How to paint a room like an expert

Deirdre McQuillan

Oisin Butler ( has been painting and decorating houses for more than 20 years, mainly residential period properties around Leinster. He and his team specialise in painting furniture and kitchens and have built up a reputation for attention to detail. “I am really fussy,” he says. With spring cleaning on many people’s minds, here are some of his tips on how to paint a room, choose a colour and select the right paints for the job.

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1. Choosing a colour The most common mistake people make is not testing a sample colour on the wall, he says. Colour is affected by light and it changes in the morning and evening. He suggests picking a sample colour, remove a picture from the wall and paint the sample colour in the space behind it. “You don’t have to rush into it and this is a better way to test than pinning a piece of plain paper on the wall and then painting it. Paper on the wall will not give the true reflection of the paint,” he says.

2. Preparation The second mistake people make is not preparing properly. “Our mantra as painters is ‘proper preparation prevents poor painting performance’”. Bathrooms and kitchens are usually the greasy areas – wherever your hands go will be dirty, even if it is just a knob. Another mistake is using cheap tools with good paint. “You need good quality brushes and rollers. I recommend Purdy brushes and Hamilton rollers. Brush Mate is useful for storing brushes that have been in solvent/oil based paints.”

3. Starting out

Where to start painting a room? Start at the top and work your way down. You need to prepare the area – moving furniture out of the way, covering floors and anything you can’t move. “It means you can move around more quickly”, he explains.

Step one: prepare the surface. If it is a wall make sure to clean it and give it a good rub down with sandpaper.

Step two: Start painting the ceiling using a brush to cut in edges in areas too tight for rollers, creating a line. You paint the top of the wall for about one inch, then paint back up with the wall colour in nice straight lines.

Step three: always start where the windows are and work back when painting a ceiling. Use a ladder for cutting in, but a roller on a pole to paint.

Step four: How many coats? Start with an undercoat and first coat on walls and woodwork. Finish the wall and woodwork (you might want to fill in holes). Paint as many coats as needed. Usually at least two full coats or a third if necessary.

4. Choosing a paint brand

In Butler’s experience, one of the best paint brands in the country if not in Europe, is Colortrend based in Kildare. “When you have more acrylic in the paint, it is more durable for walls. For ceilings you want a chalky paint. Some of the more expensive brands are expensive because they are imported. Colortrend is made in Ireland and though it is expensive too, you get what you pay for.” He cautions against using cheap paints “because it will take more coats. Some colours are low hide – red is a colour that just doesn’t cover – it’s a hard colour like some yellows and greens. I have painted eight coats of red for a front door. If you are north facing you can go with any colour you like, but if south facing, the stronger the colour the more sun will heat up the door and the paint will eventually crack.”

5. How to make a room look bigger? Use off-white and if you want to add height, consider painting the skirting boards and walls in the same colour.

6. Trends in colour

“Grey has become the new magnolia. People who don’t have a clue tend to go for grey. It is now so common – before it was new and cool and interesting, but now it is everywhere. You have to be careful with clashing colour so neutrals are the safest bet – off-whites, light shades. Tones or different shades of the same colour always look well and you can’t go wrong.”

7. Selling a house? “If you are selling a house, I usually advise people to paint everything white and off-white. It enlarges the feeling of space in a property whereas dark colours close in and reduce it. Keep one colour throughout using satinwood on woodwork which is more forgiving.

8. Costs On average you need five litres of paint for walls (around €60), five litres for ceilings and one litre for woodwork, so in total the cost of paint would be around €120 depending on the brand you use. A good paint will cover well, a cheaper one will take more coats.

9. Spray painting

Probably best left to experts, but its the best way of painting cornices and detailed plasterwork. Butler recommends the HVLP machine for smaller jobs and emphasises proper preparation. He uses a chemical called Peel Away which is pasted on and then peeled off for plasterwork.


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