Interior Project: Mansion in a Small Space

By Jerry Rabushka,

  Filed under: Feature, Project


No Product is Too Good for Your Customer’s Project

Paint is for mansions. You’ll see a spread of inspirational photos and think “well, I guess I’ll have to find some very rich customers if I’m going to sell this stuff.” For now, we’re going the opposite route—paint can inspire a space of any size. The Paint Dealer HQ is a five-room bath-and-a-half building from 1919, the year of a Reds World Series and birth year of entertainers such as Nat King Cole and Tennessee Ernie Ford.

It’s enough space for us, but it’s not a Carnegie mansion by any step of the word—at this point it doesn’t have a lot of 20th (or 21st) Century charm at all. So, you think, just slap up a few gallons of flat white and call it a day? What more can you do with it?

Oh, a lot!

When it comes down to it, someone in a small space, say 1,000 square feet can invest in great paint and products for significantly less than someone who has 10,000. They can paint a room with a couple of gallons and an arresting color combo and make a small space look great. We didn’t think we deserved it; when we approached English paint company Farrow & Ball about sponsoring our project we were a little afraid—we wanted to paint a small part of our interior and we weren’t sure they’d want their paint used in such a space.

Balderdash (or whatever the British say), they said. One of their goals in bringing their paint to the states was to show that it’s great for all kind of spaces and houses—whatever the size: tall, grande, venti…a good coat of paint can do a place proud. And we were excited to find out—what does this ultra-premium grind have to offer?


More of Lester

So let’s get started. Just like with our last exterior project, the first order of businesses is to hire a painter. We called Lester Painting LLC—we were very happy with their work on the last project, which was painting the concrete on our building’s exterior, so we figured we’d be happy hiring them again. This is a company that hires good painters who care about their work. Company owner Mark Lester came by with an estimate and off we went.

On a Monday morning, they sent Tarron Alexander, who’s exactly the kind of painter you want for a project full of sponsored products. He’s got plenty of experience, he loves trying out new products, and he’s not camera shy either!

We gave Tarron a quick tour of everything we needed to do and use, and he was ready to roll…ok…actually he wasn’t, because you can’t roll before you prep.


Twelve Years and Counting

We think we’re in our 12th year of these Start to Finish Projects, but just in case you’re new to this concept, here’s how it works. We pick something to paint, then manufacturers sign on to sponsor a product category. We’ll usually pick our own building or work with someone we know simply because we don’t want to help the little old lady down the street and have her sue us over a spot on the rug. Our rug, our spot, our problem.

We use the product the right way, so you can show your customers how it fits in to an overall day’s work, but also so you can show them a “project approach” with all the tools they need to pull off a successful job. Just sending someone home with a can of paint won’t get the job done—it won’t even get the can open!

We thank our sponsors for turning us on to some great new tools, paints, and applicators! Another note—by using these sponsored products and talking up their benefits, we’re showing no disrespect to other suppliers’ products in these categories. But yes, we are focused on our sponsors, and in this article we’ll discover how these products helped a painter do a faster, better, cleaner job. We encourage you to try these products, and encourage more manufactures to get involved in the future.

This being the issue distributed at the National Hardware Show, what better a time to show off some new and favorite items!


Caulk Up Another One

As we just mentioned, one goal of our project articles is to show how a variety of products work together towards a common goal—each one of our product categories contributed towards our success.

Our caulk sponsor is Sashco, which was founded in 1936 as the Colorado Steel Sash Company and has been making caulk since 1941. For this product, we opened a case of its Big Stretch® product.


You can figure out its strong point by the name. Tarron (accent the last syllable) had used Big Stretch, which was a great choice for our kitchen. We’d caulked it a bit over the winter because the kitchen was full of cracks and gaping joints and all kinds of ways to let in cold air. But we did a makeshift job just to get through the winter. Why use this product rather than “painter’s caulk?” Our kitchen has lousy insulation and it gets the wrong end of temperature extremes. When it’s hot it’s hot, when it’s cold it’s cold. We needed something that can ebb and flow as the building materials move with the weather.

