Taking On a Home Improvement Project Myself

I started a self-directed home project yesterday: painting the living room. I didn’t tell Ben that this was my intention, and I set out to plan the project, buy the supplies, set up, and get it done. This is risky because I didn’t get his input on colors; however, I know he hated the “before” look, so I was confident that the “after” wouldn’t be a step backwards.

Ben and I have not made one design or elective internal change to the home since we purchased it several years ago. While it’s true that we haven’t actually inhabited the house all that long because we rented it out for two years, it’s not that we haven’t had “time.” Mostly, it’s a matter of finances; it costs a lot to redecorate and update things and we simply have very, very little income at our disposal for non-necessities. The bit we do, we either save or allocate to another preferred elective outlet (better food, the D.C. trip, puzzles, etc.).

The interior of our house is like a step back in time to 1970. Nearly all the walls are draped in gaudy wallpaper, which is now wrinkling and fading with age, and wall-to-wall carpeting in hideous colors like bright red, olive green, and a muddy blue color.

The room I decided to paint is the one we hang out in 90% of our waking hours at home and one of the few that’s devoid of wallpaper and actually painted. It’s so ugly, however, that one’s gut instinct is that it must be wallpaper because it’s incomprehensible why someone would have chosen to paint it that way. The walls are painted with a tan-colored background with overlapping broad swipes of dark brown and maroon. It looks like a baby smeared her soiled diaper all over the wall. Added to this eyesore is the fake wood paneling, called wainscoting, that covers the lower half of the wall around the entire perimeter of the room. It looks tacky and has the effect of shrinking the room, making the walls feel like they are closing in on the space. I’m not going to do anything about the wainscoting, but I am going to cover up the paint that’s there.


I am the first to admit that I have zero design sense. Whether choosing clothes that flatter a figure or just go well together or decorating a room, I’m completely blind to what looks good. I have my own opinions about what is ugly and what looks nice (as evidenced by my repulsion to the walls in the room), but they are often different than what can be considered the general consensus, though I think in the case of this room, it’s safe to say that the odd one out was whoever painted it in the first place. Although I have a rather strong opinion about the aesthetics of our living room, it’s much more typical for me to feel neutral, apathetic, or straddle both sides of the fence and waver back and forth. This ambivalence adds to the difficulty of deciding what looks good; in short, I can rarely tell and don’t seem to care anyway.

I also lack any iota of ability to envision how something will look without having previously seen it in real life. Even looking at photographs or a video does nothing to formulate a mental picture of what a potential outfit, decoration, color scheme, etc. will look like when it comes to fruition. I used to think this struggle was confined just to my inability to visualize my body with an outfit; so, for example, if a mannequin is donning certain attire, I cannot fathom what that same clothing (in my size) would look on me. It could be rationalized that because I’m so short, it’s not that shocking that I have zero ability to translate what a sickly thin and tall fake lady is wearing to my short, boxy frame. However, this problem carries over to all facets of appearance, beyond clothing (which, even when a family member who has a similar body shape and size to me gives me a hand-me-down, I still cannot picture how it will look on me) to things like wall colors and decorations. Therefore, I had no clue about what color paint would be ideal for the living room. Because we are poor, our furniture and other belongings are truly a mishmash of styles, colors, and types, as most items have been passed down to us or purchased second-hand at tags sales. Thus, there’s no unifying color scheme or decor style of what fills our room; it’s a total hodgepodge. That fact, coupled with the dark fake wooden paneling makes for a real design challenge for even the most skilled interior decorator. Perhaps the previous owners painted this ugly smear design because nothing would look good anyway so they figured it was best to just embrace the ugly and play it up!

Because I was clueless about what color to choose, I opted to take a few photos and rely on the guidance of the paint department specialist at the hardware store. From all the hundreds of color swatches on the display there, my options were rapidly pared way down to just a few anyway since I was only going to purchase mistinted paint, which is paint that previous buyers have returned because the color turned out differently than they expected. On this shelf, there were only a few colors in a sufficient quantity to cover the room based on my calculations, so I asked the paint specialist to weigh in. After she looked at my photos she agreed that it was hideous beyond reproach. I told her I didn’t have any money to spend on good paint, but that I wanted her opinion on the sale paints. At $7/gallon, these were tints were workable for my limited budget. She helped me pick one and upon my request for her “honest opinion” about the color choice being just the best of bad options or actually a good fit, she reported that the sort of minty green or gray-blue we selected was actually about what she would recommend from all available hues, even if I didn’t need to purchase the returned cans. Good luck was upon me then I guess.

I purchased my supplies and headed home. I only had a limited amount of time to devote to the project yesterday because I had work assignments to complete and other obligations. It seems that the lion’s share of work for a painting project comes in the preparation stage anyway. I had to vacuum and then sponge wash the walls. There are three big windows, two doors, and the lip of the wainscoting all around the room that needed the painter’s tape. I was going to tape the ceiling as well, but upon further inspection, I discarded this idea because the current paint job was so shoddily applied that there’s all sorts of the tan paint bleeding over the top of the wall onto the white ceiling. Hopefully, I’ll do a better job than that!

Ben was indeed surprised at my secret project. It was far from done when he saw it at night, but I think he liked it. Today, I will try to finish. I have to be very careful and go slow because it involves a lot of up and down on the step ladder because I’m so short! It feels good to beautify the home; it feels like we are making it our own.

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