Painting—The Gateway to DIY: The 12-Year Kitchen

shrouded kitchen

This ghostly shroud took almost an hour to tape carefully into place—and I did it three times! But I didn't want to take any chances of spattering paint from the roller onto my beautiful new cabinets.

I can’t remember when I first painted a room, but I was pretty young. Finding out that I was capable of improving my surroundings, and realizing how gratifying that is for me, was probably my entryway into a lifetime of home improvement. I’m guessing I’m not alone here—painting is a relatively easy task for the do-it-yourselfer, and I’ll bet a lot more of us try our hands at painting than, say, rewiring or plumbing!

That’s not to say it’s a snap—there’s a reason why there are professional painters, and it’s not just because it’s hard work. Doing a passable DIY job is one thing, but there’s nothing like a professionally painted room, with its perfect edges and corners, and without lumps, bumps,  and color shifts.

There were three reasons why our top-of-the-line kitchen remodel included a DIY paint job. The first was the expense—we’d gone considerably over our original budget during this long project, and the thought of writing out yet another big check to a painter was a little daunting. The second was that the job was taking so much longer than planned that I wanted to get a jump on things—I just couldn’t bear the thought of the contractor finishing up and then facing another month of painting. The third was that the painting really had to begin before the contractor was finished (although I suspect he might disagree with that).

That was because we wanted at least some of the walls primed before the cabinets and appliances went in; the ceiling was a lot easier to paint before the crown molding went up; and  the powder room is so small I wanted to get at least the first coat on before  the toilet and sink went in (besides, I knew once  those were installed I’d never be able to paint the walls behind them). It’s hard to imagine how I’d have gotten a painter to work on my schedule (“come quick, tonight – the compound is dry!”) and in such little bursts. So before you knew it, I’d become the painter.

Let me tell you, it’s hard. Anyone who’s ever painted anything will tell you it’s all about the preparation—moving the furniture, protecting the floors, cleaning and patching the surfaces to be painted. Triple that effort for new construction. Even though there’s no furniture  to move out of the way, there are expensive new cabinets to drape in plastic, a new oak floor to be covered in kraft paper, and lots and lots (and did I mention lots?) of nail holes to be filled. And with all new surfaces to be coated, there’s a lot of sanding  to get everything smooth enough to paint—newly compounded drywall and raw wood door and window casings take a lot of prep time.

One of the biggest challenges was the dance—the daily tango of my painting around ongoing construction. I would lay on a coat of primer, then Keith would take a pencil to it to mark studs, electrical lines, and pipes. I did a first top coat, which the plumbers bumped and bruised installing the radiators. All necessary, and all still worth it to have a jump on things, but frustrating nonetheless—for all of us. I primed the baseboard, but we need to wait for the final polyurethane pass on the floor before I top coat that, since we’re sure to get some spatter.

The one paint job I thought I could actually complete during construction was the ceiling. But after three passes at it (primer and two top coats), I ended up with dirty handprints around all the fixtures the electrician installed after I was “finished.” This one hurt the most, since I’ve always hated everything about painting ceilings, from the awkward posture to the guaranteed missed spots. Lesson learned: it ain’t (really) over until the construction is over.

The painted kitchen

We're not 100 percent finished, but we're pretty close. The color is Benjamin Moore's "rich cream."

We’re closing in on eight months now on this project, and it’s possible—finally, actually possible—that the final pass on the floor will mark the official end point this week.  Another few days of painting and we’ll be done!

Next: Floored, at the 11th Hour

For more on painting and kitchen remodeling, check out the following Bob Vila articles and videos:

How to: Paint a Room

Planning Your Dream Kitchen

Quick Tip: Budget Kitchen Remodeling