Painting isn't cheap or easy, but it can pay off handsomely

Molding is no match for the No Tape Edge-N-Roll system, which includes a paint tray that doubles as a storage container.

Special to the Times

Molding is no match for the No Tape Edge-N-Roll system, which includes a paint tray that doubles as a storage container.

If I had a dollar for every time I've heard a design expert say that paint is a cheap and easy way to change the look of your home, I'd have enough money to hire a professional.

But I don't, so after our recent move, we painted the place ourselves. Not a huge ordeal, given that we both have plenty of interior painting experience (exterior is a subject for another day). Still, we did pick up (or remember) a few tips I'll pass along in case you're contemplating a similar job.

Let's get one thing straight: Painting is neither cheap nor easy. Good paint will set you back at least $20 a gallon (better than double for the fancy stuff), and it takes some skill to choose a good color and keep it where it's supposed to be. However, paint is more economical than most decorating alternatives (other than learning to accept what's there).

With three shades of green (two of them deeply unpleasant) waging war across our condo, acceptance was not an option.

So now the living room is a buttery beige (Porter's Sun Tint); the kitchen is a soft mango (Behr, my own creation); and the accent wall in the dining room is a rich aqua (Glidden's Deepest Aqua) that makes the pale khaki on the other walls work for us. It was all accomplished in about 12 hours for about $150 of paint and supplies. We suffered no injuries to our bodies, the wood floors or our marriage. So, with that said, here's our advice for those who want to join the ranks of DIY painters:

1. CHOOSE COLORS CAREFULLY: Slap a few patches of color on the walls and look at them as the light changes through the day. This step is crucial: A lovely sage green in a friend's sunny kitchen looked like the underside of a battleship in a not-so-sunny guest room of mine. I should have taken a sample of her leftover paint, not just written down the name.

You can buy little paint testers for $3 or $4 at most home centers. (At Home Depot, the Glidden testers are premixed; at Lowe's, you get your Val-Spar sample custom mixed.) I combined a few of my testers to get just the shade I wanted for the kitchen, then took a sample back to the store to get a full gallon. I'm saving that sample, should I ever need to buy more.

2. SAFETY FIRST: If you don't have a sturdy ladder, borrow, rent or buy one. You can't get a nice edge at the top of the wall if you are in fear for your life.

If you don't feel confident on a ladder, try bartering — maybe you have a neighbor who can paint and who could use your help with babysitting, cooking, plumbing, whatever you're good at.

Or skip the DIY thing entirely and hire a professional. Get recommendations from friends, make sure they are licensed in your county and get written estimates. Much more sensible than taking a tumble.

3. PREPARE: Put down newspapers on any exposed flooring. Pile all the furniture into the middle of the room and drape it with plastic or sheets. (Be very careful about plastic sheeting on carpeting. It's incredibly slippery.) Keep damp paper towels handy to swiftly wipe up drips. Fill nail holes, remove outlet covers, tape anything that needs it. And consider ventilation, especially if you're dealing with oil-based paint.

Oh, and lock up your pets. I don't think my cat Frida ever completely recovered her dignity after walking across a wet roller pan and around the living room.

4. ABOUT THAT TRIM: Wash the door trim, windowsills and baseboards thoroughly with soapy water. You may discover you don't really need to repaint them. But even if you do, you'll have a clean surface so the painter's tape will adhere. My friend Mel swears by those neat little adhesive triangles if you're painting windows.

5. COMFORT COUNTS: Have plenty of drinking water handy; painting is hard work. And find good music — I still can't get the theme from St. Elmo's Fire out of my head, thanks to one of those all-'80s radio stations.

6. SO DOES QUALITY PAINT: Cheap paint may not hide what's underneath, and the finish may not be so durable. Consumer Reports rates paints, or ask a friend whose walls you admire. If you are making a dramatic color change, use primer (and get it tinted if you're going from light to dark). It's cheaper than finish paint and will save you time.

7. AND TOOLS, TOO: If you get good results with those disposable sponge applicators, I salute you. I need quality brushes that won't shed their bristles and that give a clean edge and can survive multiple cleanings and reuses.

For this job, we tested a line of brushes and rollers from Zibra. The brushes come in a variety of neat shapes, though my favorite was the 2-inch angled brush ($9.99). This one had a stubby handle that made it easier to control in tricky spots.

The Quick-Eject roller frames ($12.99) grasp the roller at both ends, and as promised, the roller pops out with the press of a button when the job is done. I still prefer having one end of the roller available to reach more wall area, but if you hate wrestling a used roller off the frame, this one's for you.

Zibra caught my eye because it claims to develop its products with input from panels of women consumers. Here's why I believe them: I was using the No Tape Edge-N-Roll ($18.99), a dandy gadget for painting alongside moldings (and you really don't need tape to get a clean edge). My husband walked into the room and started inspecting the roller's neat little pan with a lid that snaps on to keep paint from drying out.

"Let me try that out,'' he said.

With all the reluctance I could muster, I handed him the roller. He nodded as I warned him not to overload the roller and cut in the rest of the room while a girlfriend and I went shopping for pillows to match the new aqua accent wall.

Now, can you possibly doubt that women helped come up with that?

Charlotte Sutton can be reached at sutton@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8425.

. fast facts

Got gadgets?

If gadgets are what you need to get into that dreaded painting project, Zibra products are available at selected Home Depot stores, including the ones on Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard in Clearwater and on Little Road in New Port Richey, or on the Zibra Web site: www.enjoyzibra.com.

CALLING ALL DIY WEDDING PLANNERS:

For an upcoming article about weddings at home, we want to hear your stories -- and see your photos. Please tell us (as briefly as you can) what made your at-home wedding a success, and you may see your big day in the Homes section. Email Homes editor Charlotte Sutton at sutton@sptimes.com, and please put "Home Wedding'' in the subject line.

Painting isn't cheap or easy, but it can pay off handsomely

10/24/08 [Last modified: Thursday, October 30, 2008 1:27pm]

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