Painting Is Now an Elaborate Cover-Up


Long, long ago, before home decorating shows and mega-hardware stores, homeowners painted the interiors of their homes with paintbrushes and rollers.

Back and forth, up and down, along the edges until the walls were covered.

The alternative was wallpaper.

Then the world of home improvement blossomed. Do-it-yourself programs started showing up on television. Stores popped up offering everything imaginable--and some things unimaginable--for making home improvements.


Suddenly, homeowners became creative, products became available and a new era in painting was born.

These days the one-color, two-coat paint job has given way to decorative painting--with rags, combs, sponges and anything that creates a repetitive wall design.

Phil Quinn, assistant manager of Sherwin-Williams Co., has seen interest emerge through his customers, who have questions about techniques they have seen on television.

The trend started with sponge painting, where a sponge is literally dabbed all over the wall to create a mottled effect. Its popularity led the way for a variety of other techniques: dragging, combing, masking, marbling, color washing, stamping, smooshing, crosshatching, thatching. There are even paint rollers with designs built into the roll.


Stores and home-improvement shows illustrate some methods, but “the technique is only limited to your imagination,” said David H. Hamberger II, owner of Fine Finishing and Decorating.

Genny Burg, manager of the paint department at Hechinger’s, said one customer painted her walls white, then handed her kids squirt guns loaded with yellow paint and allowed their creativity to finish off the room.

Wanda Ruffin, store manager at Duron Paints and Wallcovering, decided to sponge the walls in her laundry room. She liked the result, so she rag-rolled her kitchen walls. With rag-rolling, as with some of the other techniques, the wall is painted with a base coat. A second coat of paint, diluted with water or glaze, goes over the base.

Glazes, which are clear and can be mixed with any paint color, are easier to work with than paint because they dry slowly, said Tom Williamson, “paint pro” at Lowe’s. Glazes also are translucent, so they allow the base coat to show through, even though the glaze may be the same color as the base.

While the glaze is still wet, a clean rag is rolled up the wall in vertical lines, each just overlapping the previous one. Rag-rolling leaves behind a repeating pattern of wavy lines, although the effect varies depending on the type of rag used. Everyday household rags can be used, if they don’t leave behind lint, although paint stores sell rags designed for ragging and rag-rolling.

Ruffin was thrilled with the result, adding, “It’s work. And hard on your shoulders going up and down.”

Decorative painting is cheap and unique: Each color blend is an original that the painter can match with the room’s decor. And it’s less expensive than wallpaper.

The average price for wallpaper is $13 for a single roll. An average bedroom takes about 16 rolls. That’s about $200. A gallon of good eggshell latex paint is $20, said Karen Yost of Professional Paints and Wallcoverings.


Of course, the cost rises with the purchase of tools, rags and primers. And, as with any do-it-yourself project, there are pitfalls. Entire weekends have been ruined with projects that have gone awry.

Here are some tips:

* Keep it simple: Professionals combine multiple colors and multiple techniques. But beginners should stick with one or two colors and one technique.

* Practice makes perfect: Try the technique on a piece of board before beginning, and when you start the technique in the room, do it behind a couch or door.

* Think the job through first: Continuity is important and tough to maintain in a big room. If it seems like a big job, start with a small room first.

Some might wonder why anyone would add a new step to the process of painting. Painting is hard enough without having to roll a rag up the wall or drag a comb over a perfectly good coat of paint.

Burg understands the obsession: “It’s something you can do yourself and look back and say, ‘I did this.”’

Just don’t look behind the couch.