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A paint color by any other name

by admin on March 21, 2012

A parlor, a stair hall, a corner of a dining room - my house gets colorized

It seemed like it should be pretty simple to select colors for inside my house. Compared to the other decisions we had made so far in our remodel – like agonizing over the nuances of our kitchen cabinets – it would be easy to select some hues from a Kelly Moore fan deck. Then reality happened.

I was using our kitchen remodel as a reason for doing a long overdue color makeover of our major rooms. Some extra accent lighting would be added, but it was mostly about new colors everywhere. The bedrooms and baths would be spared the makeover for now, thus allowing us to “live” in the house (if you can call it that) by hunkering in the rooms that were not invaded by plastic sheets, airless paint sprayers and blue masking tape everywhere.

After many years of white walls, I was asking the family to venture into the world of color. My idea was that we could do honest-to-goodness colors, but then mute them a bit so they didn’t overwhelm. Melody looked at my choices and told me they seemed too grey. Her own leanings tended toward the yellow side of things. Fine, I said, as long as it isn’t too bright and was instead more on the “creamy subdued” side. Definitely no Navajo White, we agreed. In this way, language became a key component in how we dealt with color.

We both vowed not to focus on the arbitrary names the paint manufacturers gave their hundreds of shades because we didn’t want some absurd name (“Ambrosian Angel”) to taint our opinion of a good choice, or have a cool quirky name (“Secluded Cottage”) cause us to like an undeserving color. This took some restraint on my part, because some of these names just beg to be made fun of, or at least commented on.

I picked up a few of the little brochures of pre-done color schemes available at paint and hardware stores. Each brochure showed a theme room done in a color scheme and included color chips showing the three or four colors side by side. We looked at them more to loosen us up about the possibilities and not so much about copying the exact colors.

We bought quarts of paint mixed to our most promising colors and painted little two square foot areas on a wall. At twelve bucks a quart, there was a fair amount of waste, but it beat getting our whole house wrong. A friend saw me having paint mixed at Ace Hardware and told me how he and his wife did that step enough times on the same piece of wall that the texture there was made smooth. We all chuckled at that one.

At one point we learned that our kids are now old enough to have opinions about colors that they didn’t mind sharing. We discovered this when they walked by the samples we had up on the dining room wall and expressed revulsion towards some of them. Honestly, a few of the colors probably deserved such a blunt assessment.

“If we’re going to do a yellow,” Gwenna said, “could it be something more like cut straw.” Wow that sounds really good, I thought. Just like that she came up with a clever way to describe the shade I wanted. “Yellow” is one thing, but who wouldn’t like “cut straw”?

And then the day came that we finally settled on the different wall colors for the four major areas of our house – mostly soft yellows with some green influences. (Insert Hallelujah chorus here.) Professional painters were called in and we passed a week amidst clear plastic covering everything. We fed the cats outside, fed ourselves by either eating out or undraping a bit of the kitchen to get a bowl of cereal or some toast.

Now that it’s all cleaned up and we’ve lived with the results, I can tell you that the biggest success occurred in our small Living Room that we’ve always called the Parlor. I was finally getting to enact my vision to load up the Parlor walls with art and photos. Key to this concept was having a rich and dark olive color on the walls that would serve as a backdrop for the all the art that would crowd the walls and bring the small room to life. Our numerous prints and paintings could now be brought out of storage and into view. The darker wall color had “tested” much better for featuring the artwork than a paler “safer” lighter version of the green. The focus group involved with this decision consisted of my wife and me. The immediate and absolute agreement we had about the superiority of the darker color was very satisfying to experience. After so much second guessing, it was a joy to step easily and sure-footed into a decision. Before the room was painted, we added a series of small dimmable spotlights on two tracks to really bring it all to life.

One last point to make about selecting paint: be aware of sheen. Tiny little differences in the shininess of a wall will change the feel of a room in a noticeable way. I tend to like flat paint for walls and semi-gloss paint for doors and trim. Just about everybody recommends semi-gloss for trim because it’s easy to wipe clean and it makes the trim sort of shine. Flat paint for walls is not as universally called for, but I like it because it downplays wall texture and helps hide any imperfection in a wall plane by not reflecting light as much as the other sheens. The rooms just somehow seem more “restful” to me – and less like a low-income apartment painted by a slumlord who wants to be able to wipe the walls down with a sponge mop. My painter convinced me this time to use the eggshell sheen which is almost flat and is still okay with me – just barely. I’d recommend staying away from the next step up (usually called satin.) It’s too shiny in my opinion. In kitchens it has been standard practice for years to call for paint with some gloss in order to make it easier to wipe the walls clean. I’ve always gotten away with the lower sheen paints in my kitchen and have had no regrets.

And finally – let the record show our chosen paints were officially labeled “Mushroom Cap” and “Manchester Mood” and (wait for it . . . .) “Beach Bum.” All simply splendid names, wouldn’t you agree?

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