The Frugal Decorator: Painting Assistance

by Leah Wynne

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Dear Leah,
I recently graduated from college and am at my first job where I'm making enough money to splurge a little, but not too much. I'd like to decorate my apartment with some colorful shelves and such, but I don't know much about buying paint, and I'm afraid that if I buy anything too quickly I will spend too much. Do you (or your readers) have any tips about buying paint? I don't even think I would need a full gallon for the small projects I have in mind--how do I find smaller amounts of paint? What kinds of paint should I use for wooden shelves? Are there any books or web sites I can consult for tips on both painting techniques and decorative techniques? Thanks!
Colleen in St. Joseph, MO

Paint is one of the least expensive ways to decorate your home. Paint is either water-based or oil-based. Water-based is good because it requires only soap & water cleanup, has a low odor and is less expensive. Oil-based requires paint thinner for cleanup and has a high odor, but lasts longer.

I try to stay away from oil-based paints at all costs. I would rather paint more often (what better reason to redecorate!), but don't be fooled, latex should last a few years.

After you decide what type of paint to buy, you need to decide in what form you need it. Paint comes in different levels of gloss:

  1. Flat Paint - There is no sheen to this paint; it is the least expensive form to buy but it isn't washable. The dirt just smears around and never really comes off. This paint is usually used in dining rooms and bedrooms.

  2. Low-Lustre or Eggshell - This is one up from flat. It has a very slight sheen and is washable. Use this paint in the living room, family room, bedroom, or dining room.

  3. Semi-Floss - This has a definite gloss to it, is very durable and washes extremely well. Use this paint in hallways, kitchens and bathrooms where there is high traffic and you need to clean quite often. This is also good for painting some furniture.

  4. Gloss - this is very glossy, durable and washable. Use in the same rooms as the semi-gloss. Also very good for painting furniture; it withstands abuse well.

A few notes:

  • The more gloss, the more expensive and the more durable.

  • Having two kids and a dirty dog I would never put flat paint in my house. A low-lustre ensures clean good-looking walls!

  • Most jobs require two coats of paint.

  • Using a paint technique (such as sponging or bagging) often requires less paint because it is either watered down, is not covering the entire surface, or only requires one coat.

  • A gallon of paint will be good for doing a room. If you're just painting shelves or furniture, a liter should do.

  • Paint always dries darker than it appears going on.

Depending on the project you want to do you might be able to get away with using craft paints or testers. Any hobby or craft store will sell 2-oz bottles of craft paint. These are flat (no sheen) and are good for small projects like shelves. Also available in craft-paint size is a varnish, which is good for small projects, but it's cheaper to buy a large can if you have more than one project. Some paint stores (Canadian Tire) sell small jars of tester paints that you can use for small projects as well.

If you are painting on unfinished wood, you will need to first paint a coat of primer on the wood. Primer seals your wood and gets it ready to take the paint. If your wood has been previously painted, it will need to be sanded before repainting. Any glossy surface will have to be sanded in order for the new paint to adhere.

As far as buying paint, try department stores first. Wal-Mart sells paint; while you can't custom-colour and the colour selection isn't as vast as the Home Depot, it is excellent quality and inexpensive.

There are numerous books and websites out there to read. Jocasta Innes has several books on painting and paint techniques. Debbie Travis' Painted House is available online and she has recently published a book of techniques, though you may not find it at your library yet. Her website is full of techniques that she has used on her shows.

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