Wednesday, July 6, 2011

My strong opinions about paint

I've never really painted anything in my life until last week. I have big plans for paint in our own apartment but I haven't tackled anything yet. The presence of lots of furniture and small children makes it a fairly significant undertaking. And I just wasn't sure what I would be getting into painting an entire room. Typically, a rental apartment is completely repainted in between tenants but ours had been repainted just before the sale so we initially thought we wouldn't do any painting at all. But the more we worked in the upstairs apartment the more we realized that one bedroom and dining room as well as most of the trim would really need some freshening up. The bedroom was sporting several unsightly cracks and the dining room was scuffed in some spots. My Aunt Deb was here for a short visit and gave me the advice (based on her long experience being a landlord) that tenants will take care of an apartment better when it's as "bright and shiny" as possible at move-in.

And while I'm certainly not given to strong opinions in general, I did develop a few based on my rather limited experience of painting those two rooms. And, of course, I'm going to share them with you if only so that when someone asks me for painting advice down the road I can point them here.

First, a word about the paint itself. Since we were doing a lot of shopping at Home Depot and since Behr paint was on sale I decided to get some of that. I bought the Ultra Pure White off the shelf and used that for the cabinets and, as I said, it took three coats to get a nice finish. I also touched up all the trim everywhere in the apartment with this paint. The color was identical--or very nearly so--to what was already on the trim and it blended in fine.

Then I moved on to painting the walls in the bedroom. I chose Behr's "Gobi Desert" which is a nice neutral beige. I liked the color just fine but it was a heck of a lot of work getting it on the walls. It required two coats which I definitely expected but it took 1.5 gallons to cover the tiny 10x10 room. This annoyed me. The paint was applied thinly and evenly but it still took a lot to cover everything.

I'd only bought two gallons, assuming I'd be able to do two rooms with that amount of paint. Time was at an extreme premium--this was about 24 hours before the tenants were due to arrive--so I decided to get the paint and the rest of the odds and ends we needed at the hardware store in our neighborhood. We've long known about the little "Continental Hardware" on the main street of our neighborhood. It's good but the selection is limited. When we moved we started using a different freeway route home and noticed that the same people also have a bigger store tucked away on the extreme edge of town and we'd been meaning to check it out. We finally wandered in part way through this renovation project and we were impressed. It's huge and comprehensive and the service is good. As for paint, however, they pretty much just do Benjamin Moore. I know some people are huge fans of Ben Moore paint but the higher cost had scared me off. But on our first trip to the "Big" Continental I was pleased to see that it was not as much more than Behr as I'd thought (averaging about $35/gallon whereas Behr is around $27). When I needed paint in a hurry for the dining room I decided I had a good opportunity to compare the two paints. Even if I didn't end up liking the Benjamin Moore better, the convenience would be worth it: Home Depot is a 25-minute drive; Continental is a 3-minute drive.

We also decided to try a different color. Well, actually, I was planning to get some "Bleeker Beige" which is virtually identical to the "Gobi Desert" but Eric said that earth tones remind him too much of Al Gore and he'd rather stick with yellow which was the color already in the dining room. I did not particularly like the existing color and we had no idea what it was so we decided to just pick a different yellow. We've been considering painting our own dining room yellow and here's where having a rental apartment comes in really handy: we could experiment with the color upstairs! I feel like yellow is a risky color. I didn't want it too pastel. I didn't want it too mustardy. I didn't want it so flat and washed out that it looked dirty. I didn't want crayon yellow. I'd heard that Ben Moore's Hawthorne Yellow is a good bet and I happened to have that color card as well as a few others so I pulled them out and without saying anything about any of the shades asked Eric which one he'd pick. He immediately pointed to the Hawthorne Yellow so we decided to go with it.

Based on my paint use-up rate in the tiny bedroom I bought two gallons for the much bigger dining room and started the paint job at about 9:00. As I was cutting in I was feeling pessimistic. The color looked to me just like the pastel-yellow that had already been in the room. But I kept at it and, after an ice cream break got out the roller. It was amazing. Eric was working in the next room and he kept teasing me about my euphoric exclamations about working with this paint. It coated the roller nice and evenly and rolled on to the wall so easily. And once I was filling in entire walls, I started to like the color more, too. I kept rolling and rolling, barely even breaking a sweat and then noticed something. I was barely using any paint. I did the entire room with a half gallon of paint. I figured that even when I came back to do the second coat in the morning I'd only use one gallon on a pretty large room. But I came back the next morning and realized that 1) the color was even more fantastic dry and 2) no second coat would be necessary.

I'm a total Benjamin Moore fan now. I'm sure that the existing yellow paint on the walls helped with the one-coat coverage. There were actually just a couple of thinner spots that I touched up later, but those spots were enough to show that the rest of the walls were evenly coated. And now we have another gallon-and-a-half left over for our dining room although the timing on that is to be determined. Eric is now totally sold on the power of a good paint job to transform a room and he loves the color. He's not totally sold on the need to move all the books out of the dining room so I can paint behind the shelves (the bookcases are backless). Here are a couple shots trying to capture the color: it's quite bright and cheery in full sun but in other light looks more gold and muted. Very versatile color.

You aren't "supposed to" use bright white trim in a yellow room but it's what I had and I like the crisp, classic look of it.

So, my two cents on two popular brands of paint: skip the Behr and pay the extra for Benjamin Moore. Totally worth it.

