The Red Wall

All my husband wanted was a red wall.  He likes color and he became enthralled with the idea of a red accent wall in our entertainment room.

We bought a house with an ‘unfinished’ basement – which is code for ‘Dear god, what were the previous owners thinking’.  If you haven’t experienced it, it’s a boring transformation story that involves more stress than being pantless at a porcupine convention.  In our case, that was partly because the previous genius owners didn’t understand that drywall should never be installed on top of dirt.

After a two very stressful months and a lot of sweat, we had a clean, watertight basement with good lighting and a cheerful totally flat bamboo floor. The flatness involved a contractor and lasers, which would have been awesome but the cost gave me a nosebleed.  The very last touch was painting.  Me, I don’t care too much about colors and textures on the walls of my house.  I want warm sunny colors but I don’t care if the wall is peony, goldenrod or early-dawn-just-before-false-dawn-peaches-n-cream-yellow.  It’s not important to me if the paint is matte, semi-gloss, hyper-gloss or shiny-as-hell as long as I don’t have to paint the wall again.

My husband CleverGuy however had a vision.  He wanted golden walls on 3 sides and an accent wall in oxblood red.  Here’s an important rule for home ownership:  If anyone ever suggests that you should have a red wall anywhere in your house, you immediately say “No!” and smack them on the nose with a rubber mallet.  That path leads to madness and terrorizing BigBoxStore employees.

It started out simply enough.  We went to BigBoxStore  and CleverGuy picked out exactly the color he wanted.  We listened to the paint counter folks and bought the special pink tinted primer that they assured us was totally necessary to make the wall just the right color.  They also warned us that we’d need 3 or 4 coats of the red to make it look good.

On a sunny Saturday afternoon, we headed home and put on the primer.  It made the wall look like we’d painted it with pepto bismol.  The next morning when we were sure the paint had dried, we put on the first coat of red.  It didn’t look right.  It looked sort of…scabrous and blotchy.  We just assumed that’s what they meant by needing 3-4 coats.  Six hours later, we put on a second coat.

Now it looked less scabrous and more blood spattered.  I headed back to BigBoxStore  with the paint cans because there was no way that was what it was supposed to look like after 2 coats.  Instead of customer assistance, I was informed that paint can’t be returned and anyway, what did I expect, I’d only put on 2 coats.  I explained about the blood spatter effect, but they didn’t listen.

Ok, we’re only two coats in and it was definitely getting darker.  So the next night after work, we put on a third coat.

This time it looked like a wall straight from a horror movie.  Like someone had slaughtered a bull right in front of the wall and let the blood spray and dribble wherever it hit.  On my way back to BigBoxStore, I was wondering if we could have Halloween party 6 months early so we’d have the wall as the backdrop for pictures.

Same answer: we’d need at least 4 coats to get good coverage.  And they still wouldn’t admit that anything was wrong with the paint or the primer.  I never once raised my voice or cussed at anyone in that store, but there’s no way they could miss that I was getting angry.

Home I went and for the next two days we put on a coat of paint each night after work.   Instead of getting better, it actually got more pronounced.  There were sections of the wall that still showed primer and other sections that were deeply oxblood red and the pattern looked like a slaughterhouse wall.  The sixth night of the fiasco, we tried to make the whole situation funny by figuring out what you would have to use as the weapon to make the blood spray into the patterns on our wall.   We settled on a combination of chainsaw and weed wacker.

Then it was Saturday morning again, and we’d lost an entire week to that wall.  This time when, I packed up the paints and headed back to BigBoxStore, I went straight to a manager.  He tried to explain ‘no returns’ to me and I explained the word ‘defective’ to him.  The manager was across the aisle from the paint departments counter top fortress, so they could hear the whole episode. In the end, he gave me money back and took the cans of paint.

    I met up with CleverGuy and headed down the street to a real paint store to buy oxblood paint.  I had a dried stir stick with the paint color on it that we wanted them to match and they have a gadget that can ‘see’ colors and spit out the exact formula for matching the color.  Well, that gadget wasn’t working when we arrived, but we were assured by the teenager behind the counter that he could match the color.  He mixed something up and had his manager ‘verify’ it: Which looked suspiciously to me like his eyes sliding over the colors then back to his computer screen in a fraction of a second.

