Part II: Coats of Too Many Colors

Part II: Coats of Too Many Colors

Everyone says paint is the easiest change artist and cheapest in your decorating tool box. It’s just paint, for heavens sake. That may be for the folks at Farrow & Ball, Sherwin-Williams, Benjamin Moore, and all the other paint companies that mix colors so effortlessly, debut a new paint color or two every year, and get to stay up all night drinking wine at focus groups and coming up with clever monikers–Bunny Gray, Heartthrob, Lucky Green, to name just three.

However, don’t think for one second that selecting a paint color is an easy magic bullet. It can be a Sisyphean task requiring a great deal of deliberation, angst, and trial and error. I should know. I used to buy just white, cream, or whatever color without looking at dozens of swatches. Then, I got seduced by corporate tactics–buy a little sample jar, look, wait and see, and even upload a picture of your room which will show you how it looks with different colors thanks to advanced digital technology.

It was with this in mind that I immersed myself in the new world of paint. After trying out at least 10 different colors on my living room wall in search of the perfect pale, pale gray for that space and the adjoining dining room, I was convinced I had hit pay dirt. Bunny Gray was my darling, just a wisp of gray for a cool updated look, a great background for my collection of cozy furnishings and antiques and the gleaming antique floorboards that came with the 1797 house. The sample looked great both during the day and at night. Then it went up on the bathroom walls, and voila! I disliked it. It looked too blue when covering all the walls and my favorite blue hues in furnishings showed up as blue more than gray. I wasn’t going to repaint after the expense and time, but I learned a lesson first hand: Paint a bigger swatch, live with it longer, go white and ignore all the trends and magic paint can provide. Make it easy on yourself.

As a result, I thought I was smarter when it came to picking a color for my new walls. I tried at least five different samples from English manufacturer Farrow & Ball’s pale gray line-up–each $12 for a tiny sample jar, consulted with some experts, and my contractor Jason. I applied big dabs to one wall and we penciled in the names to keep them straight. None looked fabulous–too light, too dark, too beige, too lavender. But we decided “Blackened” was the best. I emailed the company for a consultation about its tone and the right white to go with it, went back to my nearby paint store and asked if the salesperson could lighten that sample. She said yes but by 50 percent because of their system’s computer technology. And, she added, she’d also have to sell me a bigger and more expensive quart. Prices were adding up. I also purchased a Benjamin Moore sample, a suggestion from the store’s paint gurus just to have another option. We applied those, stood back, and our hearts sank–the one we expected to be great looked too white and the other mousy. So we retried Blackened, and decided it was OK without being lightened, but had done so at night. We’d wait until morning and natural light for our final votes.

We had similar reactions. It looked OK, my code phrase for fine, not great, but passable. Heck, it’s only paint, which is if I believe the experts, so easy and inexpensive to choose. Not so. After more samples than I can rename, and close to $200 including the two whites for the ceiling, trim and door, I would say paint’s great but not always inexpensive or easy on the eyes, making it a chore to choose. And the best news, wallpaper is making a comeback!

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