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How to Paint a Room Without Totally Messing It Up


Painting a room can be intimidating if you’ve never done it before- it’s not just the painting that can cause anxiety, either. Imagining your furniture and hardwood floors with spots of paint can get any homeowner feeling nervous about re-painting. These steps will guide you through the process and ensure that your walls not only look great, but the rest of the house does too.

Getting Started

Your first task is to pick the right color. This is actually more difficult than it sounds. These tips will help you navigate the uncertain waters of color selection:

  1. Small rooms and dark colors don’t mix. This is a good rule of thumb, but obviously there are exceptions. Dark or very intense colors can make smaller rooms feel claustrophobic. If you really want to paint a darker color in a small space, consider breaking up that color with an accent wall. Alternatively, try installing a chair rail along the wall and paint everything below the chair rail in a lighter color.
  1. Paint sample swatches on the wall before committing to a color. There is almost no exception to this very important rule. Even shades of white can vary, with some shades seeming brighter and harsher than others. Before you commit to a single color, know what you’re getting into. Many home improvement centers sell very small sample containers of paint–customizable to any color–so there’s really no excuse not to do this. Remember to give the sample paint time to dry before you make your final decision

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Setting Up

This can be a process, and while you may be feeling anxious to start painting, don’t skimp on these important steps.

  1. Move all furniture out of the room. If this is impossible, move the furniture to the center of the room and cover them with tarps.
  1. Remove all outlet covers and smoke alarms. Keep all screws together in a baggie, to prevent them from becoming lost.
  1. Use painter’s tape to line the edges of the ceiling and baseboards. This is a useful trick for painting straight edges, but it’s important to remember that this tape is only a precautionary measure and is not meant to allow for carelessness when painting straight edges. The tape will only go so far to help you paint straight lines.
  1. Lay down tarps on the floor. This is utterly crucial. Never paint without tarps (unless, of course, you plan to redo your floors as well).

Start Painting!

Now comes the fun part! Use rollers to cover large areas of the wall with paint, and use flat brushes to paint any smaller areas. Angled brushes work well for the edges and corners. Good quality brushes will make this job a lot easier, so don’t skimp when you’re buying materials.

At some point, you may be faced with the choice to start with a layer of primer. This can be helpful if the color you are painting over is very dark. If the color you are painting is very dark, tinted primer may be called for. It is also recommended that you use primer if you’re using a different type of paint than what was previously on your walls. When in doubt, ask your paint retailer for advice.

Remember to let the paint dry between coats, and plan to paint at least two coats on the wall. Darker colors will likely need more than two coats to avoid streaks.

One more piece of advice: as you paint the room, pay attention to where you step! If you step in paint on the tarp, you could easily wind up leaving wet tracks all over your house before you realize your mistake.

Hopefully you followed these steps and are now looking at a beautiful, inspiring, fresh-looking room. Wait for the paint to dry, then start decorating!

Lena Carson is an interior designer and published writer from Tucson, Arizona. She specializes in interior painting, furniture design, and kitchen renovation.

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