Gray-washed walls make our living room ten times brighter. Also, ignore the in-progress boxes and décor – and, well, furniture.
I should preface our first DIY post by talking a bit about our experience. Most of the projects I plan to share here are for the beginner to intermediate craftsman. If it takes a more skilled hand, I’ll clarify that in the beginning in big, can’t-miss letters. Please don’t attempt a project that uses tools or chemicals outside your skill-set without someone who knows what they’re doing.
That said, J and I both grew up watching Bob Villa and using tools with our dads and/or grandfathers. We’ve both been working with power tools and wood since before we were ten and thus have a high comfort level with taking on projects. If we haven’t done something personally, we have no discomfort in researching and applying the knowledge immediately. This particular project is for beginners: you just have to know how to sand and use a paintbrush. Oh, and you also need patience – a lot of it.
When we bought our house we knew one of the first projects would be the living room. It had great features: beautiful wood trim and window casings, a working brick fireplace, built-in bookshelves, and a wall-size window that looks out over old oak and pine trees. Unfortunately, the room was also covered wall-to-wall in wood paneling that made it look like a lodge or cabin – complete with the nail holes where animal heads once hung (or so our mailman says; thanks for the nightmares!). The paneling made the room feel dark despite the big window and also seemed to shrink it in size. There were two options: tear it out or whitewash it.
Look how dark the paneling makes the room even though it’s sunny outside. Yikes.
The paneling itself was solid, beveled, and custom-cut and patterned for the space – it’d have been a shame to tear it out. The house, with all its moldings and traditional structure, wanted whitewashed walls to give it a modern and rustic aesthetic. Of course, since all-white everything both makes me think of asylums and has been ubiquitous in home décor for the last few years, we decided to do something a bit different. Enter: gray-wash.
Things you’ll need if you’d like to gray-wash (or whitewash) your walls:
– wood-paneled walls – or the desire to install wood paneling (sorry, had to)
– TSP & a big sponge
– two pairs of gloves
– eye protection
– sandpaper – the grit will depend on the surface
– random-orbit sander – preferable
– dust mask or dual cartridge respirator
– painter’s tape
– plastic container – we used a cheap pitcher
– cup of water
– paint & stir stick – we picked Gray Screen by Sherwin Williams
– quality bristle paint brushes
– rags (old cotton tees work well)
– drop cloths
How to do it:
1. First and foremost, you need to remove all furniture from the room or cover it. It’s about to get very, very dusty.
2. Clean the walls. If they’re anything like ours were, they’re filthy. We chose TSP due to the level of grime and because we knew our wood panels could take it. Wear gloves, a mask, and eye protection if you choose to use TSP – and avoid getting it on your skin.* After the walls are cleaned and you’ve properly disposed of your sponge and TSP, wipe down the walls with a damp rag. Technically, if you’re going to remove every last section of old stain then you can skip this step and go straight to sanding. We chose to clean them anyway, especially in the corners and along the beveled edges where it is more difficult to sand.
3. Still wearing your protective gear, sand the wood panels. You can choose to sand down to the bare wood (again, if you’re going to go completely down to bare wood then you don’t need to clean the boards first) or just scuff up the surface depending on how washed out or dark you want the final product. This takes some elbow grease and more than a modicum of patience, but your success ultimately depends on this step. Because our paneling was a thick real wood we were able to use a random-orbit sander (with 60-, 80-, and then 220-grit sandpaper) rather than a hand sander, which saved us a lot of time.
4. Take a new damp rag – or several, depending on the size of your room – and wipe the dust off the walls. You’ll also want to vacuum to rid the room of dust before you start painting.
5. Tape off your trim or anything you don’t want covered in gray-wash.
6. Mix your water and light gray paint until it comes to a consistency something like runny pancake batter (ours was a 1.5 : 1 water to paint ratio). You’ll want a cup of water nearby to add to the mixture when necessary. The more water in your mixture, the more coats it will take to cover the walls because the wood will soak it right up.
7. Dip a dry brush into the mixture and apply it to an inconspicuous space first (being careful not to let it run), let it sit for a few seconds, and then lightly wipe it off/rub it in with a rag. Don’t be alarmed if it appears very light or smudgy, it’ll dry darker than it goes on.
8. If you like the color, continue with the rest of your walls in sections, wiping them with a rag before moving onto the next one. We painted the walls until the brush ran out of paint and then wiped that small section with a rag before moving around the room. If you don’t like the color, you can fidget with your mixture’s consistency if it is too watery or too thick; or go pick a new paint color if it is too dark or so light that a couple coats won’t fix it.
9. Repeat steps 8 and 9 until you reach the desired depth of your wall color. For us, this was one full coat and a second coat sporadically throughout the room to create dark and light swathes of gray (the two bright spots in the photo above are not this technique; they are the spotlights on the wall because we painted well after midnight). The purpose was to create a weathered look, not monochrome, so the sporadic second coat really made the difference.
The process wasn’t much different from doing a traditional whitewash, though it took less coats than anything I’d read. Part of this was due to the color (the obvious part) and part of it was due to the amount of sanding we did beforehand. Let’s be honest, though, if it had taken five coats of paint it still would’ve been worth it. Goodbye dark outdated panels, hello light and pretty!
Next time in DIY I’m going to talk about limewashing our brick fireplace and why we chose to do that instead of using simple white paint.
-M. Ray Hall
*Read the TSP instructions and warnings carefully before use. We are not responsible for your experience with or use of this product.