Strokes of genius

Paint is still the least expensive and most impressive way to transform a room


The easiest way to transform a room is with a lick of paint. The right colour can brighten, add depth and even enhance your mood. With so many shades and textures to choose from, there’s a paint to suit all wall types, and every colour has a light reflecting value (LRV), says Adele Roche, colour specialist at Colortrend. “The lighter the colour, the more LRV it has.”

Walls account for 70 per cent of the surface area in most rooms, so what you put on them will dominate. In Ireland, we tend to choose colours with high LRVs to better maximise the amount of light in our livingrooms. Other factors to consider include the size of the windows (if any) in the room, its orientation and the quality of the surfaces you want to paint.

With newly plastered walls, you have free rein in terms of paint texture. On old, irregular walls it is better to use a matte finish that has no sheen that absorbs the light rather than reflects it, Roches says. “Anything shiny will highlight flaws.”

Fashions change, but the wave of beige that characterised the property boom has thankfully abated. Autumnal shades are now trending – warm yellows and oranges, particularly on feature walls or shelving. Grey, once an avant garde choice, is now a basic colour. Farrow and Ball’s Elephant’s Breath was the sophisticate’s grey of choice, but the style leaders have moved on and moody shades of blue are the next big thing. Its Stiffkey Blue shade is inspired by the colour of the mud found at Stiffkey Beach, in Norfolk. Only the brave will paint all four walls in this shade, but teamed with pale floors it brings light from below. It also works to accent warm grey.

Magnolia has fallen out of favour, according to Louise Smith of Dulux, and more sophisticated creams such as Dulux’s Natural Calico have taken the top spot. Magnolia’s peachy undertone dated it, she says. “The preference now is for crisp whites that will bounce as light around the room or for greyed off-shades that add warmth, but in a very cool and collected way.”

Another option is light refracting paint. When designing the foyer of the Marker Hotel, at Grand Canal Dock, in Dublin, interior architect Deirdre Whelan, of McCauley Daye O’Connell Architects, used a paint called Armourcoat on the walls. Formulated with pearlescent pigments, it appears lit from within. “It is generally used in commercial applications as it is quite expensive and very labour intensive to apply,” she explains. “It’s a layering process of paint, applied in a curved manner. It is washable and quite hardwearing but if it gets damaged it isn’t just a simple matter of applying a bit of paint with a brush.”

Paint isn’t just for walls. Floor paints can really liven up bedrooms and halls. For the less adventurous, it is a way of displaying colour that won’t feel overwhelming.

Paint can also be used to upcycle or repurpose old furniture. Benedict and Beatrice in Ballymore Eustace, Quirki Stuff in Bray, Upside Design in Dalkey and Magpie in Ranelagh are just some of the places you can visit to see inspiring ways to work paint.

Upside Design have taken Annie Sloan’s chalk paints outdoors and applied them to wrought iron outdoor furniture in candy brights that look fresh and modern. Quirki Stuff can customise any piece you own using all sorts of hand-rendered paint effects. Painting the legs of wooden stools, chairs or tables white up to thigh level gives wood a contemporary finish.

1. Picking a shade
In south-facing rooms you can choose more intensely pigmented shades. While you can get away with cooler tones, people make the mistake of choosing colours that are too light, losing the room’s warmth, says Roche.

North-facing rooms tend to have the most consistent light, says Deirdre Whelan. “So the colour you paint it won’t change significantly. Colour is also relative to the use of the room,” she says. Also consider the lighting. Is it warm or cool white? How bright is it? These will affect how the paint looks on the walls.

2. Timing
Pick paint colour at the time of day that you use that room. For example, pick your bedroom colour at night, under artificial light. Interior designer Matthew Patrick Smyth designed the livingroom of his Manhattan apartment for after-dark cocktail parties, painting the walls in a warm brick-red glaze that gives everyone a rosy glow.

3. Warm or cold?
Yellows and reds will create a warm atmosphere. They will also make a room feel smaller. Naturally cool colours – blues, greens and lilacs – will recede and make a room feel bigger. Crown Paints spring 2014 shades – Hot Toddy is a soft orange; Powder Blue is a warm duck-egg pastel – and a more modern take on white walls.

4. Paints for period homes
Colortrend Historic is a range designed for period homes. The colours are muted and more forgiving of flaws. Farrow & Ball’s traditionally made, eco-friendly paints have great depth and work well in period settings. Little Greene’s English Heritage Collection includes historic colours from the Georgian era to the 1950s.

5. Fashion colours
Don’t be a slave to fashion. Pantone’s colour of 2014 is Radiant Orchid, a cool mauve that may look cold in an Irish context. Dulux says teal is its colour of the year. A flattering shade, it can work in both period and contemporary settings. In her modern kitchen, graphic designer Mary Doherty of Reddog uses teal to frame the surround of her wood-burning stove; and in her TV room, a dark middle room with period features, she painted the back wall in the same colour.

6. Soft neutrals
Zoffany’s paint collection reflects the demand for subtlety in tone. The 128 colours include tints of some of its most popular neutrals to give a wider choice.

In open-plan spaces Philippa Buckley of Studio 44 puts different shades of the same colour in different areas. In a small cottage, in Sandymount, Dublin 4, where the owner wanted a French grey palette from the Little Greene Paint Company, she painted the front room in the palest shade (161), deepening to a mid-grey (162) in the central area, and intensifying (113) in the diningroom in the brightest part of the house. Architect and design consultant Denise O’Connor and Dulux will soon launch a range of neutrals.

7. Be brave
With thousands of tints and shades to choose from, you will find one you love. Don’t paint your walls grey just because everyone else has.

8. Powder room by post
NaturePaint in the UK sells in powder format so you can order it by post. Mix the powder with warm water and you’re ready to roll. It costs about €24 (£19.95) per kg and makes 2.5 litres of paint. See

9. Psychology of colour
Don’t underestimate it. You can find out more at

10. Helpful tools
Colortrends painted A4 panels let you move the swatch around a room to see the colour in different light. Crown Paints free MyRoomPainter app lets you browse Crown, Sandtex and Sadolin paints to create a colour scheme, which you can send to your local stockist for collection. It also allows you to photograph a shade to find the nearest match.

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