Top Seven Painting Mistakes TV Design Shows Make – And How to Avoid Them


Ask a Designer Series- Mistakes made to TV Walls - Nesting With GracePaint is one of the least expensive and easiest ways to brighten up your home, to add color and design to a room, to play up architectural features and show your creativity. All this with just a few supplies and a little elbow grease. Most design shows on television can give you ideas about choosing paint colors and how to match it up with your décor, but it’s in your best interest to ignore the haphazard way they show the painting activity itself.

I come from a long line of professional tradesmen, contractors, and home-improvement gurus. We’ve always enjoyed home and garden programs on television, but it never ceases to amaze us the blatant disregard most of these shows have for the proper way to complete a custom painting job. Designed to Sell on HGTV, for instance, will spend several minutes explaining how to tile a backsplash. Then they’ll cut to the homeowners and designer, randomly rolling paint on in the middle of a wall. It may make for amusing TV, but it’s the wrong way to get the beautifully painted room you desire.

If you’re interested in giving a room or your entire house a design makeover, by all means get what ideas you can from design TV. Be aware, however, of the following blunders design shows keep making:

Painting in good clothes and high heels–wrong! Television hosts and designers generally want to look their best on camera, so viewers are often treated to scenes of blatant impracticality. Paint does not come out of clothing and can ruin shoes as well. When it’s time to paint a room, find comfortable clothes that allow you to bend and stretch–and that you don’t mind ruining. Footwear should also be something you don’t mind getting paint on, but more importantly, it should be comfortable and allow for safety and good balance. No open-toed shoes, flip-flops or high heels, especially when working on ladders or scaffolding.

Using plastic paint tray liners without a paint tray–wrong! The only thing I can attribute this gaffe to is cutting costs. The thin plastic liners are meant to go inside of a sturdy metal or thick plastic paint tray to make clean-up easier. They should not be used alone, as they tend to slide along the floor or bend and even crack without support behind them. If you dip the roller in and have to chase the liner across the floor, there’s no way the roller is getting the correct distribution of paint. Using such flimsy trays also increases the likelihood of spills, which could spatter walls and ruin the carpet. Buying a sturdy paint tray, preferably metal, is a good investment. They are inexpensive and can be used over and over again for years, provided you clean it after every use–or use those disposable liners to protect the interior.

Not cutting in first–very wrong! Cutting in involves using a brush to paint all the edges and corners that a roller won’t fit in or cover properly. This generally includes the areas around windows and door frames, outlets, air vents, along the baseboards, etc.

This is the part that decorating and design shows most often get wrong. HGTV‘s Designed to Sell and TLC‘s Trading Spaces are big offenders. Practically every episode includes one or more people starting a room by rolling paint onto big patches of wall first. Later in the show, someone comes by with a small brush and tries to fill in the empty white space as if they were coloring it in with a marker. This is NOT the correct way to paint. Watch something like HGTV‘s Divine Design, that has a professional painter, and you’ll see him cutting in first.

The important thing to remember is that the roller texture is the most even and desirable texture for the wall, so you want as much of the wall covered with the roller as possible. When you cut in with a brush, the paint goes on a little flatter and often with some visible brush strokes. It makes sense to paint that way first and then go over as much of the brush area with the roller as possible. Rolling first and then cutting in second results in painting brush strokes over the rolled area. This will call more attention to the edges of the walls and make it look ragged.

Using too small of a brush–don’t! My family still talks about the time we saw Frank, a designer on Trading Spaces, cutting in with a ridiculously small one inch brush. It would have taken him three weeks to cut in a room with that brush, so it was obvious that someone else came in and finished up the room once he was off-camera.

To cut in, use a two and a half inch angled brush or larger. If possible, it’s best to cut in one wall or manageable area, then use the roller while the brush strokes are still wet. This allows for better blending and prevents a noticeable line from forming at the top of the walls.

Random rolling–please stop! Typical of design shows is a scene of homeowners and designers starting in the middle of a wall and just rolling paint on haphazardly. Using a roller to paint a wall is not overly difficult, but it does require a steady hand and a systematic approach. Start at one side, top or bottom, and work in sections until the wall is complete. Always work in a consistent direction so that the new section begins where the last one ended–where the paint is still wet and can be easily blended into the new area.

With a little strength and an extension pole attached to the roller handle, it is possible to do an entire wall top to bottom in long, even strokes. If you need the shorter handle for better leverage, do the top section using a step stool or ladder, then move down to the lower half so you can cover any possible drips. Many television shows talk about the “W” motion for rolling. What works for me is a smooth up and down rolling with the wet roller. Just before reloading the roller with paint (when the roller has gotten a bit “dry”), I use the “W” style of painting with a light hand to gently feather out any roller marks. With good lighting, it’s possible to see what’s been done and take care of any areas that were missed or laid on too thick. The more you paint, the more you’ll discover the best technique for a smooth finish.

Two people rolling paint onto the same wall–not the best idea. This is another aspect of design TV that doesn’t work as well in real life. Painters should work in an assembly line fashion. One person cuts in, then another follows with the roller. While the rolling is happening, the first person moves on and cuts in the next section. This is the most efficient way, and leads to a better finished product. Most people do not paint in the same fashion, using the same amount of paint or pressure. If two people start rolling on the same wall, there’s a distinct possibility two halves of the wall will look different from each other. There may be noticeable roller marks where they meet up, or if they go over the same spot too many times.

Rolling paint on the ceiling and walls at the same time–no, no, no! We’ve seen this on Trading Spaces the most. It may seem like a time saver, but it can cause more trouble and more work. The rule with painting is light colors before dark, so usually the ceiling is done first. This means that cutting in the ceiling goes quickly, because any paint that gets on the walls will be easily covered with the darker color. If two people roller the walls and the ceiling at the same time, afterward they will have to cut in at the same time. This will cause them to be in each other’s way, and to possibly have to cut in the light color against the dark.

The two painters can also run into each other while using the rollers, particularly with the extension poles, which require plenty of room. It’s impossible to get a smooth ceiling finish if you’re constantly having to avoid or step around another painter. In addition, there is almost always a certain amount of spray when using a roller. If doing the ceiling at the same time as the walls, the ceiling color will no doubt end up lightly spattering onto the wet, darker walls. This will cause more touch-ups to be done and if it smears into the wall roller, could mean another coat of paint will be necessary.

Design shows are a great start and inspiration for home projects, but never forget that they are first and foremost a form of entertainment. Certain scenes are edited for effect, humor, excitement and not necessarily to show the correct way of completing a project. Very often a designer will paint a few strokes on a wall for the camera, and then disappear while a professional crew comes in to paint it the correct way. Don’t be fooled into taking every facet of these shows literally.

Do your research and learn to paint the right way. These corrections of common design show mistakes will get you on the right track to getting the beautifully painted home you deserve!