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How to paint a room

A love story, sort of

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The problem: The paint on the bathroom walls is badly chipped, has in fact been chipping away since I was a toddler. The bathroom needs to be painted.

The other problem: I have never painted a room in my life. But carpe-the-chipped-paint diem, right? Lots of people have painted rooms. I can totally do this.

“I’m painting the bathroom!” I announce to Joe, over the phone.



There is a pause. My handyman husband is in Alabama at the moment—I assure you, this had nothing to do with the room-painting idea.

“Painting, like, right now?”

“Well, no. I called to see what I should do first.”

“Wait for me.”

“No, I can do this! Besides, you have better things to do.” This is true.

Another pause. “All right. You have to sand the walls. Thoroughly. Paint on chippy paint will chip off later.”
“Okay!” I find the sandpaper. It is in the sitting-room secretary, not the painting drawer in the mud room, but whatever. I start sanding. Paint and dust are everywhere. I vacuum.

Two rounds of sanding later, the room is done.

“Now what?”

“Take all the stuff off. Light fixtures, switchplates, electric plates, shelves, the medicine cabinet. Anything that can come off, comes off. Turn the power off first please.” He hears my unspoken protest. “And no, do not paint around stuff. You will get paint all over the stuff, and if you ever want to change something, then you have a space where the new thing is not going to cover where the old thing was, and the paint is different and you can’t get the old paint anymore.”

Taking all the stuff off is harder than it looks, especially when it comes to the ceiling light, which is breakable if it falls and is also full of bugs. (Next step, clean ceiling light.) But then the stuff is mostly off and mostly intact. Except the medicine cabinet, (which is stuck), the towel racks (also stuck) and one light fixture, which is now in the trash.

“Okay, now you can paint.” Anxious pause. “What color did you pick?”

The one in the can in the basement. “Um... ox blood?”

“No, really, what color?”

I open the can and stick in a finger. No, this won’t do. Why do we have this, anyway? Consult the internet. “I’m thinking off-white.”

“Good choice!”

I buy a can of paint. It’s a small bathroom, I probably won’t need more.

“Now what?”

I’m using a brush, not a roller. “Okay, ceiling first. Drips go downward. Put something on the floor first to protect it.”

One sheet later. “Open the can. Do not just jam the brush in the paint, dab the side that you’re going to use onto the surface of the paint. Do not scrape the brush off on the side of the can. Because then you get paint in the rim and the can won’t close properly and it’s a mess and the paint drips down the side.”

I gently dab, put some paint on the ceiling, rub the top of my head where it dripped (thus smearing the paint, but off-white’s a good look for me).

Time passes. “This is taking a while,” I report.

“That’s fine.” Is that relief I hear? “We leave this afternoon.”

“Great!” By which I mean: crud. Because I wanted to have it all painted before he got home. It’s 20 hours from Alabama.

“Oh, about washing the brush. Remember to clean the brush, since you’ve bought good brushes, and you have, haven’t you, you want to clean them well. If you clean them correctly, they are as good as new. An unclean paintbrush is trash. Cleaning is easy, especially with latex paints, just rinse it in water. And rinse it. And rinse it. And rinse it, until there is absolutely no more paint coming out of it. That’s not just running water over it but actually mooshing it, swooshing it against the side of the sink.” (“Mooshing and swooshing” are technical terms). “Then wash again in dish soap.”

I clean the brush I answer the door, talk to a friend (“How’s the painting going?”) get the cat out of the bathroom, take a little nap, cook food, make cookies to welcome the family home, do a thing, do another thing, read a book.

Joe calls periodically from the road to offer advice. “Always paint back into what you already painted, otherwise you’re just pulling paint away.” “Keep a wet edge, that lets the surface tension even out so you don’t get brush strokes. Plan things so it’s not dry by the time you get back to it." Hm. I can paint over it, right?

More advice: “If you have patience, you don’t need tape for cutting in.” I look that up. It means the edges and around trim. Well, that’s not a problem at the moment. “In fact it’s better because paint can creep under the tape plus it can be tough to pull the tape off because paint is gobbed onto it.” (“Gobbed” is also a technical term.) “Use a good two-inch angled sash brush for cutting in.” Still not there yet. In fact, it’s time for a nap.
Mid-nap, Joe is home, having driven nine hours from Elkin, NC, in a car with four cats, two of whom yowled the whole way. “Let’s see the painting!”



The painting is approved, the brush is approved, and I explain that the medicine cabinet and towel racks will be removed when I get there with the paint. Possibly next year.

“Eh, don’t worry. I’ll take over.”

Home improvement is a job best handled with loved ones. Romance, folks, is not dead.

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