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Willow Wood, Chapter 4... How to Paint Properly

Updated: Oct 24, 2022

In the previous chapter, I mentioned I had been doing too much daydreaming with the stepladder. This had now taken the form of mass destruction. You see, I had realized that behind a mediocre textured plaster (which was chipping due to water damage) there was a lovely paneled wall that, painted white, would look simply charming. So I took a chisel and hammer to it. The water-damaged stuff came off marvelously. It was as satisfying as peeling stickers. Unfortunately, the non-water damaged stuff was little more… stubborn. It was as unsatisfying as beating your head against a concrete wall, in fact.

One of my many character flaws is that, when the going gets tough and fails to be new and exciting, I usually quit. That is why a month later, my friend El and I were sitting on a new, commandeered couch draped with drop cloths, eating scrambled eggs and staring at the maze-looking plastered wall. Streaks of plaster were missing, and underneath was the dark paneling, covered in splotchy, white left-over bits.

“It’s a war zone in here,” I sighed.

“I wasn’t going to say it,” El said, obviously amused and trying to hide it.

“I don’t know what I was thinking.”

“I suppose you can’t very well paint over it at this point,” El noted.

“The blasted stuff won’t come off,” I said, and to demonstrate, whacked a hammer against the wall with a thud. A dime-sized chip flew off the top layer, not even penetrating to the paneling. “I’m going to die working on this.”

“Have you been working on it a lot?”

As in, recently? “I have an idea! We could have a paint-chipping party!” I diverted the subject enthusiastically.

“We could…” El started.

Too enthusiastic. “I mean, sometime in the future, we could. We could get a whole group together and have pizza and afterward have ice cream or something. We could get something on the schedule.”


“Or we could just watch anime like we’d planned,” I scratched my head.

“Let’s start there.”

Always start with the easiest job to give yourself time to warm up to the hard one. The only drawback to this strategy is that sometimes you enjoy the easy job so much that you never actually get around to the hard one.

But I do believe introductions are in order, as we haven’t met El yet. El is a seamstress, writer, and dietician (those in no particular order). I’ve only ever once seen her wear something she bought at a store because she sews all her own clothes, in colors and patterns and styles across the entire spectrum of possibility. She never looks dull, which is just as well, for it sets expectation, and El is never dull. She was practically a next-door neighbor – her house was only around the block 8 minutes, and if you wanted, you could take a shortcut through the raspberry patch and across the landlady’s back driveway to cut the walk down to 5 minutes, which we did often.

El is one of those remarkable friends you come across in life who also likes anime (and those friends are rather hard to find), and also is someone who, even if a project does not sound fun, will help when needed. So it was, after the necessary anime, that we sat down and put together a plan, complete with pizza, ice cream, and extra paint scrapers.

“Many hands make light work,” the saying goes. Unfortunately, that is not true. The work is no lighter. It’s still every bit as heavy. It just doesn’t take quite as long. In one weekend, with the group of friends we conscripted, the plaster along two walls and the bottom edge of another had at long last been eradicated.

“Things get worse before they get better,” the saying goes. Unfortunately, that one is true. If the living room was a war zone before, it was now apocalyptic.

But the dreadful plaster was gone, and now I could finally begin seriously thinking about paint. A paint color is a choice to be made with the utmost care and attention. It’s a complicated decision based upon on the size of the room, the position of the windows, the height of the ceiling, your average mood on most given days, and the furniture (if there be any, and if not, that’s another consideration).

I’m sure you know this, but for the sake of rambling, choosing a shade is the best place to start. Light colors make a room bigger, dark colors make a room smaller, and bright colors have the tendency to give a room varying levels of insanity. If the house you live in is one of those practical cookie-cutter townhomes intentionally created to be Boring, you might benefit from painting at least some of the walls a rather clownish color. It will be Boring no longer; I promise you that. If the house you live in has such large rooms that it feels like someone abandoned you on the snowy plains of Antarctica, a dark, warm color will help it feel closer and warmer. If, however, like me, you live in a house with rather small rooms and a low ceiling, a light color will open it up and make it feel twice as big as it actually is. You see, we’ve come full circle back to Presentation again. It’s not the room we’re changing, after all; only the perception of.

And next – color. If you’re going to tint it much, it’s a good idea to take an honest look at your day-to-day mood. For me, living in Montana, there are enough grey, cold days, and adding a cool color to the inside of my house would be a recipe for melting into a puddle of tears. Warm colors for me, thank you. Some people can handle the cool spectrum, and that’s fine.

