Home: In the Garden: Brush With Nature

Picking the perfect paint color is no bed of roses

I’m a do-it-yourselfer when it comes to home improvement, which helps to explain why I’m a take-your-own-damned-time-to-do-it-yourselfer. But even I can only look at a stairwell lined with the grimy handprints of my kids for so long. In this case, it was a decade and a half, so actually, the handprints covered quite a goodly swath of wall, from down where my son Jake’s palms were when he was one, all the way up to where they are now that he’s six-foot-four. So over the summer, I decided to paint that wall and the upstairs hallway it leads into and the living room it leads down to, which is 36 feet long by 15 feet wide and has 10-foot ceilings. Now you understand why I was willing to wait so long.

Once my mind was made up, though, I got good and excited, because painting means buying paint, and buying paint means collecting paint chips, and I love paint chips, those little cards you get at Sherwin-Williams and Home Depot with the rectangles of color that have been given names like Pixie Wing and Sweet Nothing and Spanish Raisin. If I could have any job in the world, it would be naming the colors on paint chips. Because, you know, what the hell color is a Sweet Nothing? Or a Spanish Raisin? But when I read them, I want them. And that, my friend, is power.

So when I look at paint chips, I’m partly looking at the color, sure, but I’m also trying to decide whether I’m more a Citrus Hill or Mystical Sea type of girl, and which I want to be. There’s a lot riding on those paint chips. And while I always show the collection I accumulate to my husband, Doug, and listen to his opinions, he doesn’t actually participate in the painting (he’s a home-improvement non-do-it-yourselfer, or, more accurately, a don’t-do-it-at-aller), so I don’t really have to take what he says into account. For example: He said he thought blue would be nice in the hallway and stairwell and living room. But I was thinking green, because the wall-to-wall in those spaces is blue — underneath the dirt and dog hair — and I couldn’t do yellow, because my office and the kitchen are already yellow, and I’m not about to do pink or purple or orange or brown, no matter how seductive the name on the paint chip, and I didn’t want off-white because for chrissake, it’s been off-white for the past 15 years. I flirted briefly with gray, but it scared me. So green it was.

Still, in the world of paint chips, there are a lot of greens. There are teal greens and apple greens and grass greens and ocean greens, and they all come in umpteen shades ranging from bold to pale. For that much square footage, I was thinking paler rather than bolder. So I narrowed my paint chips down to a dozen choices and presented them to Doug and Jake.