The product is 100% acrylic, can be used on a huge variety of surfaces, and can stretch to over 500% of its original size, so we think we’re safe. Tarron noted that he lays down a bit of a thicker bead with this product and likes to cut the tube with a slightly larger opening than with other caulk products. He found plenty of places to put it to use: windows, doors, baseboards, and more! There were gaps in the kitchen window frame where a stretchy caulk was the perfect fix before painting. When selling caulk to either pro or DIY customers, remind them that even if they’re not painting an area, it might be wise to make sure to caulk it while the tools are out.

Sashco has a lot of caulks for specialty uses; the company likes develop caulks to fix specific problems so you can send your customer home with something you know is going to get the job done. Stock a few and help your customers fill their cracks!


Squeeze to Please

Many DIYers might be afraid to caulk because they’ve had a problem with the gun. Maybe they got a cheap one and thought that’s how they all worked. Dripless sent us a selection of its guns, and what we’re finding out lately is that a lot of folks still haven’t heard of a caulk gun that stops the caulk from dripping when you leggo of the trigger.

Tarron has used a Dripless plenty, and he’s seen the same problem we do—they’re hard to keep around! People like to take ’em, whether they should or not. So…be careful. And if you’re selling to a foreman, recommend he gets enough for everyone to have their own! Seriously, a few extra top quality caulk guns can make it easier to pick up and get to work.

This gun seemed a bit different but we weren’t sure why, then we noticed Tarron was gunning an ETS 1000, rather than the usual 2000 we’ve used before. So we asked Dripless’ sales manager Tom Allen, what’s the difference?

“It’s a DIY version of the ETS composite technology,” he explained. Short for ErgoTech Series, this group of guns was developed about a decade ago in response to changes in caulks and sealants themselves. “The 100 is stripped down to remove cost, but still dripless, lightweight, tough and with the same thrust ratio (12:1) as our most popular ETS2000. Also, the trigger throw and handle are tighter and shorter for users with small hands.”

Tarron’s a big handed fella, so he likes to throw a bigger trigger, but it gave him the opportunity to learn about various models. Turns out there was a lot more caulking than we thought, as there is in most homes, so having a gun that let him move quickly without problems saved a lot of time and frustration vs. the 2.99 special. You might just sell more projects when people find out that there’s a better way.

Dripless also makes a variety of sundries, and they sent us some of their sturdy plastic Paint Dawg and Paint Pup buckets, which are helpful for a variety of activities from holding paint to cleaning up. Along with their larger companion The Big Dawg, these buckets have a multi-liner system—24 disposable liners are pre-packed to fit snugly inside each unit. The liners pull out one at a time, leaving a clean bucket for the next use.

The liners are constructed of .8 mil polyethylene and are impervious to most paints and solvents currently used in the industry. To remove left over paint from The Paint Dawg, simply pull the liner out, snip a corner of the bag, and squeeze paint back into the original container. With an ultra-premium paint, your customer will want to save it all!


Keeping Things in Hand

Hyde Tools sent a variety of inexpensive yet indispensable hand tools. Keeping with our theme above, one of them is the Caulk Aid, which helps remove or dig out old caulk, open your tube, and smooth out the bead. Tarron’s been painting long enough where he can run his finger over a bead and get great results, but, he agreed, this is the perfect tool for your DIYer who doesn’t have that finger’s worth of experience, or doesn’t want to put their finger in the caulk. It may take a bit of practice, but it will help the inexperienced as well as the fast moving contractor get a more professional look. Plus, one tool does a lot of tasks.

They also sent several knives, blades, and replacement packs which he used, of course, to open packages but also to cut painter’s tape to make it fit flush into the corners. That’s important so you have clean corners when the tape comes off. He noted a lot of good qualities to the utility knife and provided several thoughts you can share with your customers.

For one, the blade is sharp, for two, he could push it out a couple inches which helped his reach since he on a ladder getting into a ceiling corner. and for three, the snap-off blades make it easy to get to a sharp blade without have to hunt around. There are a lot of utility-knives on the market, and this one did the trick. Tarron felt it was very easy to use. Because it’s loaded with sharp blades, make sure your customers read the safety directions on the back.

