law's kitchen.

"It turned out too bright," she says. "But she lived with it."

Houston says a lot of her customers have difficulty selecting paint color.

"They pick the color and when they get home, it's a different color," she says.

The fluorescent lights in the store can be one reason paint turns out different than customers' expectations. But sometimes the paint just looks different covering an entire wall than it does on a paint sample.

Houston advises her customers to take paint samples home, tape a few strips to the wall opposite a window and wait 24 hours to observe how the color looks in different light.

For those who find it difficult to judge color by a 2-inch paper strip, Eileen Schnorr, brand manager for Olympic paints, suggests buying a quart of paint and painting a 3-foot-by-3-foot piece of Styrofoam before trying out the color on the walls.

Even then, sudden changes of color can be shocking at first.

"A lot of people will look at white walls for years, and then they splash some color on and they don't like it," says Nick Lewis, a customer service associate in the paint department at Lowe's in Catonsville. "They just have to get used to it."

Mary Davidson, who is renovating a house in Parkville, said she looks at magazines for colors and inspirations, but even then she was disappointed that the bathroom she painted Brioche beige turned out more like Champagne Gold. She returned to the Towson Home Depot to select another color.

"The rest is easy to me," said Davidson. "I can caulk, and I can spackle."

Too often, however, customers are disappointed in their paint projects because they lack the proper technique, Houston says. "The majority of people do not know how to paint."

Although painting might seem like a skill one learns in kindergarten, it isn't as simple as dipping a brush in paint and slapping it on the wall.

A common problem, Houston says, is that people paint over the area they've just painted, in effect lifting off the paint they've just applied. The trick, she says, is to paint in a "W" pattern. "That way you're not painting it on and taking it off."

For the neatest job, paint the ceiling first, then the walls and trim. If you're changing colors or the walls are stained, you'll first want to use a good-quality primer before you begin painting.

Steve Revnew, director of marketing with Sherwin-Williams, says it is also important to choose the right kind of paint for the job. For trim, a gloss or semi-gloss paint is often the best choice. For kitchens, baths and other areas that receive a lot of wear, a satin or eggshell finish is a good way to go. For the ceiling, use a flat finish. Keep in mind that the higher gloss the paint, the more easily it will show imperfections in the wall's surface, he says.

If a wall still has flaws even after spackling and sanding, it's best to go with a flat paint, he advises.

Another trick for hiding blemishes is to try a faux finish. By using rags, sponges, special rollers and specially formulated paints, people can paint walls to mimic marble, leather or even metal. The patterns in the paint will help disguise mistakes and imperfections.

Lewis says customers should be careful not to overdo the faux finishes, but he encourages customers to give it a try. "It's like dipping in art," he says.

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