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  • Writer's pictureMarni Jameson

How Not to Pick a Painter – And Other Painting Advice

“Please call me in 30 minutes,” I am talking on the phone with my daughter. “If I don’t answer, call the police.”

“Now what did you do?” She is used to this.

“I am being followed by a man I just met at the paint store,” I explain. “We are going to the new house, and it occurred to me, I don’t even know this person.” I tell her how, after my exercise class, I’d stopped by the Sherwin-Williams paint store to pick up 12 quarts of paint samples I’d ordered an hour earlier.

“You’ve got your work cut out for you,” the clerk said as he rang up and boxed the quarts.

“I’m painting the entire inside,” I said. “It’s overwhelming.”

“Do you have a painter?” The voice came from a tall, gray-haired man at the register next to us.

“Yes,” I said, “but he can’t start for 10 more days, (sigh). We’d like to move in.”

“So happens we just had a cancellation,” he said. “My interior crew could start tomorrow and be done by the weekend.” He handed me his card. I look around for a camera crew as if I’m about to be on the next episode of HGTV’s “House Crashers.”

“I let my desire to have the house painted soon overshadow concerns for my personal safety,” I tell my daughter, as I watch the pickup following me in my rearview mirror.

“When have you ever put common sense ahead of your home design projects?” she asks.

It’s a fair question. “Listen, you are never to meet a strange man in store and invite him to follow you home. Just because I did is no excuse.”

“You’ll be fine,” she says, and angles to get off the phone.

“You’ll remember this when I become the subject of the next Erik Larson novel.”

“Bye, Mom.”

No one ever takes me seriously.

A few minutes later, I am standing in my new house with the stranger who is sizing the place up while I Google him on my phone. (This is no way to go through life.) I soon learn that Jerry White, owner of JW Painting, of Orlando, has a sterling reputation. He and his company have been painting homes and commercial buildings inside and out for 30 years.

His price is a bit higher than the price from the crew I was waiting for, but far lower than another estimate I’d gotten from a team that also couldn’t start for a few weeks. Now comes at a price.

I call DC. “He can start tomorrow,” I say.

“Get it in writing and find out if he has insurance,” DC says.

I call the other painter, who is happy I found someone else because he’s too busy. “We have a deal,” I tell White.

“We’ll be there at 8 a.m.,” he says. “I’ll need your colors.”

My colors? Oh, criminy! The color decisions I had 10 days to make I now need to make in a matter of hours.

That night, I slap 12 test colors on one-foot-square pieces of drywall. At daybreak, I take the boards to the new house to see them in the light there. I hem and haw. The crew pulls up and starts to tarp and tape.

I tell White the colors I’ve picked for every room.

“I’m impressed,” he said. “Very few people can pick colors so fast.”

I accept the compliment, though, in truth, I’d been mulling this for weeks. I’d picked up dozens of swatches, consulted a designer, and actively envisioned the colors before I’d bought the test quarts.

A few days later, as his crew was finishing, I asked White what he’d learned about human behavior and house painting over the last three decades. He fielded the questions with his lead interior painter Jessica Reed:

  • Do most clients have trouble picking colors? “About 10 percent of clients can pick out a color right from the fandex, and say that, that and that,” said White. “About 60 percent need to paint some samples and see them in different lights, and they get through the process without too much trouble. The other 30 percent get totally obsessed. They spend two weeks with the fandex, and still don’t know. We recently had a client who had us try 28 shades of white before she decided.”

  • What’s are the biggest mistakes people make? “Many aren’t brave enough,” said White. “They stay in that beige, greige palette and are afraid to step out.” Other common mistakes are trying to match everything, and ignoring floor, added Reed. “You don’t have to match; it’s better if you don’t. And don’t go against your floor. You see these warm beige travertine floors, and people want gray on the walls. It doesn’t work.”

  • How do you advise people to pick colors if they’re stuck? When clients are picking an exterior paint, White sends them on to neighborhoods where home colors have been selected thoughtfully. “If they see a house they like, we work with that.” When choosing interior colors, look outside, and pull in colors from nature “If you live in woodlands, that might be greens and taupes,” said Reed.

  • How often do people not like the color once it’s up and want it changed? “Even those who give their rooms a lot of thought have second thoughts,” said Reed, who says about three of ten people pick a color they don’t like once it’s up. (This makes me feel better, as I’m not loving the green in the powder room.)

  • How do you find a good painter? Ask around, then check for references. Ask if they have insurance, and how long they’ve been working in the same community. “I wish more people checked backgrounds,” said White. “I’ve mopped up many bad jobs.”

“Or you stumble on one at the paint store!” I chime.

“It was totally meant to be,” he said.

CAPTION: Test, test, test. You can’t make a good paint decision by picking a color strictly from the fandex. It’s just a guide. I painted a dozen sample boards, before narrowing the palette to these five colors. Photo courtesy of Marni Jameson.

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