First Time Home Owner: No Paint, No Gain

by Randall Cleveland

I recently bought a house. One of the reasons my wife and I bought the house was because the previous owners obviously sank a lot of time, energy, and money into fixing everything up so we wouldn't have to. Neither one of us is particularly handy, to the point that I left moon crater-sized divots in an old apartment of ours while trying to hang pictures on plaster. So we were happy that any of the work we wanted to put into the house would be aesthetic stuff of our own desire and not, say, having to fix a leaking pipe or put a new roof on or something (I realize even by typing those words I have cursed myself and my furnace probably just exploded).

And one of the lowest-investment, biggest impact ways to improve your home is by painting!

One room in our house, a little boy's bedroom when the previous owners had it, was an intense shade of fire engine red. It had holes in it where furniture had been screwed into the walls, and the paint was wildly inconsistent with huge patches of darker red mixed among the (relatively) lighter color on the wall. Inconsistencies aside, the paint wasn't too terrible to me, but apparently bothered my wife to NO. END. It was the first project on our list, and by "our list" I mean "my list," because apparently by virtue of my male genitalia I inherited some kind of gene that means I will be a superior painter despite no experience whatsoever.

Luckily for me my wife's uncle is a contractor. Like, he built his house and owns his own contracting company building and remodeling and demolishing things for people in the rather affluent Bay area. In short, he's the closest thing to a wizard I'll ever know. He and his wife happened to be visiting shortly after we bought the house and he was kind enough to inspect the house and give me tips on a few things to help ensure I won't kill myself. I mentioned needing to paint the room, and a week later a care package arrived on my front porch full of rollers, paint trays, tape, a drop cloth, etc. along with instructions on how to not screw things up too badly.

My wife and I deliberated for a couple weeks on what color we should pick. We agreed on a couple things: we both had no idea what a good color looked like, we both were insecure as to our ability to pick something that would look good, and we both realized that we were paralyzed by indecision. We brought home paint chips so they could sit in a hallway, neglected.

In the meantime, though, I knew that a red that deep would bleed through almost anything I painted over it. I may be a painting novice, but I was certain I had to put a coat of primer over it. I picked up a can of "SUPER ULTRA COATING" white, taped off the trim and unscrewed the outlet face plates. And I painted. For the better part of two hours (small room, only two walls needed it) I painted our gross red room with clean, beautiful white paint until we had…a sort of pink wall. I immediately went to Facebook and deemed it a success.

My uncle-in-law sent me a message informing me that in the days of modern paint, primer is pretty much unnecessary and I had just wasted a Saturday and $60 worth of paint. "Just paint multiple coats."

Okay. Lesson learned.

I'd thought that "not red" was enough, but my wife, knowing me as well as she does, felt like if we didn't throw a replacement color on there soon it would languish for the remainder of our time in the house. "We have to get that room done," she would say over breakfast, as if she both of us would be in that room, high-fiving and dabbing each other on the nose with paint brushes like something out of a Wham! video. We both knew that this was just a diplomatic way of telling me to stop putting it off and paint the damn room.

We still didn't have a color, though. I pointed this out in the hopes of maybe delaying the inevitable, but she called my bluff and did the unthinkable: she gave me carte blanche. "You know what? I'm so indecisive, just pick whatever you want. I trust you." Burdened with this new responsibility, I headed off to the paint store where I selected (what I thought was) a lovely shade of golden yellow.

There's something deeply satisfying about painting a wall. You can instantly see the work you've done, and you're rewarded with immediate, tangible results. It probably speaks to my psychology that it's so comforting to me to see something covered up like that, but that's irrelevant. My satisfaction was short-lived, though, as my wife walked into the room and could barely disguise her grimace.

"You don't like it."

"It's…not terrible." Not terrible? That was the best she could muster? A menacing pause hung over the room.

"I'll repaint it."

"No! No, it's fine. It's my fault for giving you carte blanche. I mean, for not choosing myself. You know what I mean." Yes. Yes, I knew exactly what she meant, unfortunately. It seems I'll be getting even more practice painting in the very near future.