This week, I finished my first adult attempt at decorating a home: a four-month process that involved painting, furnishing, and styling my one-bedroom NYC apartment. Now that it's complete, I'll admit that I'm surprised by the parts of the makeover that had the greatest impact on the space. One of the most transformative? Painting our faux-wood laminate cabinets crisp white.
"Without making any other changes, simply repainting can give a space a new personality," says Paintzen spokesperson Rebecca Hochreiter. "Whether that means [choosing] a bright white that makes the space feel fresh and new or creating an entirely new aesthetic with an accent wall, creating a harmonious palette that pairs well with your new décor is key to the overall effect."
If you're considering a DIY paint project, she cautions that there are a few surfaces you should never coat. "Wallpaper, plastic siding, and waterproof silicone caulk" are all off-limits. If a surface is covered in oil-based paint with latex, prepping is essential. "Fully sand down the surface, and apply an oil-based primer before painting over it with a water-based paint," she says.
Those common mistakes aside, there are a ton of ways to easily update your home with a fresh coat of paint. Ahead the Paintzen expert talks us through five transformative projects that'll make your home look brand-new. Grab a brush—there's no need to gut renovate, thanks to these smart painting projects.
Project 1: Paint Laminate Cabinets
Few aspects date a home more than old laminate cabinets. The faux-wood gems in my kitchen and living room space above meant that no matter how well I styled the room, it looked dark and dated. But after they'd been sprayed with matte white paint, the change was instant—the room looked brighter and even felt larger. All thanks to two simple coats of paint (which, I'll admit I outsourced to Paintzen's team—I don't trust myself to DIY!).
If you're not prepared to fully replace your kitchen cabinets, this is a smart option, but Hochreiter says the project has to be carefully done so that the paint doesn't peel off the smooth laminate surface. In other words, if you're nervous, it's best to call in a paint expert. "Make sure to sand it, prime it, and then paint it," she specifies.
Choosing a high-quality paint product is also essential if you want the cabinets to look sleek for years to come. "The Benjamin Moore Advanced line of paint is high-quality and durable, making it great for high-traffic areas such as hallways and kitchens," she recommends. Want to get creative? "Paint the inside of the doors or frames a different hue for a fun pop of color," she says.
Project 2: Stencil Bathroom Tiles
Graphic bathroom tiles are becoming increasingly popular, but there's a way to try this Pinterest-worthy trend without retiling your floor. We originally came across the idea of stenciling tiles on a private décor Facebook group, but it seemed too good to be true. So we asked Hochreiter if this DIY project would be possible or if it fell into the category of projects that are better in theory.
It turns out, you can stencil tiles, but make sure you follow this process. "To start, we recommend this only in half-baths where there is little-to-no humidity. Painting over tile in areas with lots of moisture or humidity is typically not a good idea because the paint will crack and peel sooner," she cautions. "But for half-baths without showers/tubs, this is a unique project."
For the best results, follow these steps:
1. Use an abrasive bathroom cleaner to remove any dirt, soap scum, mildew, and other residues.
2. Sand to remove the glossy tile finish, and wipe down with a wet cloth afterward.
3. You'll need to use a durable primer for this kind of job to seal the floor before painting.
4. Finally, use an epoxy paint or a latex paint for patios, which will be more durable for floors.
5. Wait for this to completely dry before going over it with your desired stencil pattern. When all is complete, top with a polyurethane to seal the new, freshly painted floor.
Project 3: Switch Shades of White
Sometimes the most subtle changes can be the most transformative. If you want to breathe new life into a tired room, try switching shades of white. "Choose the tone by your preference for a given space," she recommends. "Do you prefer warm/cozy (maybe for a bedroom or den) or a cooler/larger feeling (maybe kitchen or bathroom)?"
If you're overwhelmed by how many different shades of white are available (there are hundreds), look at what else is in the room. "If the furniture, art, and décor leans more on the 'warm' side, you'll want to choose something with yellow, beige, or pink undertones," she says. "For cool, modern rooms, select a white with gray or blue undertones. If you have a lot of different colors happening within the room, it's a safer bet to pick a 'cooler' white."
Finally, consider the room lighting—both the type of light bulbs and the amount of natural light. "The more natural light you have, the more of a bright, pure white you'll want," she explains. "A bright white will gleam when the sun hits the surface. In a more controlled environment with not as much natural light, you can go with a creamier, softer white."
Still overwhelmed? Start by considering Paintzen's top five shades of white:
1. Chantilly Lace
2. Decorator's White
3. Linen White
4. Simply White
5. White (PM-2)
Benjamin Moore Chantilly Lace ($38 and up)
Project 4: Go Two-Tone
Looking to inject your home with an instant jolt of personality? Consider painting kitchen cabinets two different tones. "We tend to see classic white on top and either gray or blue, usually navy, on the bottom," says Hochreiter. "It's a fun and creative spin on cabinets without getting too busy or competing with the rest of the room, furnishing, and appliances. It's reflected in two-toned walls in general, for example, in living rooms and dining rooms with the lighter color on the top and the darker on the bottom."
If you're unsure which two colors to choose, Hochreiter says there's a fail-safe method. "Another trend that we recommend is monochromatic—using different shades of a color within the same color family," she says. "For example, using a light, aqua color on top and a deeper teal below. It feels natural and harmonious because the colors are in the same family." What's more is that if your kitchen has a low ceiling and feels cramped, she says this is a smart trick for small spaces. "It can also help to vertically expand a space, making the room feel taller."
Project 5: Forget Neutrals—Try Blue
While a fresh coat of white paint can work wonders, choosing colored walls can completely transform the look and feel of your home. If you're ready to go bold but you aren't sure what shade to choose, Hochreiter says blue is a safe choice. "The most popular colors with our customers are white, gray, and blue." Benjamin Moore's Hale Navy, Newburyport Blue, Harlequin blue, and Marilyn's Dress top the list of the most-requested shades of blue at Paintzen, she says.
Oh, and before you lay the drop cloths and take out your paintbrushes, she recommends talking to an expert to select the right finish. One of the biggest mistakes, she says, is "not getting expert advice on what [type of] paint and finish to use for certain rooms, [especially] for walls and ceilings with imperfections. The right paint can make all the difference." Having just finished my apartment makeover, that's something I can vouch for.