A perfect paint job starts with primer Color: If what you've chosen in the store seems to be a different shade when it's in your home, your poblem might be that your walls are not properly prepared.


Call it paint-chip paranoia. You have been burnt before; your confidence has been shaken.

How many times have you taken these tiny samples home and tried to match them to fabric or a color in a painting? Even when you take a fabric or picture into the store for computer matching, the color rarely turns out the way you envisioned.

The paint looks too dark or too light. The terra cotta that appeared sensational in a small chip looks disgusting on a big wall.

So how can those chic decorating magazines and designer show houses use unusual colors that work perfectly?

What's their secret?

Selecting the right paint is a lot more complicated than it seems on the surface. A recent daylong seminar for interior designers showed that the way a finished paint job looks can be affected by the preparation of the wall, quality of product, how it is applied and how much light is in the room at different times of the day.

The event was co-sponsored by the American Society of Interior Designers Industry Foundation and Benjamin Moore & Co.

"There is no such thing as bad color, just bad taste," said Ken Charbonneau, director of color marketing for Benjamin Moore.

Simple enough. But the difference between what works and what doesn't can be separated by a hairline crack that many of us can't see.

Charbonneau illustrated his point with a watercolor sketch of a dramatic New York City tearoom -- bright blue walls, purple draperies and wood trim painted gold.

"Why can't you do the same thing in your living room?" he asked. "First of all, you will only be sitting in the tearoom for a short time. You have to live in your living room. You can't live with something like this unless you are a very special person like Diana Vreeland [former editor of Vogue], who loved red walls. And you have to know exactly what you are doing. If you don't know what you are doing and step over the line, it's disastrous."

If you don't have professional design expertise, it's better to limit those vibrant colors -- red, cobalt, purple and periwinkle -- to accent colors, Charbonneau said.

Sometimes, he said, no color is the best color. But neutral doesn't have to mean white paint. Charbonneau redefined neutral as "any country, person or color that sits there and minds its own business." That means colors like rose, peach or celadon can be neutrals. They are soft and pleasing to the eye.

Because there are so many variables that affect how paint looks, Charbonneau suggests buying three quarts of varying shades. Go to that forbidding color chart and select three colors in the same range. Start with what you think the color should be and pick others above or below it or to the left and right on the chart.

Color is only part of the paint equation. Type and quality also make a difference.

Oil or latex?

First, decide whether you want to use a latex or oil-based paint resin. Today's so-called oil-based resins are often actually alkyd-based. They are more water-resistant, faster-drying, more durable, more abrasion-resistant and more glossy than unmodified oils. But oils are being phased out because they are more harmful to the environment than latex. Charbonneau said they are used most often today as a primer on raw, unfinished wood.

Latex paints are easier to apply and clean up, have less odor and dry faster. They are resistant to yellowing. The one exception is styrene butadiene latex, one of the first commercial latex paints, which is now limited to interior primers and sealers.

"Mildew thrives on oil, especially the linseed oil in paint," said Ed Thomas, a South Florida sales representative for Benjamin Moore. "If you are worried about mildew, latex is a better choice."

Sometimes, though, this general rule can be broken.

"Twenty years ago, we put only oil over oil and latex over latex," Charbonneau said. "Today, paint has improved. Latex can go over oil and vice versa. Oil has a better chance of sticking than latex, but these days latex is almost on par with oil."

A 100-percent latex will adhere to oil, he said; just be sure to sand the old oil paint before repainting.

Because oil-based paint is slightly more yellow than latex, be careful of improper matches when you use latex on the walls and oil-based paint for the trim in the same color.

And there's one place you should never use oil-based paint -- on acoustical tile. Oil is more likely to fill in the holes in the tile that allow the sound to be absorbed. "Give the tiles one quick kiss coat of a flat paint and get out," Charbonneau suggested.

The most important part of the paint job -- the primer -- is often skipped by both amateurs and professionals. Many do-it-yourselfers think primer is a waste of money, but Charbonneau showed examples of how a good primer can change the entire look of the paint job.

"The primer seals the surfaces and gives the paint an even sheen," said Dale Tocci, a Benjamin Moore representative. "If you don't use primer, the differences in color will be absorbed into the Sheetrock [wallboard]."

Use primer even if you own a brand-new house that cost more than $250,000. Builders typically use the same inexpensive construction-grade paint in all houses, Charbonneau said.

"I don't care how much money you put into your house, pretend there is nothing on the wall and start with primer," Charbonneau said. "The flat paint hides a bad job, but the primer will immediately play up the imperfections. That's when you go back to the builder and get him to make corrections."

If you need to hide imperfections such as water stains, felt-tipped pen marks or smoke damage, get a primer designed to hide stains and seal at the same time. One caveat: It has a shellac base and has a strong odor.

Although primer also can be used on raw wood trim, it cannot fill in the open grain properly. It's better to prepare the wood with an enamel underbody to provide an even gloss level.

"So often even the professionals skip this primer step," Charbonneau said. "But the primer is everything. If you put latex over a Coca-Cola stain it will bleed right through the paint."

When you are ready to start your project, apply the primer and let it dry thoroughly. Carl Minchew, Benjamin Moore's director of technical services, said a good quality latex primer will generally dry in four to six hours, and oil-based primer should be allowed to dry overnight. How long it takes will depend on the humidity, temperature and porosity of the wall surface.

Then paint the separate sections of the wall in your test colors. Allow the paint to cure. Minchew said latex will continue hardening for a week or two, but oil-based paint generally cures overnight. Compare your samples in early morning, at high noon and at night under incandescent lighting. The same color will look different depending on light, the sheen selected and who is looking at the wall.

Brushing up on paint jargon

Your contractor says: "I primed it out with flat."

What he really means is: "I used regular flat paint, not more expensive primer."

If you are going to hire someone to paint your home, learn the lingo.

* Be specific. If you just tell a contractor to buy a good paint, chances are good his "best quality" will be the cheapest paint he can find. Ask if you can buy the paint. If not, specify in the contract the brand name, quality of paint and primer, sheen of the paint and color. Include the color number as well as a paint sample. Specify you want two coats of paint with a day in between to allow the first coat to dry.

Surface preparation: Specify that the walls be clean, dry and sanded smooth before painting begins. Nailheads should be countersunk and filled. Holes should be spackled and sanded. And be sure to specify a completion date in the contract.


Looking for more information on painting? Here are some sources:

* The National Paint & Coatings Association offers free paint and decorating booklets. Write: National Paint & Coatings Association, 1500 Rhode Island Ave. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20005. Include a self-addressed, stamped business-size envelope.

* Benjamin Moore stores have free booklets on painting tips. Some stores lso sell a FAUX Finesse video. The video and accompanying booklet concentrate on nontraditional painted surfaces such as floors, cabinets, counters, paneling and bTC furniture. The cost is $19.95.

* Dutch Boy Paints has a toll-free help line that offers free advice and booklets. Call (800) 600-3269.

* The Glidden hot line -- (800) 663-8589 -- will answer basic questions about interior and exterior painting and will send you the free "Painter's Companion Guide."

Pub Date: 8/04/96

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