The Home Guru: Concealing Sins, Comparing Paints, And Starting Fresh

There is no better way to conceal sins of the past in any room than applying a good coat of quality paint. It was a big fat lie that taught this lesson to The Home Guru in his first apartment.

Who can know when and where you will learn something new about home improvement? Before all the HGTV shows, what set the stage for my first lesson was a big fat lie.

I had just moved off campus illegally as a sophomore at The College of William and Mary in Virginia, a rather conservative school at the time that required, through some sort of archaic code, that only seniors could live off campus.

Finding early on that dorm life was not for me, I broke through that code by lying to the Dean of Men, telling him that my widowed mother was moving to town so that we could live together as a family. I remember that he put his hand on my shoulder and commended me for being such a dutiful son.

My mother knew nothing of my ruse. I told her I was moving off campus for the privacy I needed to study harder. All this was conceived before the movie “Ferris Beuller’s Day Off” could be used as a model, and it worked. However, I have since cleaned up my act and don’t lie anymore.

What I had to clean up at that time was the warren of a one-bedroom apartment I found to call home. It was in a walk-out basement of a 1920s home on a hidden side street and perfect for the questionable goings-on of youth. My one problem was that the tenants before me must have had an even more sophisticated scheme for fun living and left the place much like the setting for “Animal House.” 

The walls were a murky color that may originally have been a pale blue, but were now covered with the grime of hand smudges, greasy cooking and splatters here and there with evidence of food, beer spray and God knows what else. 

I asked a friend of mine, an art major, whether I shouldn’t wash the walls down from all that grime before attempting to paint them. He assured me that paint was a great sanitizer and that I didn’t have to do any advance cleaning.

Because my apartment was dark, I brought in the sun with a bright marigold tone I found at the paint store among a far lesser supply of paint chips than you find today. As I lapped the paint from the roller, I found that it was very easy to work with, went on as smooth as silk and, indeed, it covered most of the grime and stains in the first coat, sticking where it was applied, and by the second coat, it was a beautiful, impermeable service.

What I didn’t know then that we all found out some years later was that this great performing product, lead-based paint, was a poison that killed people, either by skin absorption, respiration or, in the case of children, by ingestion.

The federal government banned the use of lead-based paint in 1978, but it can still be a danger in older houses, which is why real estate agents must confirm the understanding of buyers and sellers of the potential of its presence in homes built before that time.

For some years after 1978, I didn’t enjoy painting as much. The water-based paints didn’t seem to lay out on the wall nor cover as well and definitely were not as durable. Perhaps it was a combination of my choosing less expensive paints or it could have been that improvements needed to be made by the paint companies.

Today, latex can vary widely in quality by the type of resin used, and buyers should ask about it at their paint store. Acrylic is best, followed by vinyl acrylic, but all vinyl is not as good.

I must confess that I find latex much easier to work with today. It doesn’t require a wet edge, so the painter can stop mid wall and start later without seeing any line.  It dries fast, and best of all, wet paint can be cleaned with soap and water. But I have used it only for wall surfaces and ceilings.

For trim and doors, I use only alkyds or oil based paints because they are more durable when they dry. Clean up, though, can be bothersome, requiring mineral spirits. I’m embarrassed to admit that sometimes I just throw out the brush or roller rather than attempting to clean them.

Another admission: for some years, I’ve been relying on painting professionals like Alain Rossignol (914-673-6146) and Joe Pascarelli (914-330-3889) to do the work needed in a much more polished fashion than I ever could do. 

However, I’m getting a hankering again for the pleasure of revitalization with paint on my own, maybe just a small job, like a bathroom or just the trim in another room. That should do the trick of relieving that old pleasurable itch I developed years ago in my first pad.

Bill Primavera is a licensed Realtor® affiliated with Coldwell Banker who writes regularly as The Home Guru. Visit his website at: www.PrimaveraRealEstate.com and, if you would like to consult with him about buying or selling a home, contact him directly at 914-522-2076.

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