Insights February 15, 2017

The Art of Painting

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Decorating is an exciting part of any project. If the renovation was a long process with many parts, then it is exhilirating to be so close to the end. On the other hand, even if it is the only step in the works, decorating alone marks a significant change to the original space.

Commissioning painting work can be a surprising effort with costs varying tremondously. On one London homeowner’s project, a brief to put two coats of paint on all the walls of their maisonette resulted in prices between £700 and £3000. This demonstrates a key misunderstanding about interior decorating and painting, in particular: whether it is a craft or a trade. From a contractor’s point-of-view, there are quantifiable differences in the scope of work: extent of preparation desired, priming, sanding, number of colours. And from the client’s desire of a finished space, there are certainly qualitative criteria: consistency of surface, textured versus smooth, depth of colour, crispness of edges. Whether the completed space should look more like a gallery in the V&A or those in a gym calls for two different kinds of contractors.

Regarding the effort of painting, Thomas Edison might have said it was 1% Implementation and 99% Preparation. A wall, whether previously painted or newly plastered, needs to be prepared in a number of ways. It might need to be washed to allow for a better adhesion of the new paint. Inevitable chips, dings and pop-outs need to be patched and sanded. Priming or an undercoat is likely to be needed, especially if there is a change of colour envisaged. Masking and taping, while not always preferable, are sometimes unavoidable. Professional painters, who have concern for final quality, offer a much longer list of recommendations which might be worth considering to understand how costs for painting work can become high.

While decorating costs are likely to exclude paints and other materials, the cost of paint should certainly be factored into the overall project budget. And when it comes down to it, not all paints are created equal. While the colour and resilience are certainly an important consideration, you may also be basing your decision on natural pigments and impact to internal air quality.

An old article in the Telegraph, aptly titled “Are posh paints really worth it?”, describes the differences that relate to cost. In short, it comes down to the chemical composition: water content, binder and type of pigment. The article cites Kevin McCloud who says, “Traditional pigments tend to be made of rocks and minerals, earth and clay. And consequently they are impure, and rather complex. The more complex the pigmentation, the more interesting the colour. It gives redolence and depth, and you get undertones – colours which subtly change in different lights.” Unsurprisingly, clay-based paints and paints using natural oils and minerals are likely to produce a richness of colour to your eyes as well as have the least impact on air quality to your nose. For a good understanding of the chemical composition of paints and the impact to both your internal as well as wider environments, the following article on Decomag would be worth a read: Eco-friendly paints – what it means and who makes them.

While all these considerations are well and good, you are most likely to make first your decision on a colour swatch. But before you commit to one manufacturer, put a small sample on the wall from a few different ones. Evaluate the colours under different lighting conditions and do a quick calculation at how much the paint will cost in relation to your desired quality of colour.

A final note on paint selection, if the one you have decided is not pre-mixed by the manufacturer, it is worth sourcing your paint from one supplier. This is because the mixing machines – whether digital or analog – are likely to be calibrated differently which will make the same colour look slightly different when purchased at multiple locations. Additionally, some manufacturers offer “trade” paints. These paints come in larger sizes which might have a higher unit cost but they are also likely to be a higher quality paint. Dulux, a manufacturer offering “trade” paint, says on their FAQ that “the key difference is consistency”. However, it is likely that other improvements to pigment and binding agents do make “trade” paint specifically worth sourcing over retail.

Whether you are going to do the painting yourself or are indeed planning on hiring a professional, part of the excitement of the project is the prospect of the new. Rather than rush into it, ask yourself a few questions about quality and cost so that all the effort delivers the spaces you had initially wanted.

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