How to Make Painting Easier

Professional painter George Coffey and his wife share the ins and outs to ease

There’s no easier (or less expensive) way to spiff up your house than by applying a fresh coat of paint. It certainly seems easy—until you have to make all those decisions about colors, brands, and finishes. 

George Coffey has been a professional painter for 30 years and, with his wife and business partner, Kathleen, has painted every type of Westchester home, from cozy capes to majestic mansions. Here he shares some advice on how to make painting as easy as pie. 

Do paint brands really matter and, if so, which brand is best?
Yes, it does. Benjamin Moore is the best—it covers well so you don’t have to use so many coats, it offers more colors, and, from a painter’s point of view, they have great reps who will answer any questions and even come to a job site if necessary. I use BM’s Aura or Regal Select for both interior and exterior jobs. Aura is expensive (about TK per gallon, versus TK for Regal Select), but it covers great, dries fast, has very rich colors, and is environmentally friendly. Though it costs more, you use less paint, so it kind of evens out. It’s especially good with rich colors—there is more pigment.

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How do you choose the right interior paint finish?
If you’re in an older house and you have kids, or if you just want washability and a finish that hides imperfections, go for a matte finish. It has a low sheen and it hides well, so, unless you have brand-new perfect walls, it’s usually the best option. If you’re really on a tight budget, flat is a little cheaper than matte, but it’s really not washable. I use flat only on ceilings; matte has a little sheen, so it’s too much reflection on the ceiling.

What’s the best way to choose colors?
Some brands, like Benjamin Moore, have little sample bottles, which are better than chips. You should make sure that you see the paint on the wall where it’s going to be used. Put fabric swatches next to it, or the carpet, drapes—whatever is going to be in that room. Also, paint looks different in different light; look at the paint with sunlight, with clouds, with lamps or ambient lighting.

Do you recommend customizing colors, or should you just buy “off the rack?”
There are very few standard colors anymore; they usually are mixed at the store. It’s a good idea to buy all the paint you’re using for a project at the same time because, even with computerized mixing, there can be a tiny little difference, and it will show on the walls. Even something like Atrium White—if you need two gallons, buy them at the same time. 

What projects are okay for DIYers and which should you leave to the pros?
Unless there’s a lot of prep work, you can do most interior jobs yourself—all you need is the paint, a couple of brushes, rollers, maybe a pole, and drop cloths. For exteriors, unless you’re experienced, you probably should hire a pro. You’re on the roof, on the ladder, you need more equipment—you can damage the house if you sand it incorrectly. Plus, for older homes, there’s a specific protocol you have to follow when working with lead paint, so leave that to the experts. 

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