Ask Julia: A Venture Into Painting Walls

November 15, 2013

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Sometimes we get asked such a great, in depth question that can be helpful to so many others we have decided to answer such questions (with permission, of course) right here. Today’s question comes from a couple that just moved into military housing–their first place they are allowed to paint:




I am in need of some help, and since I have been going through your blog posts for about 2 hours, I now know more than ever JUST how experienced you are in painting walls (among other things :)) So, I just moved into military housing, and discovered the wonderful joyous news that I am ALLOWED TO PAINT! I have dreamed (dreamt?) of living in a place with painted walls for oh about 5 years now. The catch: I’ll have to REpaint it all back to white before leaving. But we will be here for at least 2 years, and it is worth it to me! But, it does make me want to be selective with how much I paint. maybe an accent wall here and a bedroom there. anyway…the whole purpose of this: What is essential? brushes, rollers, tape, newspapers, primer, best types of paint, foolproof techniques…please, TEACH ME!

First of all, I am very excited for you!  We only lived in our last house for just over two years and painted (almost) the entire thing and it was absolutely worth it to live in a place that you love.  Since you will have to paint it back to white before you move on, I think it is wise for you to be selective and choose areas and walls that will bring you the most happiness and impact.  Now, first things first–working with what you have. White walls.
White walls are actually not a bad thing at all. They are neutral, bright and are quite trendy these days.  Without seeing your living space, I might advise you to keep most of your walls in the main area just as they are and focus on accenting them with great art, furniture, accessories and textiles (area rugs, pillows, throws, curtains) you can bring with you to your next place.  In that sense, I am almost jealous of your already white walls! We just barely painted our main living space an almost white and are now trying to inject us into the new lighter and brighter digs. This post from awhile ago has 8 things to add to your living room to instantly liven it up–even without paint, but here are a couple examples of some beautiful living spaces with white (or off white) walls to get the creative juices flowing:
Now, let’s talk accent walls and painting entire rooms.  Accent walls are, well, everyone has a different opinion on them.  But, I’ll give you my two cents.  If you are going to paint an accent wall–commit to it.  Do it on purpose and not just because you are too afraid to paint the entire room that color.  It can be so effective in adding a ton of visual interest and/or defining a space or architecture or even to create depth in a room, but it can also leave question marks when done just to get another color on a wall. Here are some of my favorite examples of an accent wall that works:
When it comes to painting rooms in your house, whether a bathroom or bedroom or foyer, the best advice I can give is to look at a lot of photos of spaces that you love and take note of what they have in common until you become more confident in your style.  We painted a lot of rooms twice in our last house while we were figuring things out and there will most likely be rooms in this home that will change hues over time even though we have our style pretty well pinpointed.  As you are choosing colors, whether it is accessories or accents or paint colors–they should tell a connected story throughout the whole house.  If you are struggling choosing a color, ask yourself, “How do I want this room to feel?”  Classic? Moody? Peaceful? Dramatic? Lively? Once you’ve decided, as for my go-to-tools, there are just a few necessities when it comes to painting a room for us.
1. An angled 2″ brush for cutting in corners, ceilings and baseboards. I always use the Wooster shortcut brush with the short, flexible handle.  When we paint a room, I do all the cutting in and Chris usually rolls (if he’s home).  This brush gives me a lot of control since the handle is so short, which means I don’t tape a thing off.  Also, the flexible handle keeps my hand from cramping up. Worst. So, skip the tape and go for a brush like this.  I’ve seen them in all the big-box home improvement stores for around $6.
2.  A roller.  Obviously with a brush for cutting in, you are going to need a roller to paint out the rest of the wall. I’ve tried a lot of the brands, even the generic ones and I just flat out prefer Purdy.  They are more durable.  We wash ours out after every use and reuse them over and over.  Probably every 5th room or so, we’ll get a new one.  You’ll notice there are a lot of different nap depths on these.  If your walls are smooth or have a slight texture (like an orange peel), the 3/8″ nap is most popular and most likely right for you. ;)
3.  A canvas drop cloth.  Paint comes up really easily on tile or wood surfaces, but if you have carpet in your home, invest in one canvas drop cloth.  Paint will bleed through a sheet, and stay wet a long time on a plastic drop cloth which means you’ll most likely step in it and track it somewhere. Been there. The canvas drop cloths are designed to catch and absorb paint quickly and can be reused over and over.   We got ours at Home Depot for under $10.
4.  Lastly, paint.  The best type of paint is the best you can afford.  Most brands will color-match paint colors to their brand, but note that they won’t always be identical.  At the beginning of our marriage, we could only afford a cheaper paint and we didn’t know any better anyway.  Now that we have been around the paint block and are more financially secure, we opt for a paint that does cost more but is also night and day in quality. We’ve had a positive experience with Benjamin Moore, Kwal Paint, Clark + Kensington, Sherwin Williams, Valspar and Behr Premium Plus.  Other brands shall remain nameless. ;)
I hope this helped you, Tiffany, as well as others who may be in your same exciting boat–just getting started. There’s a lot of fun and learning experiences to be had.  It’s all a part of the process. Keep us updated and feel free to ask follow up questions about this topic in the comments section below.
To submit your own question to be answered in post format, feel free to shoot an email to julia [at] chrislovesjulia [dot] com with the subject line ask julia or if you have a cooking question, chris [at] chrislovesjulia [dot] com with ask chris. You could also send a message to us through our Facebook page.

