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Painting Primer

You've decided to give the house a new look. Now what? There's more to the job than picking the right colors.

June 07, 1998|JOHN MORELL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; John Morell is a Los Angeles freelance writer on home improvement topics

The old house is starting to look just plain old. The sun is fading the stucco every minute and you know you've got to do something about it.

A good paint job sets the tone for your house and the right color choice can make it look bigger or smaller, stylish or dumpy.

How can you tell if your home needs paint?

"When the surface begins to fade and get 'chalky,' it's time to paint," said painting contractor David Dwyer of West Los Angeles. "You don't want to wait until the surface starts blistering off, since you'll be spending more time doing prep work."

High quality paints can carry a 10- to 15-year guarantee, but the paint alone is not the way to figure longevity of a paint job.

"The life of a paint job is going to depend on the quality of the paint, the type of surface being painted, the preparation of that surface and how exposed that surface is to the weather," Dwyer said.

"That's why you have to judge each house individually rather than rely on the guarantee on the can."

Here are some guidelines to consider if you're thinking of a having your house painted:

Color Choices

This can be the toughest part of the job. Do you keep your place yellow with white trim or do you try white with yellow trim? How about beige and forest green, with brown accents?

"I've seen a number of couples get close to divorce over what colors to paint their house," said house painter Ed Duran of Mission Viejo. "It's a hard decision to make sometimes, one you shouldn't rush into."

For residents of many planned communities, this isn't an issue. Community boards decide on what color choices you have. But for most homeowners, the rainbow's the limit.

One common color mistake is not matching colors with a home's architectural style. After seeing the brightly painted Victorian homes of San Francisco, it's natural to think that perhaps your single-story stucco tract home might look great when it's cream with three shades of blue as accents.

"Homes that have a lot of architectural details, like Victorians, can be painted with lots of vibrant, strong colors to make the house more interesting," said painting consultant Charlie Kaczorowski of Tustin.

"But here in Southern California, most of our homes aren't like that. If you paint your house pink with blue shutters, you might lose some friends in the neighborhood."

One factor to consider when choosing color is the style of your house. Ranch-style homes with low, sloping roof lines can look like they're sinking into the ground if they're painted a dark shade of green, blue or brown.

Brick facing on a home's exterior may add to its character, but it can also make it seem small. "If you paint the brick the same color as the stucco or in a slightly different shade, you can make it at least appear bigger," Duran said.

In some cases, homeowners select an appealing color combination but use it the wrong way.

"They might want to do the stucco or body of the house in a cream tone, then paint the trim green," Duran said. "But they paint the garage door with the trim color so that when you look at the house from the street, all you see is this big green door."

In the architecture of most houses, the focal point is the entryway. Try painting the front door with your trim paint, but use the more subtle body paint on the garage door. If the garage door is paneled or has some type of design, you may want to highlight the design with the trim color.

Some paint stores have computers available that let you see how a color combination works on a house similar to yours, but at best they can only give you an idea of what it's really going to be like.

What are the hot house colors right now? "We're seeing people choose contrasts that are very subtle," said Cathy Butterworth of Crest Paint & Wallpaper in Tujunga. "The variation between the body and trim color is slight. They're picking a uniform look. Lots of beiges, whites and grays."

"Paint always looks at least four times darker on the surface you'll be painting, compared to a paint sample," Kaczorowski said. "Find a color you like on the sample, get a quart of it that's four times lighter, then try it on parts of the house.

"I knew a guy who painted his house a beautiful taupe, but at sunset it looked pink. Look at the areas you test paint at various times of the day, since the sun can cause it to look different."

Probably the best advice is to take a walk through the neighborhood looking for houses similar to your own that stand out. "Don't just look for the freshly painted ones; even the homes where the paint is crumbling off may have been done in a nice combination," Duran said.


Once your color is picked, you need to decide who is going to do the work. Do you get the ladders out and dust off the rollers or pick up the Yellow Pages and start getting estimates?

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