Home improvement

Opinion: Columns

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By Alan Brouilette

I've always been a pretty devoted renter. I don't know anyone who's bought a house or a condo that's spoken warmly of the experience past the first few days. They unpack, they talk about how expensive it is to furnish a house, and then things start needing to be repaired or replaced.

"We were so pleased with the house until the first time it rained, and the water cascaded down the back steps and straight into the basement. I turned on the sump pump and it shorted out the whole house. Our insurance denied us coverage because the cat box was there and the basement isn't zoned as a livestock pen so we were in violation. Fixing everything was $8200 and that's why we aren't free to go out again this year. Thanks for asking though."

Somewhere down the road, though, perhaps I will become convinced that buying a place to live isn't entirely for suckers, and in preparation for that day I have begun treating the current abode as a practice range. It started with painting.

Some months ago when we were all sheltering in place – remember that? – I decided that if I was going to be looking at the same four rooms for the vast majority of the following eighteen months, I should probably paint them. We chose four colors: Desert Twilight, Imperial Purple, Milk Chocolate, and Aqua Gray. Bold colors, and all considerable upgrades on the incumbent color, Horse's Teeth. I bought a pan and some rollers and an oddly angular foam-on-a-stick thing for edging and got to work. 

Painting the great majority of a wall's total surface area is great fun in theory. You get to make big progress fast with the roller.

In reality, everything about painting walls is a tremendous pain in the ass. The window to have just enough paint on the roller is impossibly small, for example. You can either have so much that the floor winds up speckled and the first smear of every roller drips like mascara at a funeral, or so little that you are dipping the roller for every pass. 

The colors don't look the same under home lighting as they do in the store, which I knew, but how radically different is another story. They also look different wet, which means all the labor is of necessity a leap of faith.

The foam-on-a-stick thing was worse than useless. It got my hopes up that the process would be neat, and then dashed them by being basically no different than a piece of shoebox or shirt cardboard dipped in paint and smeared everywhere. I wish Menard's had labeled it more honestly as the dribble-glass or squirting boutonniere it is. "LAFF RIOT! LOOKS LIKE A REAL PAINTING TOOL but is secretly PAINT RESISTANT! Fool your friends!  HILARIOUS FOR PARTIES!"

Bad edges draw the eye like a garish pocket square with a dark suit. I cannot un-see drops that look like I made them with a sewing needle. Not that I need to squint to see the smears; the sewing-needle ones are many in number but dwarfed by a few that look like I made them with a paintball gun.

And molding … I understand molding is there to prevent the wind whistling through shoddy English carpentry five hundred years ago, but walls seal pretty neatly now, and whatever aesthetic value we've been trained to find pleasing isn't remotely worth what one goes through trying to paint it. Haven't we advanced as a people? If I absolutely must have a little decorative flourish where my walls meet my ceiling, I should be able to pre-order it in set colors like a plastic door-guard on a car. The permanent kind may have spawned from an insulative tradition, but it exists now only to memorialize the errors made when your home improvement store sells you a jolly prank disguised as a useful tool.

Pay for painting. What's a little more debt? You've already shelled out for a house. Time to adjust your views. As Dr. Thompson says, the trick is to learn to enjoy losing.

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