Paint Yourself Out of a Corner

Somewhere between brother-in-law advice and design tips on TV,
people need to find ways to actually do projects that make their homes
look better. Sometimes, good design is as much about how well
something is done as it is about what is done. This is especially true if
you desire clean and simple design. When I want to do something well,
I do what everyone else does –– I use other people’s tricks.

I learned a lot of things from a college era boss/mentor. Since he was
an eccentric man who kept a family tree of his cats, I learned to filter
out some of the advice he freely gave, such as the proper way to tear
one postage stamp from a sheet of them. But, my mentor-man’s trick
for painting the transition line between walls and a ceiling really works.
This line can be difficult to paint because in new or old construction,
the corners are rarely perfect. If your walls and ceilings are painted all
the same color you probably only see straight corners (Figure A). But
if you use contrasting colors, the little ups and downs and ins and outs
of the corner will be amplified rather than hidden. This Technique is
helpful with smooth surfaces but it is especially helpful when your
ceiling is textured.

The trick is knowing where to paint an edge between the colors. The
temptation is to paint the wall color right into the corner but this only
highlights the imperfections (Figure B). What mentor-man did was
paint his transition line about 1/8” (1/4” if your ceiling has heavy
texture) below the corner. This technique works because your paint
line will have fewer and broader undulations than the corner. The 1/8”
gap should be considered only a guide because it will vary (up to an
1/16”) depending on what the corner is doing.

This technique pre-supposes that you have just painted the ceiling
and that when you did, you painted past the corner and down onto the
wall about an inch or two (Figure C). When making a transition
between two colors in a corner, you should always paint past the
corner with the first color to ensure that the corner gets paint in it.
(The great thing is that you don’t need to paint a straight line on the
first color.)

When you are finished painting, you will see something similar to what
you would see in Figure A. The corner and all its undulations will
visually read as part of the ceiling and all you will see is your crisp
transition of colors (Figure D).

Now, I sincerely hope that this is helpful information. But, thanks to
mentor man, I am also a virtual clearinghouse of ideas such as how to
name your house, lick stamps or write the date the “European” way.

Paul Livdahl is founder of Design QandA
For questions or clarifications, e-mail