Now, a word about equipment and approach. When I bought the Behr paint I also bought brushes, rollers, trays, an edger, an extension pole and whatnot. I generally chose the cheapest version of everything. When I bought the second round of paint I upgraded several of the components and I was much happier. Here's a few tips based on my (still limited) experience:

When it comes to things you are going to hold in your hand for long stretches, comfort is key. I switched from a wooden roller frame and wooden extension pole to ones with more of a padded grip and it made a huge difference. I got blisters painting the first room and was able to paint the second room despite the blisters. You also want the roller frame and extension pole to have a nice tight fit so there's no give while rolling up high.

I like to use a trim cup when cutting in since it is easier to get up and down a ladder with something smaller. The cheap plastic one from Home Depot was very uncomfortable but I was very happy when I switched to the red and black one pictured. My hand slid through the handle easily, and it has a really strong magnet to hold brushes up out of the paint when you are climbing up and down the ladder. Nice.

Throughout all the painting projects I used a variety of roller covers in a variety of price points. I didn't notice an appreciable difference in the result. Roller covers are, technically, washable but they take forever to wash. In the future I will get the least expensive roller cover that does the job and toss after each use. It's just not worth my time to wash and reuse. Even the "expensive" roller covers cost only a few dollars each. It is really important that the cover fit really snugly to the frame but this depends more on getting a good frame than on the roller, I think.

I feel the opposite about paint brushes. A good paint brush is very important but you usually pay for the quality. If they are cleaned immediately and thoroughly they will keep going for a long while. They are much faster to clean than roller covers and the cleaning effort is totally worth it. When buying brushes I just picked up the best thing available at each store. Here's two I really loved pictured along with my brush comb (for cleaning out dried bits of paint):

The one with the blue handle is a Wooster Shortcut from Home Depot. It's fantastic for edging and trim work and the nice short handle is very nice to use (you hold these brushes like a pencil, not by the tip of the handle). When I bought the second round of paint I wanted to get a second once since I was doing a lot of painting all at once with a couple different colors I needed more than one. They didn't carry the Wooster brush so I bought the Elder and Jenks brush instead. It's also a 2" angled trim brush and I actually liked it a bit more. It has a nice thumb indentation and the longer bristles made it nicer to use.

Brushes that didn't work as nicely for me included the Purdy angled brush. The long handle made it awkward and the narrower size was annoying. I also have a 4" brush from Redtree (a Newark company!) that was used for the floors. It was okay but a brush with longer bristles would have been easier to use, I think. The only other option when I bought this one was a brush from Benjamin Moore. It did look nicer but it costs over twice as much.

As for cutting in or "edging", I used two different approaches. I decided up front that I was going to skip painter's tape. I've seen professional jobs with and without tape and I've seen amateur jobs with and without tape. My take-away from these observations is that you can get good at any method you choose to stick with. I personally prefer to keep things as simple as possible and cut down on time-consuming prep work. In the first room I used an edger from Shurline (pictured above). These come with pads that you dip in the paint (or, as I did, paint with a brush) and then roll them along the trim and ceiling for a nice, clean line. They work pretty well at eye-level but less well on an extension pole. I made a lot of mistakes with the edger. I also thought the color and texture of the paint looked considerably different than the rolled on paint (it's different when you brush, too, but the difference seemed more pronounced with the edger). I had to do a fair amount of touch-up work and then had an edge to clean up after I was done.

In the second room I cut in the entire room free hand with my trim brush. It felt slower but it didn't actually take me any longer and I didn't really make any mistakes. I think I'll save the edger for painting stairwells (no way am I going up on a ladder in a stairwell!) and otherwise stick to using an angled brush.

Finally, I didn't use a drop cloth. I put everything on a big garbage bag in the middle of the room. I dripped a couple times but I just kept a wet rag handy and cleaned up the drips immediately. The professionals who painted our last apartment made a much bigger mess than I. I also highly recommend my ten-in-one multi tool pictured with my roller frame and trim cup above. Among it's ten uses are opening paint cans, pounding them shut again, and opening bottles. Of beer. Totally essential.

As a brief aside, I was glad to see that pretty much all the painting supplies I used were made in the USA. You don't see that too much these days. Anyone know why that would be the case with paint brushes? And feel free to offer up your own painting tips in the comments. I have a lot more rooms to paint and next time we turn over that apartment we'll need to paint the whole thing. I'm all for hearing anything to make the job even easier next time around.


Robyn said...

ok...I'm only on paragraph 3 of this epic paint post...but this caught my eye:

"And while I'm certainly not given to strong opinions in general"



I gotta think about this one...


Robyn said...

Wow Susan! looks great!

I didn't tape or use a drop cloth with either the boys' room or our bedroom...and I was kinda sloppy. :( I went through a LOT of wet rags chasing drips...and some dried and I can't get them off.

Totally impressed with your careful work, Q!

Carey said...

I had a similar reaction to Robyn on the "strong opinions"... :)

I, too, am a lover of all colors Benjamin Moore. My grandpa told me a long time ago that it was the only paint to use so that pretty much what I've done. I did try another once but thought it stunk. :)
What yellow did you use? We have squish squash and ambience in the girl's room with a white chair rail and trim.

Freehand cutting it totally the way to go, out house has too many quirks and wonks for tape to truly be effective. I do use a drop cloth though, justa huge piece of canvas and/or old sheets, we have carpet in much of our house so the drips are harder to clean up.

A little extra $ in painting makes a huge difference in the overall job. :)

ginger said...

Awesome Susan. I like the yellow and white a lot. Someday I will have a house and when that day comes I'll have to do "stuff" to that house, but I'm definitely bookmarking this. Thanks for sharing.

Emily said...

good to know that you think Ben Moore is worth it - the price has always scared me too. We usually go Behr. Love the yellow - looks great!! We are looking for yellow for the back room - will check it out :)