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The Designer-Approved Guide to Painting a Room and Not Losing Your Mind

Dining room with black and white paint

Design: Bespoke Only, Photography: Ty Cole

Whether you're a beginner DIYer or a home renovation pro, painting a room is a common home improvement project you will probably tackle many times in your life. While those renovation TV shows make it look virtually foolproof, doing it the wrong way can lead to a few headaches and a lot of otherwise avoidable frustration. The good news is that painting a room is an easy way to give any space in your home a makeover for far less money and time than a total overhaul takes.

Painting a room doesn't have to be difficult (especially once you've finally settled on the right paint color). We spoke with Jennifer Dye, designer and senior project manager at Maydan Architects, to get her tips on how to paint a room without having a breakdown. With a little prep work and attention to detail, your next DIY paint job can be pain-free and leave you with a wall even the pros would envy.

Meet the Expert

Jennifer Dye is a designer and the senior project manager for Maydan Architects. She received both a Bachelor of Science and a Master of Arts in Interior Design from San Francisco State University.

Materials Needed to Paint a Room

  • Paint in your preferred color
  • Small and medium paintbrushes
  • A paint tray
  • Paint roller and extension pole
  • Rags
  • Dropcloth
  • Painter's tape
  • Cellulose sponge
  • Soap and water
  • Putty knife (optional)

When gathering your materials, don't skimp on the important stuff. It's essential to splurge on good quality paintbrushes as cheap brushes can cause streaks and make it difficult to get that sleek line, Dye says. Before you grab your paint bucket and roller, click on for a step-by-step guide to getting your next paint job right.

Prep the Room

It's important to gather your materials and get organized before you start your project. "Painting is really 90% preparation and 10% painting," Dye says.

The first step is to move all of your furniture to the center of the room and cover everything, including your floors, with a dropcloth. The last thing you want to do is ruin your couch or those beautiful hardwood floors by accidentally dripping paint.

Clean the Walls

Here's a step many people skip, but one you definitely shouldn't if you want a professional-quality job. Using a large cellulose sponge, wipe down the walls with soap and water to get rid of dust, cobwebs, and specks of dirt that could add an undesirable texture to your paint job.

If you have a lot of nail holes, now is a great time to caulk and sand to give yourself a fresh surface to start from.

Lay Down Painter's Tape

Spend time trimming your baseboards, windows and doorways with painter's tape to ensure you get clean lines. You want a very tight seal, so drag a putty knife across the tape to seal it if you see any air bubbles.

You can apply painter's tape up to a week before you begin your makeover, but it should be removed before the paint dries to avoid pulling any paint off the walls.

Prime the Walls

A primer is a must if you are trying to lighten your walls up a few shades, but it's good practice even if you're applying paint that is darker than the shade on your walls. Primers help seal the wall and prevent mold.

Many paint brands offer combined paint and primer products, which can save time, but we don't recommend using them if you're trying to go more than a few shades lighter (say from navy to white, for example).

Brush Corners and Edges

Before you begin to roll the paint, spend time painting the trim and corners where a roller cannot reach. Paint at least three inches from windows and doorways so you avoid accidentally rolling over your trim. The best way to avoid drippage when using a brush is to only dip your brush about a third of the way into the paint can, Dye says.

Paint the Walls

Now is the moment you've been waiting for—it's time to paint your walls. Surprisingly, this is actually the easiest step of the whole process (and probably the most fun, too).

Starting from the bottom of your walls, roll your brush back and forth in a W-shaped stroke. Use long, continuous strokes and fill in the gaps without ever lifting the roller. This will ensure you aren't left with tracks and lines after you're done. Wait until each coat is completely dry before moving on to the next one.

Paint Trim

Once your walls are completely dry, tape the wall around the trim. Using a roughly two-inch brush (depending on the width of your trim), paint your trim. We recommend using an angled brush to make it easy to reach all those crevices.

Clean Up

You're finally done—almost. Cleaning up is nearly as important as prepping your room, especially if you want to keep your materials for your next color makeover.

"Wash your brushes in cold water," according to Dye. "It's tempting to use hot water, but this breaks down the brushes faster."

Carefully remove all the extra painter's tape and roll up your drop cloths, taking extra precaution to ensure any spills and leaks have fully dried. Tightly seal any remaining paint in its can in case you need to do a few touchups later on.