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How to Paint a Room Like a Pro

Just about anyone who’s handy can paint, but are the results up to snuff?

Here’s how to take your painting skills to the next level

After getting married and buying a home last year, Rebecca Brown figured her high-school summers painting houses would make her new DIY project a piece of cake. She finished some ceilings, but a few days—and a whole lot of blue tape—later, she realized that she needed help with the walls. “Back when I was painting, we used off-white on everything,” Rebecca says. “I had no experience choosing or working with different colors and sheens.” So she wrote to Ask This Old House. That’s how Mauro Henrique, who has been the painting contractor on about a dozen This Old House TV projects, ended up at her house, coaching her through the steps of refreshing her dining room.

Henrique and Rebecca went over everything that needs to happen before painting starts, including how to pick the right sheen, and the best way to mask window glass. Then he showed her some nifty tricks of the trade for brushing and rolling that help the work go faster, look better, and last longer. Coming up on the following pages: Henrique demonstrates what goes into a first-class paint job.

Mauro Henrique was working on a construction crew, hoping to become a carpenter, when one day in 1991 the painter didn’t show up. “The contractor looked at me and said, ‘Can you paint?’ I shrugged, picked up a brush—and found my trade.” For Henrique, the big appeal of painting is how fast he and his crew can transform a client’s house. “I get to make people happy every day.”

Shown: Painting contractor Mauro Henrique uses a brush to apply color to window trim in a room which also served as a classroom for him to teach proper prep and application techniques on a recent Ask TOH TV episode.


Learn the Proper Sequence

Save time by working in a logical sequence

What to look for when buying paint

Go top-of-the-line: Regardless of what paint brand you buy, Henrique says to choose the most expensive product in the line. That adds a few dollars per gallon, but better paint makes the job easier, yields better-looking results, and creates a longer-lasting finish.

Get the right sheen: A coating’s ability to reflect light ranges from high gloss, the shiniest and most washable, to flat or matte, which has no luster and is tough to clean. High gloss is unforgiving to apply—every brushstroke is visible—so Henrique uses semigloss for trim, windows, and doors. Satin has a bit less luster and plenty of durability, making it a great choice for cabinetry. Low-sheen eggshell is Henrique’s pick for walls. Flats and mattes, while great at hiding imperfections, are more easily stained, scratched, and dinged; they’re best on ceilings.

Check the VOCs: The volatile organic compounds in paint can cause headaches and respiratory irritation, and are known carcinogens. Paints off-gas most during application, and continue off-gassing for weeks afterward. That’s why Henrique prefers paints with zero or low VOCs—50 grams per liter or less.

Primer/Paint: “The whole industry is shifting to combination primer and paint,” says Mauro. “That’s a good thing, since a lot of people skip the primer, and the combination is better than nothing.” Still, for an unfinished or problem surface, he always uses a stand-alone primer. And if he’ll be using a dark paint, he tints the primer with about 80% of the paint color to ensure that two topcoats will do the job.


Prep: Take Off Hardware

Remove and set aside window hardware, door strikes, electrical cover plates, and light fixtures. As each piece comes off, Henrique tapes on its screws, writes its location on the tape, and puts everything in a bucket in the same room.


Prep: Protect Floors, and Sand

Apply painter’s tape to the floor alongside the baseboard, then tape sheets of rosin paper to this strip. Cover the paper with drop cloths. To ensure good paint adhesion, lightly scuff-sand the trim and windows with 220-grit paper. Remove the dust with a HEPA vacuum, then a damp rag. Do not sand paint that’s more than 40 years old without first testing it for lead.


Painting Windows: Guard the Glass

Using a 2-inch flat (square-tipped) trim brush, apply two coats of glass-masking liquid. This takes less time than tape and forms a clear, no-bleed barrier. If a little liquid gets on the sash, just wait for it to dry and paint over it.

Brushes and masking liquid are available for purchases at The Home Depot


Painting Windows: Top Sash

Open the sash slightly and paint the edges next to the glass with a 1½-inch angled sash brush. Don’t touch the lower rail yet. Now coat the sash’s top and side faces. A taping knife, shown, keeps paint off jambs and window trim.


Painting Windows: Bottom Sash

As in Step 5, open the sash slightly and paint the inside edges, then the sash face. Now raise it fully and lower the top sash. Paint its bottom rail and any missed parts. Leave both sashes open for at least 90 minutes so the paint can dry.


Painting Trim: Caulk Seams and Corners

The fewer open seams there are, the better your wall will look. Cut a caulk tube close to the tip to get a small bead. Squeeze the caulk-gun trigger just enough to maintain a continuous flow of sealant as you pull the tip over the seam. Smooth the bead with a finger wrapped in a damp rag.


Painting Trim: Fill Defects

Using a light held at a low angle to the surface, look for dings and small holes. Fill them with two coats of water-based wood filler applied with a flexible putty knife. After each coat dries, smooth with 220-grit sandpaper. Fill large, deep holes with a fast-setting, two-part wood filler, and sand before painting.

Wood fillers are available at The Home Depot


Painting Trim: Brush the Trim