We looked at the paint on the stir stick and the new test card with its little dot of red and they didn’t look the same.  Actually, the paint stick didn’t look like the right color.  I started wondering if I’d had a stroke triggered by the stress of not yelling at the manager in the previous store.  In my head, I named the president, the date and folded my tongue in half without opening my mouth.  Ok, not a stroke.  I looked around the store for inspiration and realized that nothing in the store was really white.  Packages and bottles on the shelves that I knew had white labels were vaguely green tinged.   So the light in the paint store was actively green.  Who makes that decision?  Does someone look around their business and think ”I own a business that sells colors and textures to people.  I should tint all of my lights so that colors that people pick out inside my store will never look the same once they walk out my front door”  That’s either the stupidest business model ever or just plain maliciousness.

To the complete bafflement of the kid at the counter, we walked outside into the sunlight to look at the paint samples again.  They were still different, but not hugely so.  When we pointed out that the paint wasn’t quite right, his manager came over and explained that it was because the paint wasn’t fully cured and it would match when it dried fully.

I’d heard this before in a BBC comedy I watched as a child.  “They’re perfect Mr. Tibbons, don’t fret, the pants will ride DOWN with wear.  Ah yes, Mr. Jorgenson, don’t worry, the pants will ride UP with wear.”  But CleverGuy and I were so tired of the paint fiasco that we took the paint home with the irrational hope that it would be ok.

We walked directly down to the basement, turned all the lights on and swiped a swack of the new paint across the wall.  I was really happy that the paint stuck to the wall where I put it and the color went on evenly, but it was pink.  Just pink.  We waited 2 hours, and it was still just pink.   I put a second swack of paint over the test strip and waited another hour.  No change.  It was closer to the color of a plastic flamingo instead of cotton candy now, but no one calls that color deep red.

And back I went to the paint store, buckets in hand.  They started the whole ‘multiple coats’ dance again and I explained that no matter how many coats of pink flamingo ooze I put on the wall, it will never be red.  And until the wall is red, I don’t get to get on with my life.  The stupid wall was holding my basement hostage.

Money in hand again, I tried yet another paint store.  Across town, on my lunch break the next day, I found actual painters.  Nice guys.  I explained the problem and their first response was: “Don’t ever paint a wall red” with an explanation of color theory and the chemicals in paint.  Quickly followed by “We can help you fix it”.  They scanned my paint sample, matched the color and sent me on my way.  This time, the paint stuck to the wall AND it was pretty close to the original color we’d picked out.

But it wasn’t quite perfect – if you stood and stared directly at the wall, there were places where you could tell that there were 8 coats of paint with various shades of pink and red.  Not because there were drips or lumps, but because the depth of the color varied a little bit as your eye scanned across the wall.

The paint guys were pretty clear that with red, that was always going to be an issue.  So we called a friend of ours and bribed her with a nice dinner to do her paint magic on our wall.  She spent a couple of hours and used I swear 30 colors to mix a series of washes that she sponged and daubed on the wall.  When she was done, there was an oxblood colored wall with a lovely variegated texture that looked completely intentional.  We moved the furniture in and enjoyed our mini home theater.

A week or two afterward, I had to go back to BigBoxStore for something.  I don’t remember what, but it wasn’t related to paint.  As I was walking down their broad main aisle, I glanced at the paint counter and saw one of the women look directly at me and say something I couldn’t hear.  Then I watched all 4 people in the department scatter in 4 different directions leaving the paint department completely unstaffed.  I found what I was after and out of curiosity, checked on the paint department on my way out.  It was still empty with a batch of irritated customers milling around.

I tried to feel bad about traumatizing the employees, but I couldn’t manage it.  I was careful to never yell, cuss or threaten when I talked to them, and I’m not a physically intimidating person.   So I just kept seeing the absurdity of the entire situation and had to laugh.  I still laugh about it every time I walk past that paint desk.  And every time CleverGuy looks longingly at red paints, I remind him that he promised:  The only red wall we’ll ever put in our house again is the book.

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Vivien NicUldoon

Vivien lives in Portland Oregon with two cats, a smart dog, a happy dog and a brilliant husband.