Somewhere out there right this minute, a realtor is advising a homeowner to paint the inside of their house in a neutral palette before they put it on the market. Conceptually, it’s a good idea. Neutral is. . . neutral. Non-offensive. Unnoticeable. Calm, even.
I have nothing against neutral as a genre.
But I enter my plea with all realtors, homeowners, and interior decorators to please not ever allow anyone to paint ALL of the walls, baseboards and ceilings the same dirty shade of off-white.
“Swiss Mocha” my ass.
Tinting white paint with a spot of brown and covering all available surfaces in it is exactly the same as rubbing your walls, baseboards, and ceilings with sponges dipped in mud puddles.
Although, this isn’t anything you notice at first. Not until you get all the boxes unpacked anyway, which takes about a year if you’re really lucky.
Then you start painting the kids’ bedrooms. One per extended school break, because kids are naturally good painters and will totally bust their butts for fifty bucks. And with each gallon of paint you shake and stir, you start to dream of other colors in other rooms. Soon, every room in the house that you, personally, never spend any time in is painted. Excellent colors. Colors that fit the personalities of the people who do spend time in those rooms. Colors you would be proud to show off if said rooms weren’t otherwise so offensive.
And you start to notice Swiss Mocha.
How it makes your 1970’s suburban split-level look its age and style; how no number of pictures on the walls can prevent it from sucking your soul out little by little. How it never looks clean, no matter what you do to it (although, in Swiss Mocha’s defense, most of what you do to it is resent it and deem it unworthy of washing one more freaking time).
This was my state of mind regarding the Swiss Mocha on my walls when CC left for Denver for six weeks at the start of last summer break, leaving me in charge of a household of five kids and two puggles. It was the first of many extended trips he had scheduled for the year.
The morning he left I woke up in a blind panic, drenched in sweat, from a dream in which I was standing at the edge of a cliff with one foot in the air. I had just started to lose my balance and the adrenaline jolt woke me up. I knew that the only way we were going to make it through him being gone was to stay busy. But how? How was I going to keep five kids with no itineraries occupied all summer without myself going crazy?
Then #2 and #3 spent a Saturday helping the youth group paint a lady’s apartment and they talked about how much they enjoyed it. Now, I’m a terrible painter. I’m impatient. I can’t paint a straight line nor can I tape one. I don’t enjoy it. Yet, at dinner that night it was out of my mouth before I could talk myself out of it.
Me: We should paint the house while your dad’s gone. You know, as a surprise.
Them: That’s crazy.
Me: Isn’t it though?
Them: Okay. Let’s do it!
We made friends with Bryan, the guy at the paint store. I brought all the kids in and we let him in on our surprise project for CC. He was fantastic.
As you can tell from these pictures, there is no greater joy in a child’s life than painting. Especially painting one’s own house during summer vacation. For free.
The puggles helped, too.
CC and I had been fighting about colors since we bought the house. He was a neutral advocate. I wanted statement walls. The longer I looked at Swiss Mocha, the greater I wanted those statements to be. The golds I chose for the main areas were tame for me, but would be a stretch for him.
When it was time to move on to the hallway, I had an idea. I was thinking: ice cream; I was thinking: sunset; I wanted something amazing in this dark hallway with no natural light; something joyful that would be the first thing we saw when we walked out of our rooms in the morning. The plan was to extend that color out to the first wall you see when you walk in the front door.
The day I went in for the paint, Bryan wasn’t there. There was another guy. Another guy who was not in on the plan, not part of the surprise, who didn’t offer me encouragement or help me make decisions. A guy who, when he looked at the close-but-not-quite-right colors I had hoped for guidance with, had an opinion.
Guy: I don’t even know why orange exists as a color.
All my confidence fell away. Maybe I should go with beige. What if CC totally hated it? What if my surprise for him just ended up being a huge waste of time and money and started a big fight? But then I had another thought.
Me: Umm, do you know when Bryan works again?
I went back the next day and Bryan helped me with the orange that CC would never have signed off on in a million years. As the kids were putting it up on the walls they kept commenting.
#2: Oh my god.
#2: Dad’s going to divorce you.
#3: Yeah, he probably won’t like it.
#4: Oh my God. Dad’s going to divorce you.
#5: I love orange! Dad’s so going to divorce you.
#1: Holy Crap! What did you to to the wall? Dad’s going to divorce you.
But I loved it. I would literally clap my hands and jump with glee every time I looked at my orange wall.
It took the bulk of the time that he was gone to do this project. We all worked really hard. I got some form of dinner on the table every day, wherever the table happened to be that day. We had the Summer Olympics on TV the whole time we were painting. We painted at 2am watching the replays of the female Chinese weight lifters. We taped the trim at 7am when #5 got up. Every kid got to paint a door in the downstairs hallway any way they wanted to, and #1 put a mural on one wall.
We banded together and we stayed as busy as possible, which lessened our awareness of the very noticeable absence in our midst. We all knew that over-noticing that absence would be our downfall.
He was blown away when he got home– mostly grateful that he didn’t have to do any of the painting.
He liked the orange wall. He said, “It looks a lot less crazy on the wall than it did in your head.”
And that, Guy Who Is Not Bryan, is why orange exists as a color.
Have you ever planned a surprise for someone you weren’t sure they would like? What’s the boldest thing you’ve ever put on your walls?