The very first thing we did on the project was take out an old Hyde spackling knife…these tools can be longtime friends to many tried and true painters. We had to fill in a few holes, including one from from a broken bath tissue holder that we pulled out of the wall, plus any building put up 97 years ago has its share of dings and nail holes. We did a pretty good job too, because you can’t tell where the holes were.


Finally, we had a Hyde Whip Mixer. Put it on a drill and into the can. For Farrow and Ball paint, which Tarron commented was thicker than the norm—that’s a good thing—this tool really helped him stir things up. Attach to a drill and go for a spin. Its plastic fingers will handle every type of compound without overtaxing your drill. It has an 18″ shaft to stir up anything from ones to fives. Easy cleanup, and…it’s fun! (Seriously, it is.)


Pigging out on Pigments

About now we sent a question to Farrow & Ball—your paint looks different right from when we opened the can, so what does that mean? They were excited we noticed and explained that they make their paint with a higher level of titanium dioxide than most brands. This adds to brightness and whiteness as well as the paint’s durability. Eleven other pigments are used to complete the color charts, but it’s a secret, they tell us, and attempts to match the color intensity in a can of F&B invariably fall short. The paint is also formulated for a flatter finish, and the lower light reflection imparts a deeper richer color.


Wood You Like a Spin?

Speaking of stirring it up, if you’re a regular reader you know we’ve been using Amercian Paint Paddles for as long as there’s been an America and as long as there’ve been paint paddles. Well, not that long, but they’ve been a mainstay of all our projects and we thank them for providing paddles at every conceivable opportunity. Remember you can get your company name on the paddles so as people are stirring, they remember who to call then they have to get that extra gallon you said they needed that they said they didn’t.

American Paint Paddles are made from sustainable wood, so are manufactured with minimal environmental impact. There are various models and styles, and having several on hand will help make sure your painters leave with just the paddle they like. They come in one and five gallon sizes.


It’s in the Bag

We used our Intex PFC rags throughout the whole project, but we’ll talk about them here. You wouldn’t think having a great quality rag matters—until you don’t. Just like your cell phone, the minute you get one you’ll wonder how you ever got along without one, so remind your customers how important this is. They’re great when you need to wipe up a spill, wipe any excess caulk off your hand or the wall, sop up some paint, even smooth down tape!

Tarron hadn’t seen the new Intex PFC rags and he was instantly happy and amazed. That’s the mark of a true painter, to be this happy about a rag. Intex rags are designed for consistency. Each rag is made of the same material, same size and density, strong, absorbent, and you know what you’re getting.

For one, it’s not the proverbial box of chocolates where you never know what you’re going to get. Tarron noted that he’s reached into bags of rags and pulled of a variety of surprises…part of a bra, part of an old t-shirt with half of a bizarre saying, sometimes cotton, sometimes polyester, you might as well reach into the hamper. If there are colors in the rags, they can come off on the wall. So these were a treat. Also, Intex packs by number rather than weight, so you know before you open how many are going to be inside.

He kept at least one rag in his pocket for the whole project. When he was taping, he used clean hands and a rag to smooth the tape down to the wall, especially where he was painting stripes. Remind your customers to do this to make sure they get the razor sharp lines a good painters tape like FrogTape will provide. Using the rag helped protect his finger and let him apply more pressure to the tape, safely.

Plus, are you going to do a whole job with no drips and spills? Probably not.

Go to the Intex website to see all the benefits they tout about the rags…that’s exactly what Tarron was excited about…and he hasn’t even seen the ad!



Leaping into Tape

FrogTape. You’ve doubtless heard of it by now, and this time we really put it to good use. Let’s talk stripes first, because it’s in a situation like this where the product really shines. Our designer, Farrow & Ball’s Julie DiOrio, specified some full gloss stripes in the dark Railings color to be painted over the off-white Dimity in the entryway. She wanted to bring high drama to a previously ugly and forgettable space. This kind of thing can be a big mess if the tape doesn’t keep paint out, or if the painter doesn’t apply the tape right to make sure it can.

