Tips on Painting Walls Red


Crimson, scarlet, strawberry, tomato -- painting a wall red is a dramatic gesture that adds the resonance of memory to a room's decor. You recall that perfect red apple from the tree in the orchard, Snow White. You'll never forget that fleeting glimpse of vivid red silk sari on a crowded Mumbai street. You hoisted those cherry-red pompoms high at every hard-won point in those weekend games. Red is so far from neutral that it's almost a deliberate act of defiance to use it on your walls. So, if you're going for a red-blooded room, get the details right.

Hot Times in the Old House

  • Red energizes a room. In a dining room, it stimulates appetites and conversation, and in a living room, red is regal or daring. In the bathroom, it will definitely cast a flattering glow over your complexion -- and may do alarming things to your eyes. What red is not is restful, so add barn red to a kitchen wall but consider carefully before you slather it all over the bedroom. Red can be elegant; red can be rich; red can raise your blood pressure and make your heart beat faster. Welcome guests into a ruby-red enameled hall with a glittering chandelier, and they'll know not to expect a low-key evening. Paint a red wall in the den, where you corral those unstoppable little boys, at your own peril. Before you pick up a paintbrush, contemplate the consequences.

Red Light District

  • Red is a strong color, but it is highly susceptible to light. You might love the cinnabar of your Chinese lacquered cabinet, but on your walls, that same shade might be an anxiety-producing, glaring orangey-red. It is critical to test red paints in every light to see how the color changes. Fluorescent bulbs are typically cool and emphasize the blues and greens in a hue. Incandescent bulbs are warmer and intensify the yellows and reds. Daylight might flatten a shade that gleams like silk at night. Dusk could turn your tomato-red accent wall to mud. Paint a large piece of wall board or heavy cardboard with your red paint and keep moving it around the room over a day or two to see if it holds up. You do not want to paint a room a hard-to-cover color like red and find out you have to re-paint it.

Lipstick on a Pig

  • Red is a show-off; it will not make the walls recede in a small room. Even though it is an intense color, most shades of red are not dark enough to create the impression of a receding surface. That goes for ceilings, too. If you thought painting the powder room glossy red with a matching ceiling would "erase" the boundaries and expand the room to infinity, think again. You will end up with a Faberge egg, not a bad result for a tiny, jewel-toned room, but no help for your claustrophobia. A red accent wall will not gracefully draw attention away from the ugly red brick fireplace wall. The two reds will probably clash uncomfortably; deal with the brick and save the red walls for a plainer room. Red in a dark room becomes a shadowed cave, not a warm retreat. Expand the windows, add a skylight, or limit red to accessories or trim.

Seeing Red

  • Plan to prime the walls before applying red paint. Red will likely require at least two coats, even over white walls. One trick is to tint the primer with a bit of red to get things started. Use a good quality 3/8-inch roller cover for smooth walls and a 1/2-inch roller for textured walls. You want paint on every molecule of surface because tiny missed spots will be glaring. Tape with low-adhesive painter's tape, prime, let the paint dry, and then start by applying red paint in a V or W shape on the wall. Cover the entire wall and let it dry before going back to cut in the edges by the ceiling, baseboards and trim. On the second and any subsequent coats, begin with the edges and then fill in the middle of the wall. A paint designed to give thicker coverage will save you time by eliminating extra coats to get the smooth, unbroken red you need.

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