What do you think?

  1. Dana a says:

    What is the brand and name of the neon paint?

  2. Great advice! I’m in the same boat (having to repaint our walls back to white). Love all your inspiration images. I’m a huge fan of white walls!

  3. Kathy says:

    great post – I loathe painting, but I’ve been trying to invest in better tools to make me hate it a little less.

    Do you have a preference on spackle when you’re filling nail holes?

    Also: Where do all these people in the inspiration photos live with their ridiculously high ceilings? Clearly not Southern New Jersey as my house will demonstrate ;-)

    • Haha! Not in Idaho either! For spackle, I swear by DAP Fast ‘N Final Lightweight Spackling. It is really airy and dries super fast. It’s low oder, low VOC and patches and primes in one step. I’ve picked it up at every hardware store and even Walmart for $2-$5 depending on size.

  4. This was such a great post. I can’t wait to get to this point of painting, but I know I’m going to second guess myself. Basically, I’m going to fly you out when that day comes and we can spend all our time discussing paint. :-) well and other things of course!

  5. Wendy says:


    My husband and I both grew up with Navy Dads, and he spent far more time in Navy housing than I did. As a result, his Mom painted each house and then repainted it white again. To her, it was *their house* and she wanted it to feel like home.


    I appreciate the timing of this, as I decided in the wee hours of the morning that we need to paint a few rooms before Christmas. (Hopefully the hub will agree once he awakens.) Our living room and the bottom half of our daughter’s room is a very, very, very dark green. We’re planning on priming it first, so I’m wondering do you have an suggestions for a good primer over extremely dark colored walls?

    Many thanks.

    • Wendy,

      We have had great success with going with a good quality paint and primer covering dark paint. Really. But if you’re set on priming first, Benjamin Moore’s Fresh Start or Zinsser’s Bull’s Eye Zero Primer are our go-tos. Good luck! The mention of Christmas in your question got me so excited.

    • Wendy says:


      Thank you!

      We’re not set on anything- other than saving money, making it live-able (the previous owners chose the colors…not us!), and working around my hub’s life as a writer (sometimes words come before paint in our home).

      We have a big hope of one day building a house on the center of our property and removing this one. As a result, we’re constantly on the “how much do we invest in this house?” thought process mode. We’d love to go with top-of-the-line paint, but it seems silly if we’re going to be removing the place in under a decade.

      Thanks again.

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