Brian Lusher created a happy, hip mood in his Logan Circle condo den by painting the walls aqua. The hue plays well with his brown sofa, red stool and zebra-print carpet.
You could say that Brian Lusher’s bedroom has gone over to the dark side. When D.C. interior designer Andy Staszak saw Lusher’s dramatic white headboard and Lily Pulitzer duvet, he suggested painting the entire room (ceilings, trim, doors) chocolate brown.
“I was skeptical,” says Lusher, 41, who lives in a condo near Logan Circle. “I expected the room to feel smaller. But it doesn’t, because the ceiling and corners that had been white just sort of disappear. It feels cozy and cave-like.” Staszak also helped him choose an aqua for his den and a pink for the bathroom.
Lusher’s color gamble paid off. But for every success story like his, someone else winds up with a horror movie red bedroom or jaundice yellow den. And if they didn’t use the right equipment and techniques, that color ends up looking both garish and sloppy.
But there are ways to ensure your next paint job is a brush with greatness. When choosing colors, for example, get creative.
“Look at things you like, go to your favorite store or restaurant, look at design magazines,” says paint guru Eve Ashcraft, author of “The Right Color: Finding the Perfect Palette for Every Room in Your Home” ($30, Artisan). “And don’t work in a vacuum. Some rooms are more suited to color than others. A lot of it is just standing back and looking at the size of the room, the furnishings you have and what would make sense in there.”
When selecting colors, don’t paint yourself into a corner. “Paint should be chosen after other things as opposed to before,” says Ellen Brotman, owner of Fairfax County’s Ellen Brotman Interior Designs. “To commit to something before you choose furniture doesn’t make sense.”
Want to go with a bold shade like purple or orange? Think long and smart about where you put it. “Rooms that don’t get used a lot, like a hall or pass-through room, I’ll put really strong colors in those spaces,” Ashcraft says. “You’re not staring at those walls all the time, so it’s not going to tire you out.”
Paint can be a nice way to play up what you like about a room and distract from what you don’t. “If you don’t have a great-looking architectural detail, don’t highlight it,” Staszak says. He’s currently working on an 1840s house in Old Town Alexandria with low, uneven ceilings. “If I did a color on the wall and white on the ceiling, the eye would go to the line of differentiation around the top of the room,” he says. “So I’m painting the walls and ceiling the same color to blur those lines.”
Walls aren’t the only place you can put paint. Try painting the ceiling a brighter color than the walls, shown, or making moldings an accent hue.
The same theory applies when you choose a paint finish or sheen. “If you’re painting something bumpy and want to hide anything, use the lowest sheen possible,” Ashcraft says. “Glossy paint makes everything visible and will highlight every imperfection.”
But keeping things dull comes with a price. “Flat finishes are not as easy to clean and are going to scuff,” Staszak says. “I start with a flatter finish on the walls and some sort of sheen, from an eggshell up to a semigloss, on the woodwork. It’s a little more durable, doesn’t scuff, and is easier to clean.”
Before you grab a brush, spackle nail holes, nicks or other problem spots. “Preparing the surface before you paint gives you higher-quality results,” says Jon Wittmaack, who co-hosts the new DIY Network series “Brothers on Call” (Sun., 9 p.m.) with sibling Terry.
Good painting supplies matter, too. “Use the best brush and rollers you can afford,” Ashcraft says. “Inexpensive bushes drag and rake the paint on, and cheap rollers leave fuzz on walls. If you don’t want to paint again soon, pony up for the best paint you can afford.”
A roll of painter’s tape is a must. “Always tape off any lines or edges,” Wittmaack says. “For someone who doesn’t have a steady hand, tape will give a much cleaner, crisper line than if they try to freehand it.”
And if they’ve got some trusty tape and decent math skills, even novices can pull off a paint job that’s a little more complicated. With some guidance from HGTV and Home Depot, anesthesiologist Jack Lin, 37, painted stripes in different shades and sheens of red on the walls of the dining room at his home in Herndon, Va. “I did a lot of research on what steps I needed to follow,” he says. “It makes the room look very elegant and rich.”
And isn’t that what we all want when we roll on a fresh coat of paint? “Take risks and don’t be afraid of color,” Wittmaack says.
After all, you can always just repaint that wall.
Don’t reach for the roller until you’ve read these tips from the pros.
Choose a color — and then buy something slightly different. “I generally think that you should go a little bit darker and a little bit muddier, grayer or warmer than you think you want,” says D.C. interior designer Andy Staszak. “A good example is yellow. People think yellow is a nice, cheery color, but people often make the mistake and end up with a cross between egg yolk and school bus. Think more of the color of unsalted butter; it’s much softer and creamier, and more muted.”
Test out your color before you commit. “Throw some of the color on all four walls in the room,” says Ellen Brotman, owner of Fairfax County’s Ellen Brotman Interior Designs. “It’s better to get ahead of the curve so you’re not surprised. You can’t just look at the little paint swatch and see what it’s going to really be like.”
One coat probably won’t do it. “If you’re changing the color or sheen, 98 percent of the time it will look a lot better if you do two coats,” says Eve Ashcraft, author of “The Right Color: Finding the Perfect Palette for Every Room in Your Home.” “Don’t try to just glom on the paint; it’s better to have two nice and even, slightly thin coats of paint.”
Opt for tinted primer when making a major color change. “It will save you time and money and give you a much more solid color in the long run,” says Jon Wittmaack, co-host of DIY Network’s “Brothers on Call.” “With just regular paint, it will take four to six coats to get the same coverage as one coat of primer and one coat of regular paint.”
Keep track of your color choices. “Keeping a list of the paints and finishes you use is going to save you a lot of headaches,” says Terry Wittmaack, co-host of DIY Network’s “Brothers on Call.” “Write them down or put them in your phone — it takes two minutes and saves you a ton of time.”
Know when to call the pros. “To do a faux-finish technique, you have to practice or leave it to the pros,” Staszak says. “When it’s not done well, it does not look good. It ends up looking kind of cheap.”