Design Driven Column: Paint: the unsung hero of interior design!

Redesign, even without the sometimes radical changes to structure that renovation can entail, can be a costly undertaking. From the get-go – quite understandably – the most common concern clients have is cost.

The element in any project guaranteed to make the greatest difference to a space while costing the least amount of money is paint. Don’t be misled by the fact the word ‘paint’ contains the word ‘pain’; it is the unsung hero of interior design, a palliative to the wounds to your bank account interior design necessarily inflicts.

Mind you, unless you’re going with a hot pink ceiling or tiger stripes in your entrance hall, paint rarely boasts the same ‘wow factor’ of a new couch, fancy wallpaper or artwork. But paint is such a staple in the world of redesign and renovation that we sometimes overlook the major roles it plays.

With regard to my particular fondness for Scandinavian design, I often recommend bringing brilliant white walls into the spaces I design. Almost without fail, clients meet the suggestion with ambivalence. They can’t see how such a putatively unimaginative element as white paint will work on aesthetic or even practical grounds. They fear it’ll be too cold or too boring. That it somehow constitutes a failure of imagination.
After showing them examples of how white acts as a perfect canvas for all other elements in a room and explaining how white can instantly modernize a space, white paint wins them over 90 per cent of the time. I recommend a brilliant White by Benjamin Moore (Oxford White CC-30,  Decorator’s White CC-20 or Ultra White CC-10).

Here are three examples of the power of white. The first two of the three are from local projects I’ve worked on:

• Several years ago, a realtor hired me to stage a condo model show room. He wanted to change the space from an average and tired apartment into a modern-looking condo. And, as is so often the case, his budget was limited. One of the many features the apartment shared in common with thousands of other homes was dated, drab oak cabinets. Replacing the entire kitchen’s cupboards would have cost a small fortune. Instead, we painted them white and switched out the hardware. The space thus boasted a brighter, airier and more modern look.



Above:  the condo livingroom.  Drab, lifeless and dark.

Dining room which appears to be just dropped in the centre of the room.

A dated kitchen in desperate need of a facelift!


(all photos by Hemmings House Pictures)

As you can see we repainted the entire condo from a drab cream color to a crisp modern white and added a warm granite feature wall.  Some warm floor to ceiling curtains were installed as well as some urban sticks and minimalist furniture pieces.

Here we placed a modern rug underneath a new dining table and chairs which are better suited to the corner space.  This allows the dining room to feel as it has its own ‘personal’ space aside from the living room.

Another view of the entire ‘Great Room.’

Here we painted all the cupboards and changed the old, dated hardware for brushed nickel contemporary hardware.  In addition we added a new modern sink and faucet.  We also added some creative decals from ‘BLIK” to add some funky drama into a relatively small space.  A new light was also added to the ceiling to remove the old one and a new custom fit blind was placed in the window to cover the otherwise, uninteresting cement wall showing outside the window.  (I forgot to straighten the tea towels prior to photographing! )

• On several renovation projects, a painted a ‘feature’ wall has provided a dramatic change to the space at much less cost than wallpaper. Painting a central wall a darker color really anchors the space, creating warmth and intimacy. (see above)

Here are some links to several other projects where white paint has been incorporated into makeovers:

Sean + Carrie McGrath’s Residence

Dr. Jane Walsh’s Office

My previous Residence

• In terms of making dramatic and cost-effective change, paint is also a wonderful way to ‘redesign’ old furniture. More often than not, we dispense with old furniture because it’s apparently had its day. The application of a fresh coat of paint would result in a far fewer pieces finding their way to the dump. I recommend visiting It’s the very best inspiration source of repurposed furniture on the internet. Check out the ‘before + after’ section.

Here are two examples of my before and after paint makeovers.

Images below and (partial) text from Design*Sponge:

“I see desks like these in thrift stores and on the side of the road all the time, and honestly, I can’t say that I feel inspired when I look at them. However, now that I’ve seen this refinishing job from Rebekah Disch, I’m reminded yet again that every piece of furniture can have potential in the right hands. I really like the color she’s chosen, and the subtle aging is a great little detail. Nice work, Rebekah!” — Kate

Time: 4–5 hours Cost: $40 (desk was free, cost includes paint, poly, and hardware)

(To find out how to do this please click here.)

“Furniture pieces like this dresser redo make me think there are tons of you out there who could live double lives running successful furniture design or restoration businesses. I’m still sort of amazed that Renee saw the “before” dresser above and had the vision to create the stunning two-tone piece below. I adore that dark sage-gray green she’s chosen, and the finish on the wood is the perfect tone. Truly wonderful job, Renee.” — Kate

Time: 7 hours  Cost: $200 (including dresser, hardware and supplies)

To find out how to do this click here.

Do you have any pictures of before and after makeover projects that illustrate the power and beauty of paint?  Please send along!  We’d love to share.

As always, thank you for reading.


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