How to paint a room – everything you need to know

There’s nothing like a lick of paint to transform and update a room, adding personality, freshness and completely changing the feel of a space. Painting your own wall is simple enough, but it takes skill, time and patience if you want to get it just right, and create beautiful, long-lasting colours. Preparation is vital. Before you even get the paint open, there’s a lot to be getting on with, from selecting the type of paint you need and the shade and colour, to prepping the surface, and mastering rollers.

How to paint a room - from preparation to what to paint first

1. Assess the type of paint you need, ensuring it’s appropriate for the room you’re decorating; gloss, eggshells and satins have a shine to them and work well for areas that get wet or which may need to be wiped, such as kitchens and bathrooms, while matt and chalky finishes fit into low-impact areas such as bedroom and living rooms.

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2. Now choose the colour. Start with whether you want a neutral or bolder tone, a warm or cool shade, and bear in mind existing colours in the space. This is where paint tester pots and sample cards come in. ‘To save painting straight onto the wall, try painting pieces of card which can easily be moved’ advises Cathryn Sanders, Head of Creative at Earthborn. Take time over this and see how different light affects them, how they look at different times of day and how they feel in the space. ‘If you’re opting for a strong colour scheme and are having difficulty visualising the new tone, painting the room white before could help – or try the Benjamin Moore Colour Portfolio photo visualiser app to see how colours will look’ says Helen Shaw, Benjamin Moore UK Director.

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3. Once the choices are made it’s on to the practicalities. Measure the wall to work out how much paint you’ll need – the brand you’re using should provide an estimation of coverage, and some offer online calculators. If you’re painting a wall that hasn’t been painted before, or going over a dark colour, you’ll also need a primer.

4. Gather your paint and tools, remove objects from the room or push the into the centre, and cover the floor and objects with dust sheets. Now is the time to change into your ok-to-get-messy outfit. Examine the surface you’re painting – does it have any holes, or cracks that need fixing? Repair them with filler, and allow to dry. Also remove any old flaking paint and sand down uneven areas.

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5. Using a damp sponge and sugar soap (or diluted washing up liquid) wash the surface well and allow it to dry. Next, use masking tape to cover sockets and switches, skirting board edges, and any areas you don’t want to paint.

6. This is where you open the paint tins (use the flat edge of a hammer or screwdriver to prise it open if it’s stiff). If you’re using more than one tin, mix the contents together in a paint bucket to ensure the colour will be perfectly consistent.

7. Now it’s time to paint. ‘Always paint your ceiling first and make sure it is dry before you start on the walls’ says Joa Studholme, Farrow & Ball Colour Curator.

8. When the ceiling is done, ‘cut in’ the walls at the edges first, painting a crisp line around the to-be-painted area to create a border. This is a delicate skill, so take time over it; ‘You will need a very steady hand and a good brush with a tapered bristle or a slanted end to help you to get that clean line – you may prefer to use masking tape which should be applied to the ceiling and pressed down firmly,’ continues Joa Studholme. ‘Paint at least 20cms down the wall so when you come to roller you don’t hit the ceiling.’

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9. When the cutting in is done – which may take a while – it’s time for the rollers to come out; try to start rolling while the cut in paint is still wet, so the two blend smoothly. Wash your roller (to remove any fuzz), and load it with paint sparingly, using a roller tray to evenly cover it. Push the roller over the wall backwards and forwards, moving slowly to reduce spray. Cover the wall in patches, painting areas next to each other so they blend smoothly and going over the cut in frame. Leave the first coat to dry, repeat the rolling for the second coat, remove any tape, and voila! Your room is transformed.

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How to paint a room – your questions answered

How to prep a wall or room before painting

‘Hoover well and make sure that the walls and all surfaces are clear of dust, sand surfaces well and wash them down with sugar soap,’ says Tricia Guild. ‘Tape up areas that you do not want to paint, mask out windows, put your dust sheets down and get a clean set of brushes and rollers – you’re ready to go.’

How do you know how much paint you need?

Measure the height and width of your walls and then multiply together. Measure the windows and doors then subtract this from your overall square meterage. Finally, take your total number and divide it by the metre squared per litre on your paint tin,’ explains Farrow & Ball’s Joa Studholme. ‘Don’t forget you’re measuring for two coats.’

What are the necessary painting tools?

‘Sand paper to prepare uneven surfaces, dust sheets and old clothes to protect from paint splatter, a scraper for prep, low tack adhesive tape to create clean lines, a quality paint brush for cutting in, a short pile roller for a smooth paint finish and a roller tray to decant the paint into’ says Earthborn’s Cathryn Sanders.

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Can I just paint over old paint?

‘The smoother the surface you’re painting, the better’ says Little Greene’s Ruth Mottershead. ‘If the room is already painted, scrapers are a must for prepping – use the point to pick out loose paint and cracked plaster, and the flat top to scrape loose paint.’ If the wall hasn’t been painted before, you’ll need to prepare the surface pre-painting, depending on what it’s composed of.

How to paint a room using two colours?

If you’re aiming for continuity and connectivity within the home, using two shades from the same colour family is a good way to add interest in a subtle way’ says Ruth Mottershead, Creative Director of Little Greene. ‘For something bolder, you can highlight architectural features or areas of interest by using vibrant, contrasting colours.’

Every space is different so it’s about assessing the space and what is to be achieved something by accenting a detail in another colour can enhance a space so much but it’s all about balance and eye.

How to choose the perfect colour paint for your walls?

‘The function of the space and the atmosphere you wish to create are key. Think about how it’s used and whether it is a communal space such or a private – in communal areas, you can afford to be more adventurous with colour choices as these spaces are generally more active. Test colours in the space you want to use them in, viewing them at times that you will use the space’ says Andy Greenall Head of Design, Paint & Paper Library. ‘Personal taste is everything – really focus on which colours you like and are drawn to’ advises Designers Guild’s Tricia Guild OBE.

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How to paint a wall yourself

Step 1. Work out which type of paint the room you’re painting needs – higher impact or walls in contact with water will require glossier, more practical finishes.

Step 2. Choose your paint colour using paint samples either painted directly onto the wall, or onto cardboard. Consider how light at different times of day affects the paint.

Step 3. Measure the wall and calculate the square meterage and how much paint you will need –remember you’ll need two coats, and take into account any doors or windows.

Step 4. Buy the paint and any tools you need such as rollers and brushes.

Step 5. Prepare the wall – clean the wall with sugar soap, fill in any holes or crack and sand down any uneven surfaces.

Step 6. Cover the floor and any furniture that can’t be moved from the room in dust sheets. Stick masking tape around sockets, switches, skirting boards and any areas you don’t want to paint. Press it down firmly.

Step 7. Cut in the edges of the surface with an edging brush – if you’re painting the ceiling as well as the walls, do this first.

Step 8. Pour paint into the roller tray and lightly coat the roller, making sure the coverage is even by rolling it back and fourth on the reservoir on the tray.

Step 9. Roller the paint onto the walls working in patches and joining each patch to the next before they are dry.

Step 10. Allow the first coat to dry, apply the second, and enjoy!

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