Making a splash

PUBLISHED : Friday, 09 November, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 09 November, 2007, 12:00am

A mantra of estate agents, keen to sell or rent dingy flats, seems to be 'all this room needs is a fresh coat of paint'. We nod our heads like disciples of some DIY-deity and think, 'Yeah, I could do that'.

Before negotiating a discount for a shabby-looking flat, it might be best to arm yourself with the knowledge of how to choose the right paint. The less decisive among us may find that paying someone else to make the many decisions involved in the task is worth it. For the thrifty or creative types, this will be fun.

The most exciting choice, will likely be your first. Picking a colour. Ask yourself if it is really a good idea to create a glossy red accent wall to show off that Vietnamese art you bought on holiday. Perhaps it is, perhaps not.

Interior designer Ed Ng, a director of AB Concept, says, 'As apartments in Hong Kong are often size-challenged, use a paint type and colour that is light and airy to make the space appear larger, or dark and moody if you want to throw the rule book out the window'.

He suggests using light, warm colours such as beige, warm white or cream as a main colour for a home interior.

'Light colours, no matter what hue, are always considered peaceful, elegant and sophisticated,' says the lead designer of the team that renovated the interiors at Swire Properties' Pacific Place Apartments.

Strong colours such as red, yellow, purple, blue or green can affect a person's emotion as time goes by, and can easily look out of date, according to Mr Ng.

However, he recommends bold hues for adventurous people. Those sitting on the fence on the colour issue can consider using strong colours as accents on loose furniture, accessories or in a confined area such as an accented backdrop. Do not worry if you get funny reactions over your freshly painted puce dining room. 'You can just repaint over the top if you don't get it right the first time,' Mr Ng says.

At least it's easier than stripping wallpaper or a wood panel that seemed like a good idea at the time. Whatever your choice, be sure to test a sample on a large area of the wall. Once applied, the colour may appear much darker than the little swatch you picked up at the store. Even your household lighting will affect the outcome.

Do not forget to let it dry, too. Wet paint looks a different colour.

Fortunately, most paint stores will custom mix a colour if you absolutely must have the exact shade of blue of your Irish Setter's eyes. But, if you don't find the perfect colour right away, keep looking or contact the paint supplier. Small shops are constrained from providing a company's full product range.

With the colour decided, it's time to save the environment and your health. It sounds like an oxymoron, but there are so many eco-friendly paints on the market today that it would be a travesty not to use them.

Most paints contain some petroleum based byproducts or VOCs (volatile organic compounds that contribute to ozone layer depletion). However, there are paints available that contain low levels of VOCs and no VOCs, especially good for bedrooms and baby rooms. 'This is an environmentally safe and healthy option for your home,' Mr Ng says, noting that low VOC paints have been linked with lowered cases of asthma and other respiratory problems.

Even the government recognises the danger of breathing VOCs, especially in interiors. The government recently imposed new laws on the level of VOCs permitted in paint. Just ask whether the paint you like is low-VOC and made from natural ingredients. If not, ask which one is closest to the colour you want.

You have your colour, it is eco-friendly, and now you want to make sure it will resist mould, which is probably why you want to repaint. Hong Kong has a humid climate so mould/fungus-resistant paint is preferred in most cases to keep paint looking new for longer. These products are especially useful in wet areas such as bathrooms, kitchens and laundry rooms.

Nippon Paint says the request for anti-fungal paint is the second question, after 'do you have my colour?', that local people make. For maximum effectiveness, the firm suggests preparing the wall first. Peel off the old paint and the existing fungus. Then apply an anti-fungus solution before applying sealer.

Josephine Chung, assistant marketing manager at Nippon Paint, says: 'The sealer increases the adhesion of the subsequent paint coating and maintains the colour for a longer period'.

However, not all people have the time or money to apply anti-fungal solution, sealer and paint. In that case, because water-based paints do not attract as much mould/mildew, you can add an extra mould-retardant to the paint when the shop mixes it, if it doesn't already contain it.

Then there is the issue of rain, not one most homeowners would think about when painting an interior wall. 'Some customers want waterproof paint because water comes in through the window frame during typhoons,' Ms Chung said, noting that waterproof paint is also great for bathrooms.

Next are the considerations of matt or gloss finishes, and using a water or oil-based paint. Gloss is great for reflecting light, and can make a space look larger. It is also good for high-traffic areas as it tends to be easier to clean. It can be useful for homes with small children prone to drawing on walls.

Traditionally, gloss finishes have been used only on skirting boards and cornices, doors and door frames. Now, according to Mr Ng, many international designers are using gloss finishes as a feature on main walls for a visual point of difference.

'But if you are looking for a glossy and perfect 'piano finish' be sure, as this can be very costly. Not many contractors can do a perfect job. Always ask for a mock-up before you make the final choice,' Mr Ng advises.

If you are looking for a warmer, velvety and cosier feel, a matt finish is best because it absorbs light.

Nippon Paint advises customers with cement plaster walls (most homes in Hong Kong) to use matt finishes because a gloss finish looks too shiny.

Overwhelmed with the decision-making process? Tempted to pick up the first paint you see and make a run for it? If you just cannot decide, Mr Ng suggests choosing a low-sheen (matt or semi-gloss) water-based (emulsion) paint.

'It usually works well, and is often available in a wide range of colours. This type of paint is usually the least expensive, it's the easiest to clean and can be used on most interior surfaces,' he says.

First-time DIYers should take note: Don't use water-based paint on top of oil-based paint. It will crack and peel. Water-based can only be used underneath oil, or on top of other water-based layers.

Also, if you are using oil-based paints, brushes and other equipment must be cleaned with a solvent. However, with water-based paints, brushes can be cleaned in water before they dry out. 'Otherwise,' Mr Ng says, 'Be prepared to get a new brush.'

And if you do choose water-based paint, read the water-dilution ratio and don't add too much water or it will undermine the function of the paint.

The next time your partner catches you staring off into space, tell her you're considering a new wall colour. And, if you happen to be in the bathroom at the time, you're in luck as there are new products on the market suitable for ceramic surfaces.

'So if you don't have the budget to renovate your entire bathroom, painting over tired looking tiles is another option,' Mr Ng suggests.

For those who prepare, freshening up a tired interior can be more fun than watching paint dry. But you'll have a chance to do that too.