Sprucing up with a coat of paint

Sometimes I get the urge to paint. It’s an irrational impulse, fed by glossy home improvement magazines that feature photos of perfect houses that can’t possibly exist in reality. Usually I can resist the impulse, but of late I’ve felt myself caving under the pressure.


They say that the cheapest way to transform your living space is with paint. Shell out a hundred dollars or so, and you’ll end up with a fresh new room. Just like that. No mention of the hours of backbreaking labor involved, or the emotional exhaustion caused by falling in love with the perfect color only to find that it looks hideous on your walls. Painting may be inexpensive when compared to adding a greenhouse onto your living room, but, in reality, there is a cheaper alternative. I can totally transform my surroundings simply by picking up all the clutter around the house. No need to install new countertops in the kitchen — just unearth them. I can expand my closets and literally add square footage to the house for the cost of a few garbage bags to haul off the clutter.

But occasionally I crave a deeper change. Rearranging the furniture or sewing new curtains doesn’t quite cut it, and I find my thoughts turning to paint. “Don’t you think a bit of white would really lighten up this hallway?” or “Isn’t it time for that wallpaper to go?” Dangerous questions!

The thing about painting is it’s hard. First, you have to clear things away from the walls (i.e. remove all the clutter). Bang, you’re done! You’ve got a fresh new space — who needs a different color on the walls? But you’ve purchased your hundred dollars or so of paint, so you’re committed. You’re just not ready yet.

Here’s a little detail the magazines gloss over: you need much more than a gallon of Simply White to paint your bathroom. You need drop cloths, brushes and rollers, spackle and putty knives, primer, and a bottle of whiskey to get you through the task. And you need tape. The success of any paint job rests in the judicious application of tape. Here’s where the simple task of painting a bathroom reveals the depths of human nature. The way you tackle the job of preparing the walls for painting says more about your personality than anything Freud could ever come up with.

If you’re a perfectionist, you must tape every edge, every corner, every exposed bit of hardware — every blessed thing in that room needs to be taped if you want it to remain unpainted. Or maybe you’re a free spirit — you skip the taping stage completely, trusting to your steady hand to keep the paint off the woodwork. Who cares about a few drips anyway? The fatalist will just go ahead and paint, trusting to fate for the outcome — whatever will be, will be. If you’re an opportunist, you’ll grab the chance to get your housemate to do the taping for you. The philosopher won’t ever get to the painting at all, being overwhelmed by the very thought of all that taping. The idealist will strive to do a good job, the cynic won’t care one way or another, and the pragmatist will be happy to find someone else to hire for the job.

Then there’s the choice of paint itself. Are you an artist, able to choose a pleasing palette to create the desired ambiance? Or are you clueless about color, overwhelmed by hundreds of paint colors with names like Mint Decadence and Peaches and Cream that send you running to the ice cream aisle?

I recently faced this stern test, as I succumbed to my urge to paint the bathroom. I found myself to be a clueless perfectionist — an ominous combination. It took me numerous trips to the store to pick my color scheme, and then it took several hours to lay down all that tape. When every exposed surface was either taped or cleaned and primed for the paint, I was ready to begin. Sadly, it took two false starts to get a color I liked. Nothing worse than painstakingly applying a uniform coat of paint, only to decide that my carefully chosen color looked terrible on the walls! I repainted, rejected that color, and eventually ended up with the original hue. Go figure.

I’m still not quite sure if I picked the exact right color, and I just spied a drip of paint on the doorjamb, but for the most part I’m happy with my fresh, new bathroom. Now if I could just keep the clutter down . . .

• Peggy McKee Barnhill is a wife, mother and aspiring author. She likes to look at the bright side of life.


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