7 Things Your House Painter Wishes You Knew

Man carrying paint tins walking towards house

With the exception of hardened DIY-types (you know who you are!), just about all homeowners will hire painters at some point—whether to prepare their home for moving in, or for a sale, or perhaps to kick off a remodel with a new color scheme.

But homeowners tend to get nervous around painters. What if they spatter the new carpeting or shatter the china cabinet window? What if the colors you’ve painstakingly selected don’t work out?

Take a deep breath. You’ve hired a professional. Here’s how to help them do their best job.

1. Painting is art—let the pros do it

Think of painting as not just a skill, but also an art: You wouldn’t hover behindMichelangelo as he completed the Sistine Chapel, fretting the whole time, would you?

Yes, it’s true that your bathroom wall will never be one of the world’s premiere masterpieces, no matter how skilled your painter, but that doesn’t make back-seat painters any less annoying.

“Painting is something that’s more subjective than objective,” says Kevin Palmer, a painter in Simsbury, CT. “A good paint job involves a lot of artistry—besides product knowledge and great prep work, you’ve got to get a guy who seriously knows what he’s doing.”

And once you’ve found that, trust means letting painters do their job.

“People need to chill out a bit,” says Ryan Benson of Benson Painting Services inApple Valley, MN. When customers hound, it’s “almost insulting,” he says. “Let me work.”

2. Prep can take a long time

According to Benson, at least 30% of a good-quality paint job will be prep time.

“That’s where less-qualified painters lower their bids. That’s where problems come with paint getting on things it shouldn’t be,” he says.

The differences between a rushed paint job and one done properly are enormous: paint on the walls andeverything else; uncleaned walls leading to a splotchy paint job; your favorite couch ruined by a misguided spatter.

“It’s easy to not put a dropcloth down. All that stuff takes time,” Benson says.

Keep an eye out for the painters that skimp on prep—the best way to find detail-oriented contractors is to ask previous customers for a reference.

3. Make sure your home is ready to paint

Don’t leave all the prep work to the painters, though—they’ve got their hands full. Things will go much smoother if you make sure your home is truly painter-ready, and Benson estimates that this could save you up to 10% of the cost.

For interior jobs, make sure you’ve cleaned all of the awkward spots, including behind the toilet, and picked up any knickknacks that might get in the way (e.g., soap containers, loofahs, and kitchen organizers). Removing the switch plates and outlet covers from the walls also goes a long way toward speeding up painting time—and painters’ time is (your) money.

For exterior jobs, Palmer recommends trimming bushes and shrubs away from the house, leaving at least 18 inches of clearance. Making sure your gutters and downspouts are in “tiptop condition” can also speed up the painting process, he says.

4. Ask for touch-ups right away

After the paint job is finished, ask for a walk-through. Most painters should offer this regardless.

“Take all the time you want,” says Benson. “Pick us apart. We want to get it all done while we’re there. Don’t be afraid to have a list of touch-ups.”

That doesn’t mean most painters are willing to provide endless touch-ups, though—especially if it’s not a result of poor workmanship. Feel free to call back about something you noticed only when the light hit the wall in just the right spot—but if you scratched the wall while moving in your heavy dresser, be prepared to pay for a touch-up.

5. Sit on the toilet


Yup, after getting your bathroom painted, sit your butt down on the toilet and stare. This is something Benson says he does after every job, because it’s a great way to catch tiny, missed spots you wouldn’t see otherwise.

“What you see in a bathroom when you’re painting it isn’t what you see when you’re sitting down,” he says. “Look around in the areas where you’re going to notice stuff.”

6. Compare the specifics of the bids

It’s tough to over-emphasize the importance of hiring painters who provide detailed bids. Deciding between two or three contractors is hard enough; it’s more so if you’re relying on pure guesswork. A bid that is “scribbled down on a napkin” is “not even comparable,” says Benson.

Look at the material costs. You don’t need to go with the painter who buys the most expensive caulk, but don’t go with the cheapest, either. Since painting is an art, materials are its medium—and cheap paint shows.

“People confuse price with value,” says Palmer. If you have to repaint your house twice as often than you would with a good job, “that’s not really a great value.”

7. Don’t be scared to ask for a discount

If you’re comparing two bids and you really love the more expensive painter—but your budget just won’t allow it—don’t hesitate to ask for a discount.

Sure, if the difference is astronomical, you and your painter might not be able to find a comfortable middle ground. But it never hurts to try.

“I try as best as I can to come to a meeting of the mind,” says Palmer.

Benson agrees, and recommends that homeowners get at least three bids—or more, if they haven’t found a good fit yet.

“Always call the guy you like the best, no matter where the pricing came in at, and give him a last look,” he says. “As long as the other contractor is legitimate and using good products, I’ll work with the customer. A lot of people think I’ll get insulted, but I don’t. It’s business.”

And when business is also art, it’s worth taking the time to find a contractor you love.

