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Home Design with Kevin Sharkey: Painting Pointers

Martha Stewart Living, March 2010

Choosing a Color
First things first: When selecting a wall color, taking the color of your floors into account is crucial. People often forget that their floors have a color, and they think only about how a paint hue relates to their furniture. In my apartment, the bleached wood floors really drove the bus and led me to go for beige walls and ceilings to create a cohesive look. But which beige? Neutrals are not a free pass. They can be as nuanced as bright colors, so you have to experiment with warmer and cooler versions of the shade you think you want.

Remember that samples are cheap but repainting a room is not. I chose a range of beiges, from a pale taupe to a grayish brown, and painted large test swatches on the walls. You can also paint pieces of poster board, which are easy to move around a room, to see how colors look in different light. That's an important point: The same color may appear dramatically different even on adjacent walls.

Spend a week living with your samples, and ask the following questions: When will you be in that room most often? At what time of day does each color look its best? Consider what's outside the window as well (deciduous trees? an expanse of lawn?). I noticed that a brick building across the street cast a red glow on my walls, so I knew I needed a yellower beige for balance.

Select a Finish
Determining which finish to use is a matter of taste and lifestyle. I love flat finishes, which have the least amount of sheen and tend to absorb light and hide imperfections. Eggshell has a subtle sheen and texture and is more durable and washable. Semigloss is even more durable and washable and has an obvious sheen, making it ideal for woodwork.

For extreme shine, there are high-gloss finishes. I was keen on using one in my bathroom, but this finish is really suited to smooth, perfect surfaces (not my walls). Here's a good tip from my contractor, Bob Tobin: Don't go cheap on bathroom paint. Spend the extra money on one that's moisture resistant; for a bathroom, you'll probably need only one gallon.

Color in Depth
People often choose white walls because they don't want to be associated with a particular color. I totally understand the feeling. But I've learned that there is a way to use allover color conservatively. If the walls and ceiling are painted red, the red will seem to disappear. Plus, there's a side benefit to creating a "color cocoon." In a white space, it's hard to make white furniture look good. But in a room with an allover hue, white reads as a color. Finally, I'll be able to have white furniture!

Expert Advice: Easy Maintenance 
Keep a small jar of paint and a sponge brush handy for touch-ups. Stored indoors, latex paint can last a decade. To clean walls (only those painted with washable paint), apply mild dish soap to a wet cloth and gently wipe away stains; never apply soap directly to a wall.

Contractor's Corner
If you want great results from a paint job, repairing any flaws in the walls first is essential. My contractor, Bob Tobin, taught me that -- as well as many other bits of builder wisdom. Here are some of his best pointers.

See our other wall repair how-tos: 
Repair Walls
Repair a Battered Drywall Corner 
Smooth Uneven Walls 
Repair Holes in Trim

Protect Surfaces
Safeguard your furniture. Disposable plastic drop cloths are great for protecting your furniture. Gather items in the center of the room, wrap them thoroughly in plastic, and secure with painters' tape.

Cover the floors. Bob prefers to use heavy masking paper here rather than plastic drop cloths because it doesn't slide around underfoot. Secure the paper with an easy-release painters' tape, which won't leave residue. For bigger jobs that involve equipment and lots of foot traffic, he often lays hardboard beneath the paper for extra protection.

Bob Tobin's Toolbox
These items are essential for any wall-repair job.

1. Plastic drop cloths from $1.50, homedepot.com
2. Painters' tape from $3.50, by Scotch, homedepot.com
3. Red rosin paper from $12 per roll, janovic.com


4. Vinyl spackling compound $4 for 1/2 pint, by DAP, homedepot.com
5. All-purpose joint compound $9 per gallon, by Sheetrock, homedepot.com
6. Wood filler $2.60 for 1/4 pint, by Elmer's, homedepot.com


7. Sandpaper from $3, and sanding sponges from $2.50, both by Norton, homedepot.com
8. 10-inch taping knife $9, by Wallboard Tools, homedepot.com
9. Pour spout (for paint can) $1, by Foampro, homedepot.com


10. Flexible putty knife $6, by Warner Tools, janovic.com
11. 5-in-1 tool $8, by Warner Tools, janovic.com
12. Paper joint tape $4 for a 250-foot roll, by Sheetrock, janovic.com

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