Another thing to consider is your philosophy on the purpose of walls. I will give my opinion, for what it’s worth. Walls are a canvas – the blanker the canvas, the more you can fit inside it before it becomes garish. I chose a soft, warm white – bright enough not to look sleepy, but not glaring either. Then comes the fun part. The filling of the walls.

I follow what I like to call the Two Foot Rule – there should be no blank space on the wall greater than 2 feet across. I’m not saying that every inch is filled with chintzy pictures, but rather that the walls should look habitated, not deserted. Furniture helps (a piano against one wall, a bookshelf against another) and so do windows (a wide, tall window with lace curtains and a colorful linen valance does wonders to a room). Large plants add incredible life and texture, even if you don’t have much room for them. I have an yucca plant with a skinny trunk and a shock of green fronds at the top that’s probably 6 or 7 feet tall, but tucked away beside the kitchen nook, it takes up barely any room at all. Viney plants are also an almost imperative. Especially something fast-growing like a pathos. Mine grew 15 feet in a few years, spidering along the wall and making an eternal tropical garden in my living room.

And art… well, it goes without saying how vital it is. There are many things that go into making a place a home, but without art and books, you don’t have a fighting chance. Good art is expensive, though, as it should be, and the alternative tends to be cheap Hallmark card stuff. I’m happy to say, though, there are affordable options. For hand-drawn or painted art, estate sales seem to be the place to go. You’re not going to get Monet, but you are going to find some very interesting and talented artists that no one else knows about. It’s like finding hidden treasure, and in some ways, more satisfying than buying someone you already know about (though prints are a good option as well – if you can’t afford the actual chef d’oeuvre, there’s no reason not to enjoy it from afar). It’s important to choose pieces that speak to you. Art has an amazing ability, bordering on the mythical, to whisk you away to elsewhere, and any elsewhere in your home should be a place you enjoy going to, and here’s the truth – it doesn’t matter if it’s real or print, $800 or $8; if it makes you happy, it’s art worth owning.

But art doesn’t have to be actual art, either. Filling space with things you like to look at could mean a brown burlap bag with a nice print on it that came with a package of basmati rice, or it could be a glamorous hat that you like to look at but never wear, or it could a dried bouquet of wildflowers hung upside down by a string. If you put your mind to it, you will find the possibilities of wall-décor to be limitless.

Making Willow Wood a home was now well underway, and I was working on the finishing touches of painting. I mentioned in Chapter One the delicate leaf molding on the kitchen cabinets. The unfortunate problem was they were carved into deep-colored wood and from any distance greater than a foot, you couldn’t see the delicate leaves at all. It was a travesty. I could not leave it be. Now that the cabinets were up where they were supposed to be, the delicate leaves could not remain invisible like that. The kitchen needed them – I needed them. The sight of them so flat and lifeless could ruin an entire day.

That is why, instead of cooking dinner (which hadn’t been cooked in weeks), I was sitting on the countertop with a Tupperware full of white paint and a small acrylic paintbrush, dabbing the paint painstakingly into the ribbon of carving, letting it dry till just barely sticky, and rubbing the paint off the leaves with the back of my thumbnail. I was going at a pace of one and a half feet per hour, and thank goodness the kitchen was so small or I’d still be there painting to this day. El had come to the rescue and was making something from the assortment of vegetables she found in the fridge and pantry.

“And your brother is moving in when?” she asked.

“A couple months,” I said, biting my tongue in concentration and only half-listening.

“You do realize that you still only have one spoon, right?”


“Okay. I just thought I’d mention it in case you hadn’t noticed.”

“I’ve been busy,” I said, gesturing around the painted was, now filled with plants and art and dried flowers.

“I can see that,” El said, with a raised eyebrow. “But you might want to invest in more spoons soon.”

I stopped for a break, stretching out a cramp in my neck. “I suppose so.”

“Nothing leads to conflict more quickly than being forced to share necessities. Point in case,” she held out the spoon and a butter knife. “Which of us is going to eat with the spoon, and which is going to eat with the knife?”

I stared at the outheld cutlery. Gracious heavens, she was right! I had no time to waste. The next day I went to every thrift store in town and bought thirty each of assorted styles of cutlery in forks, knives, spoons, and dessert ware. I bought mixed dinner and dessert plates, and bowls of all colors, shapes, and sizes. I bought wine glasses, small glasses, tall glasses, and shot glasses. Dish soap, hand soap, bar soap, laundry soap. I bought every necessity I could think of, and some things that only bordered on the edge of necessity.

Because the truth of the matter is that I was making a home, and that is in essence a haven of peace and comfort, and the sad fact about human nature is that something as small as sharing a spoon will demolish that peace in less than a second.

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