The Secrets of Stunning Ranch House Renovations


Restored or renovated ranch houses can be just stunning, but don’t expect to buy a rundown ranch and create magic with a sledgehammer and a vision—there is an art to updating them.

The trick is for the renovator to “respect the positive qualities of a ranch, so as to add to, not just alter them,” says architect and architectural historian Alan Hess, author of “Ranch House.”

Easier said than done? Read on for expert tips on how to renovate a ranch house right.


Open your kitchen, inside and out

In most ranches, the kitchen was built in the front of the house, often close to, but shut off from, the formal dining room. Katherine Ann Samon, author of “Ranch House Style,” suggests replacing a kitchen window with french doors that open to a front patio.

“It makes the room feel bigger, and you don’t have to go through the living or dining room to get to the outside,” she says. If it’s in your budget, she says, take down the separating walls and add an island.

One good thing about ranch kitchens: They were made in the era when the kitchen was starting to get larger.

“The kitchen became equal parts food prep and entertaining,” says Louis Wasserman, an architect and author of “Updating Classic America Ranches.” This means small updates are simple. “It’s pretty easy to swap out appliances and expand.”

A modernized Mamie pink bathroom

Katherine Ann Samon

A modernized Mamie pink bathroom

Add to the original beauty of the bathroom

While we know pastel bathrooms are not for everyone, and some folks would rather gut than go through a painstaking restoration, it’s not so hard to modernize what might look dated to some.

In Samon’s own “Mamie pink” bathroom, she swapped out the homely old pedestal sink with metal legs for a Martha Stewart vanity, bought at Home Depot; added a modern light fixture; and put up wallpaper from Anthropologie. It was thousands of dollars cheaper than replacing the tile and, she says, “I got so many compliments on it.”

Take original details that may seem at first like a deficit, she says, and “make them a beautiful accessory to what you’re adding.”

A cathedral ceiling in an original Cliff May ranch house
The expansive living area

Raise the ceiling to new heights

The great bulk of ranch houses were built with 8-foot ceilings, which can feel low. One solution: Add windows. Samon also suggests pushing past the drop ceiling in whatever rooms you can, especially when the result is an arched ceiling.

“That low pitch of the roof becomes an architectural focal point,” she says. She advises renovators to expose the beams and add ceiling fans.

Add out, not up

“Because ranches were low and horizontal, it meant that they could easily be added onto,” says Hess. But he has seen some slapdash second stories that look awkward and out of context.

“A lot of ranches were built without a carport or a garage; those can be turned into additional bedrooms or living spaces,” says Wasserman. “We recommend expansion horizontally rather than vertically.”

There’s a practical reason for that, too: Expanding out instead of up maintains a ranch house’s aging-in-place potential. “Usually they have one or two steps to the front door, which you can turn into a ramp,” says Wasserman. “Once you’ve done that, the house is accessible.”

Santa Fe

Get clear on your windows

While ranches were the embodiment of indoor-outdoor living, many came with small windows that, says Samon, “can make it look like a barracks.”

First, Samon suggests replacing windows with french doors in the living room, and even the bedroom, for private openings into yards or patios. “Not only does it look elegant, it breaks up the monotony of long horizontal architecture,” she says.

If your ranch came with a bow-front or bay window, especially if it looks out to the backyard, “that’s where you want to put your money,” she says.

A touch of Frank Lloyd Wright red in Saint Charles, IL
Saint Charles, IL

Elevate your entryway

A quick hit for updating your ranch house is to focus on the entryway. Many have narrow steps and a tiny landing not big enough for a chair. One of the first things Samon did was widen her front steps. “The minute you do that you’ve extended the entire feeling of the house,” she says.

The front door, she says, is the place to set the tone for your house. You might opt for Arts and Crafts oak or Frank Lloyd Wright red, depending on your plan for your home’s overall look.

Respect the context

“Ranch houses were built as entire neighborhoods,” says Hess. “We’re not just talking about an individual building.” That’s one reason he cautions against changing the fundamental shape of the ranch house. “Oftentimes I see adding big blocky second stories that harm the nature of the entire neighborhood and the unity and the attractiveness of the home.”

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make your ranch stand out, of course, or that you can’t change the siding, or the size. But, suggests Hess, try to personalize it without disrupting the entire character of the neighborhood.

A knotty pine ranch kitchen in Elkhorn, WI
Elkhorn, WI

Give that knotty pine—and other midcentury materials—a second chance

In this age of white subway tile and bespoke wallpaper, knotty pine is hardly the wall covering of choice. But Pam Kueber, author of the blogs Retro Renovation and knotty is nice, estimates that 40% of midcentury homes, and many ranches, used knotty pine (see Betty Draper’s kitchen).

Before you rip it out, think hard. “The craftsmen do not exist today who can do that kind of work,” says Hess.

Avoid what Hess has seen all too often, “where the architect did not understand the character of the original buildings and made an awkward hybrid of new and old.”

Kitchens and bathrooms can be updated, of course, but the approach is key, says Hess.

“It needs to be done in sympathy with the original character.”