Our theme for the month of February is “color.”

On January 11, Kendra and I moved into a house that we purchased. People talk about making a place your own when you move. There is no more obvious way to do this than painting—you are literally covering the past resident’s vision of home with your own. 

There are many guides to homeowning or homemaking that speak to the actionable—the fixing, stitching, cleaning, even building. But painting is emotional work too. It’s a frustratingly slow and annoyingly metaphorical process for which there is no guide.

So if you purchase or rent a long-term home that you intend to do some painting in, this is perhaps what the process will look and feel like:

One coat.

The rooms you are painting are all on the upper floor, which is where all of the home’s bedrooms are. These rooms are all solidly colored in a warm palette—red, beige and olive green—that remind you of the living rooms in the early to mid-2000s. You think these colors once communicated a coziness that, mixed with plush furniture, invited people to sink into a room. Rooms like this offer enough stimulation that your brain doesn’t focus on any one thing in particular, but not too much stimulation that you react against it. You sort of just hit a middle-zone between attention and opposition and your brain turns off. 

These colors do not communicate coziness to you or your partner—or rather, the volume and stimulation they speak with feels more like coercion than invitation. And they certainly aren’t communicating the same things as the furniture you are bringing into the house, so you chose to cover them up. You discuss your vision for the rooms, you go to the paint store seeking a matte, pure white paint and end up selecting Benjamin Moore Chantilly Lace (OC-65). You purchase four gallons. 

Covering up bold colors with stark white is a difficult process. On the first coat, even though you also applied a primer, the old colors are only slightly muted by the light, frail layer of your new life. 

Seeing the former owners’ preferred color palette overwhelm your fledgling new vision, paired with the slow pace of painting a wall, is a process that begs you to reflect on the lives previously lived in this home. You are trying to claim a space that was intentionally constructed by someone else for other purposes that refuse to be forgotten. As the reds and the beiges and the olive greens bleed through, you have to ask, what did they see in this? Why red? And why this red? You remember that these were all bedrooms, and two of them were for kids and you remember the storybook scenery stitched on the comforters and the brightly colored toys that were hastily organized in the corner when you toured this place for the first time. You remember thinking that there’s enough evidence of mischief here to betray the order—a parent instructed those toys to be put in the corner while potential buyers walk through, but this room is normally for play. This is a house, not real estate. 

So perhaps that’s what the loud colors and stimulation were designed for—this was to be a place of imagination and of discovery. Somebody—somebodies—learned how to wonder here. Sometimes it’s best to start with a little color for inspiration rather than a purely blank canvas. 

Two coats.

After the first coat dries, you’re eager to start a second so that you don’t have to experience two colors talking over each other anymore. You’re ready for the rooms to look like anything at all again. The second coat still struggles to mute the old colors, but brings enough of the Chantilly Lace out that you remember why you chose it in the first place. 

But still, the process screams “transition.” You begin to think about the weight of the decision you have made in moving here. You think about the apartment you are leaving and the comfort it provided, both in its well-distributed space and its promise of being temporary. It’s easier to not worry about the future when the place that you’re living in will almost surely not extend very far into it. You think about the responsibilities of home ownership and long-term living—the maintenance of the home’s structural health and the call to be a good, actual, lasting neighbor. You think of how best to be a steward of the expansion of space available to you. You think about the cultural values and ecological harm intertwined with home ownership and you thank God your yard is not big. You also think about the job prospect you learned about the same week you are moving, but not too hard because you only have capacity for one major life change at this particular moment.

Three coats.

Your vision is coming into focus.

The former owners had kids and you do not, so one of these bedrooms will be an office. Both you and your partner work from home on occasion and have enough side work and passion projects that there needs to be a place that feels productive as much as comfortable. The Chantilly Lace will help with this. The solid black, glass-top desk that you’re bringing into the room will look very sturdy and elegant fixed in the corner against the flat neutrality of OC-65. The white will reflect, enhance, and emphasize the natural light the room receives, combating the low moods during dregs of winter and complementing the brightness of summer, which                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      is also a helpful utility for a house built in 1905 with minimal focus on electric lighting. You are excited for how the rich green of your peace lily will thrive in this setting. 

The other two rooms you are painting will be used as bedrooms—the big one, obviously, will be the master bedroom and the medium-sized one will be a guest bedroom. The light oak wood floor and the danish-style furniture you and your partner like for your own bedroom will be perfectly suited by the white interior walls that receive sunlight from the east-facing windows. The midnight-blue accent wall will offer just enough contrast to keep the white from swallowing these features. This bedroom will be comfortable, bright and serene—it will practically dance in the sunlight. The guest bedroom will function similarly, but the dark iron-rod bed frame you purchased will feel solid and definitive against the bright white. It will be a room that feels hospitable, but temporary—your guests will feel like they are somewhere else but will be comfortable.

Four coats, five coats, six-ish and maybe even seven-ish coats depending on the section of wall.

Somewhere between coats two and three you realize that four gallons and the anticipated three coats will not be nearly enough to snuff out the old colors. The employee at the paint store will tell you that paint gets its coverage from pigment and the particular paint that you chose has almost no pigment at all. So you put more paint on. And more. And more. These extra coats are devoid of all romance. You have been painting for many too many hours, spread over too many days. You are done reflecting on the past, the present and the future. You are ready to just live here. 

Eventually, finally, you do.

3 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Your house must be much smaller now. We could have. Helped if you had asked. Loved your musings. Grandma k

    Reply
    • Avatar

      Thanks goodness you didn’t have to deal with wallpaper removal. That would have prompted a whole different set of metaphorical musings, perhaps deeply tinged with resentment of previous owners.

      Reply
  2. Kyric Koning

    A nice, homey post, with a surprising amount of rumination, especially given the context. Do people really put that much thought into their living space? Different strokes, different appreciations, I guess.

    Reply

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