As we noted, you have to apply it correctly in order for it to work—even the best tape won’t work to its optimum capacity if it’s not firmly on the wall. This means smoothing it down after applying it to make sure there is as much contact with the wall as possible. Alexander used the brand’s yellow FrogTape Delicate for the walls, since he had just painted them the day before. He had a laser tool with him to help him tape a straight line. It came in handy because our doors are crooked—if he had used the top of the doors as a guide we’d have quite the mess on our hands. As noted, after the tape was applied, he took one of our Intex rags and ran it over the tape to press it firmly to the wall. When doing a job like this, it’s especially important to do corners correctly.

As he peeled of the tape…voilà…sharp lines! You can really see how will this tape works—sharp lines, even up close!

We used FrogTape in several spots: cabinets, doors, ceiling, walls, floor; with this many sheens and colors you’re going to want a good tape to set it all apart. Tarron could cut in pretty well—he cuts hair when he’s not painting and you can’t use tape there, no matter how obnoxious the customer—so he didn’t need as much tape as some folks might. Customers who don’t have his steady hand can really save time and aggravation by taking time to apply tape before they start. Sure, FrogTape costs more than a tan masking, but who wants to spend a decade looking at paint bleed wishing they’re bought better?

When it came to cabinets and tight spots and some door jams, fixtures, windows…oh yep there were plenty of places to unroll and stick to it! Tarron chose FrogTape delicate for some of the cabinets as well, due to the materials used on the cabinet doors.



You Look Great in That Coat

Farrow & Ball is new to our brushes—we’ve heard about the paint for many years but it’s the first time any of it has crossed (or painted) our threshold. You can tell by the cans, with the logo stamped in the lid, that you’re getting something different. For about $100 a gallon, your customers are going to want an experience and they’ll expect spectacular results.Paint is still paint, which in the long run means it can only stick to what you paint it on. If you paint it on dirt or loose paint, it’ll stick to that, no matter what happens. So prep is important, of course! That and do it like they say, which is a primer and two finish coats.

We had several different undercoats to work with, each designed for various topcoats. There were light tones, mid tones, dark tones, red tones, all designed to make the final colors show true once the second coat was applied. Because we had a lot of different colors and sheens, it took us a minute to sort it out. Farrow & Ball supplied us with a detailed spec sheet that noted all the paints and primers needed.

It’ll take you a minute to prep, tape, prime, and paint a space with this many different sheens and colors, so remind your customers that this kind of spectacularism won’t be done in a second. It’s not the same as going into an apartment and painting three rooms with blow & go white. Remind your painters as well, as they need to bid accordingly.


And sure, we could have gone less on the color, but we asked designer Julie DiOrio to give us her take on it to show off the product as well as put a professional eye towards decorating the room.

It did take some time, and Tarron’s the kind of painter who will stay until it gets done, which is why we’re here writing at 10:38 p.m. He’d never heard of this brand, but he was excited as soon as he opened the lid and saw the thickness of the paint. He could tell it was of superior quality. Even the primer goes on smooth and thick, and the untrained eye could easily confuse it for a topcoat.


Alexander also noticed how the paint didn’t leave brush or roller marks, and as it dried we couldn’t tell where he stopped rolling and started brushing. A lot of common paint application problems just weren’t an issue here. It was very cooperative, which is a great selling point to anyone—again, great products make you look so much better at what you do!


We were anxiously awaiting how the color and gloss combos would look—and what’s the best way to show off your paint? Use a top quality applicator.


Apply Low, Apply High

We’ve used ArroWorthy products several times before, but they were new to Alexander, and what better way to get an honest opinion than from someone with nothing to lose? Well, honestly, he liked everything we put in his hand, but he liked particularly the feel of the brushes. Some guys like ’em stiffer, but he was happy with the medium stiffness of the nylon/polyester blend of the Finultra, which will encourage him to seek out this brush in the future. If you can turn a painter on to a product, he might just go back to the boss with it, and before you know it you’re selling for a whole crew

We watched him cut in—he had precision where precision was needed. Many painters say they have a steady hand, but this guy does it second nature. A steady hand is a good start, but having a brush that respects it helps just as much. Even the best painter’s efforts will be thwarted if bristles are loose or uncooperative. The nylon and polyester filaments are 100 percent solid, round and tapered, providing longer wear, maximum resiliency, and easy cleanup.

