How Painting Has Changed

My View From the Ladder

As the company owner here at Healthy Painting, LLC, my 31 years of experience is not something that many others can claim and I do not take it lightly. Having been involved in the same career for three decades has afforded me the opportunity to witness and take part in many changes in the field.

It is interesting to look back and remember the way everything was, the trends, new ideas and methods that were emerging and the things that were disappearing. Thirty years ago, there were only about a dozen choices for interior paint colors on the shelves and even fewer options for exterior paint. There were just over a handful of companies producing paints in any given metropolitan area and certainly a lot less in small towns. Paint stores had just developed the ability to tint paints inside of the stores, allowing contractors to transition away from the standard practice of custom tinting paints on their job sites using tubes of tint that still had lead and many other highly toxic ingredients. However, the stores’ lack of technology and experience wasted of a lot of paint because they had a less than 50% successful rate of matching colors. I remember on many jobs at that time, not getting what was needed in the beginning was quite a heartbreaking experience, with all that material going to waste and going back for more (and facing the poor odds of a good color match again).

Although the West Coast had already begun setting standards for the industry regarding the use of oil paints, air quality and toxic ingredients, the Midwest held tightly to its old-fashioned ideas. To this day, they are still battling the repercussions that years of lead paint has caused in the inner city of Cleveland, Ohio, where I got my start.

Back in Cleveland, the severe Midwestern weather reaped quite a bit of havoc on the exteriors of the 100-year-old homes that were often neglected longer than was ideal. Working on these difficult and challenging projects on a regular basis, I gained a wealth of experience and learned the value of quality work. A good painter must consider a lot more than the look of the freshly painted structure on the day it is completed. Quality begins with what is not seen – thoroughly scraping, sanding, priming and preparing. No paint job stands the test of time without these steps.

Properly done preparation takes time and effort. Of course, people are always looking to reduce the time and effort needed to do just about anything. For while, painting contractors were literally sandblasting the paint off of homes and taking it down to the bare wood. In theory it seemed like a good idea, but the practice often ruined the structural and visual integrity of the wood. Eventually the sandblasting method became illegal because of the extensive damage it caused, not only to the house, but to the neighboring homes, cars and the like.

Being someone that still does most of the work by hand with brush and roller methods, seeing more and more contractors begin to use spray paint technology has been quite the sight. Again, I understand the desire to minimize time and effort. From my perspective and experience, I would bet on the sprayer method being replaced by something that does not suffer from its significant drawbacks in quality, waste, damage and safety (discussed below).

Just as the technology has changed over time, home fashion trends have changed and cycled in interesting ways. This is easy to see in color choices, for example. Does anyone today want an avocado green refrigerator? For a time, every interior customer wanted all the wallpaper taken down and now I get requests to put it up! Every few years, it’s all the rage to paint the woodwork, then for the next few years people ask me to strip the paint off and refinish the woodwork. These kind of shifts make me smile – everyone wants their home, ultimately, to be their own.

I am enjoying the rising interest in restoring and renovating older homes. Very commonly, the current state of the structure is a mash-up of different decades and the decisions of different owners. Some owners choose to “gut” the home, tearing off exterior siding, interior trim and walls and having everything replaced or covered over with new materials. There is no problem with this, for those that wish to completely change the structural dynamic. The process tends to be very expensive and change the original look, feel and energy of the home. Owners that wish to work with the original vision of the home’s designers and builders might be surprised by how achievable that can be. At times it may be merely a matter of a little bit of extra cleaning, sanding, scraping, caulking, primer and plaster. Putting in the effort along with the right knowledge and experience can often turn the most seemingly hopeless projects into those that wind up being completed beautifully.