The microfiber rollers were good too; Tarron was looking for something that didn’t put a lot of lint on the walls, and didn’t spatter or splatter. Having mini rollers in the same material was helpful because they’d leave the same kind of finish. He liked to run a bit of water on his rollers before he dipped them for the first time. Not too much, but just enough to get it started loading. Once he got rolling, it laid off a smooth, even coat.

ArroWorthy’s Barracuda frame is going to be new to a lot of your customers, but it’s definitely worth showing them how it works, and it’s fun to spin it around, with or without a roller. It has the feel of a product that will see significant action and not track the roller or break apart. It spins easy and lets you do the job of rolling rather than fighting to keep the roller from coming off the frame. Various sizes are available for various sized rollers.


Easy Pick Up

Extension poles. “But, I’m only painting inside.” That’s not the point. A variety of poles can make painting faster and more comfortable; even a couple extra feet on an interior can make all the difference from moving a stepladder around or just going about your business. Tarron picked up our Simms EverLock. and he was all smiles—these are the lightest poles ever!

They seriously are, to our knowledge, and we’ve been picking up poles since 1992. His first question was where can I get these? Not from you unless you have them in stock!

He mainly used a 3′- 6′ and then a 2′- 4′ when quarters got cramped. The bathroom is small, so a smaller pole helped him get in and around the space quickly; it’ll save your charges from bending around fixtures in tight spots. There was a vanity, a commode and a medicine cabinet with Ibuprofen from 2010, so to be able to pretty much stand in one place and get the room done was a big time saver. In the kitchen with more space, the longer extension pole helped with leverage and longer strokes.

These poles let you lock them in place anywhere along the sliding metal, so you can come up with just the right length. Depending on how tall you are, how long your arms, how high the ceiling, it all comes into play. Over a day’s work, using a pole that weighs so little allows for more control and less backache.


Holding Their Own

HANDy Paint Pail displays greet customers in many stores, and we’ll have to say there’s a good reason why. So much has been made of getting the paint from the can to the wall, and Handy Paint Products have proven themselves time and again. You can see from the photo why they’re handy, you just stick your hand in the handle and…it’s pretty darned handy! It’s designed so that it lays in your hand without you having to grip it, so it’s one less muscle to strain over a paint project.

Along with the flagship Paint Pail, Tarron busted out the Handy Paint Cup, a smaller version with a handle rather than the strap of its parent product, for touchup. Since he’s picky, he did a lot of touchup, so why pour out more paint or use a larger container than you need to? The pail and the cup come with plastic covers, so you can keep your paint from skinning over until the next use.

Finally, he had some good times with the Handy Paint Tray, which has some “why didn’t they think of it sooner” features like handles on both ends, which makes picking it up and moving it a lot easier than the old days when you’d pick up some limp plastic tray and spill half the paint on the floor. All the items have a magnet to hold the brush in place when you’re moving to the roller or just taking a break. The products are made of sturdy plastic, right here in the USA. The Paint Pail and Paint Tray come with liners for easy cleanup, or you can rinse them out to reuse.


Back to Work

After a bit of touchup (and a bit more touchup), we put everything back to rights. Did it transform the little house into a mansion? Not really, but here’s something to think about: a lot of times, coming to work can be a drag. Even if you love your job, if your workspace isn’t welcoming, you have to deal with that every business day. To spruce up even the smaller transient spots with bold or unexpected color is a great welcome. We know we’ll all be spending a lot more hours in the office now. Oh…wait…let’s rewrite that…we know that the hours we spend here will be more fulfilling thanks to an imaginative color scheme with high quality paint from Farrow & Ball.


Special Report: The Wall Whisperer

Often in these projects, we pick the colors ourselves, or the homeowner does, and usually from the wrong company’s color chart. This time we took advantage of Farrow & Ball’s design skills. We sent photos of our boring brown bungalow to the company’s Chicago Color Consultant, Julie DiOrio, with instructions to “go crazy!” We’d do whatever she recommended.

Even stripes.

A 2004 graduate of Columbia College, Julie began her career after a lifetime of immersion in home renovation through her family’s business. Beginning with retail windows on Chicago’s Michigan Avenue, she went on to provide top-down renovation work from design to general contracting for luxury retail, hospitality, and residential environments. Her work includes Target and the NFL.
In Farrow & Ball’s Chicago Showroom, Julie brings to her consultancy a meticulous grasp of light and space and natural fluency in the nuance of color. What does all that mean? That we trust her!
Because her color choices were stunningly unusual, we thought we’d ask how they came about. It’s great to hear the thought process of someone who thinks for herself! Plus, her answers can help you with your own color dilemmas when a customer doesn’t know where to begin.

Q. How much did the permanent colors (floor, counter, etc.) influence your choices?
A. Material palettes are very important to take into consideration. These colors can either be accentuated or become more subdued by working with the undertones. Working against certain materials will often call out more attention.

Q. Did The Paint Dealer giving you “carte blanche” make a difference in how you chose color vs. working with a more determined customer?
A. Freedom to choose whatever you want isn’t always as exciting as it sounds! All customers have a preference, even if they can’t initially express themselves. I like to ask leading questions such as “do you like warm or cool tones,” or “are there any specific colors you don’t like?” Color is subjective so it’s really a partnership to get to a happy place for both parties—however, your immediate openness to my ideas was refreshing.

Q. How did the “before” photos make you feel about the space, and how did that inspire you?
A. When I start a project I think about how the space is used. Your office is a creative work environment (which I am very passionate about). I spent a lot of time going through the photos you sent, and my first impressions were that the space was dark, very neutral, and lacking energy.

My next step is to “problem solve.” The entry needed an immediate impact moment (this room can handle bold color, as just like the powder room, it’s a thoroughfare). A happy bold color like Churlish Green [on the doors] is an unexpected but an excellent contrast to the bold stripe effect of Railings [the “black” of the stripes and trim] and Dimity [off white in the walls of the kitchen and entry way].

Next, I worked my way into the kitchenette (the biggest of all three rooms). I had a few design challenges here, as I needed to create balance to the upper cabinets because one side has more cabinets than the other. I choose Dimity, a red based neutral, to add some warmth but brighten up the space.

Q. You used similar colors in a lot of places where many people would shake their heads. How come?
A. Painting the walls and upper cabinets the same color helps camouflage and brighten the area. The lower cabinets and all the trim and doors in this space are Railings. I wanted a bold graphic way to link the entry to the kitchenette and tie in the dark spots in the floor. I threw in the full gloss Dead Salmon on the window over the sink to add a little unexpected moment and draw the eye outside.

Q. You chose same-color-different-sheen combos in the powder room and the thresholds. How important was sheen in the overall effect?
A. Sheen plays several important roles. From a practical standpoint, a higher sheen brings in easier clean up and more durability, while a lower sheen helps hide imperfections. Sheen also plays a large role in the design perception of a space. Full Gloss (95% sheen) can create a dramatic, glamorous effect that helps bounce light. Estate Emulsion (2% sheen) and can create a rich matte look that absorbs light.

Q. You chose a deep dark color for the bathroom—is that unusual for a small space?
A. Creating shadow and drama in a small space can often create mood and excitement. A lighter more neutral tone is this space would have fallen flat and looked bland. I also think rooms that are used for limited amounts of time can handle intensity. [Editor’s note: now that it’s been painted, everyone wants to stay in there longer!]

Q. Why did you choose Brinjal, a deep wine color for the powder room? (Well, we gotta go.)
A. Brinjal felt like the perfect bold red-toned compliment to extend off [red-toned off white] Dimity, but also to keep the warm theme and continue making the existing materials feel intentional. I brought Dead Salmon to the vanity in the powder room to bring the color story full circle.

Q. What can a retailer or contractor to learn from this regarding helping people with color?
A. The sampling process cannot be cheated! Farrow and Ball makes sample pots to ensure the client gets exactly the same color in each gallon. Most customers have an idea of how they envision their project, and the right color is paramount. Make sure all aspects are taken into consideration, from the directional lighting that comes into the rooms down to the flow of one space into another. My most important piece of advice…do not sample on the walls. Paint your sample boards with two coats and look at them throughout the space at different times of the day.

I tell my clients, “The room will tell you what color it wants to be…listen.”

Thanks to Our Sponsors:

American Paint Paddle




Farrow & Ball


Hyde Tools

Intex DIY


T.S. Simms