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124_homespun.jpgBy Joan Morris

RISMEDIA, January 24, 2009-(MCT)-Admit it. With all the holiday decorations stored away and the days still much too short for our liking, our houses feel like dark and joyless places. We’re suffering from a bad case of the winter doldrums, and the lack of a budget for a major house redo is making spring seem eons away.

But you don’t have to sit in the darkness or dip into the kids’ college fund. There are other ways to freshen up your house while staying true to that New Year’s resolution to stick to a budget.

Few things in life can make as substantial a change and improvement than a can of paint. Shannon Kaye, host of the DIY’s network “Fresh Coat”, recommends fighting the winter blues by spreading some color-or maybe a fresh coat of white paint-on those walls.

“It’s true,” Kaye says. Paint offers the biggest decorating bang for the buck, “and it can change your entire room.”

Kaye, one of seven children, was raised in Pleasanton, Calif. Coming from a large family, she says, she grew up being thrifty. But her mother didn’t let the need to economize take away from the pleasantness of the home.

“She always made our rooms nice for us,” Kaye says.

The decorating bug caught Kaye at a young age, and she eventually studied interior and industrial design at the Academy of Art in San Francisco. Later, she apprenticed with a decorative painter, and then started her own business, where she specialized in the unique.

“I felt really happy with my work, my clients and the income,” Kaye says, “but I was getting a little tired of climbing ladders and painting ceilings.”

When her older sister’s home was featured in a television makeover program, Kaye met the producer and was later asked to audition for a new show on using paint to completely transform a room.

Kaye recently completed three seasons of “Fresh Coat” on the DIY network. Although production has ended on the series, the shows still air on the network at 5 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. Wednesdays.

“I worked harder than I’d ever worked before, but it was so much fun to work with homeowners- people like me and my mom, seeing what they could do on a small budget,” she says.

Kaye is now spokeswoman for Shur-line, a company that markets a line of paint-application and related products for do-it-yourselfers.

Here are Kaye’s best tips:

1. Know Your Space. Ask yourself why you want to make a change. Are you planning to sell your home? Do you want to make the space more personal or more functional? The answers will determine what and how much you do.

2. Trends. While people often shy away from putting color on their walls, the opposite is true of our furniture.

“People are buying more colorful and bright pieces,” Kaye says. If you already have a lot of color in your room, then you may consider doing something that has in the past been considered a boring and unimaginative choice: Go white.

White walls are fresh and bright, Kaye says, and can complement your colorful furnishings by not competing with them.

Get those images of the dull, dingy white walls of most rentals out of your mind and think of the white as a canvas for your art.

“There are almost as many shades of white as there are for colors,” Kaye says.

Alternately, Kaye says, is the trend to bring bold color to your walls with paint and wallpaper. Not really sure what this is supposed to mean-maybe I’m reading it wrong though.

Like many people, Kaye is not a fan of wallpaper, but she does like patterns and texture on walls. The happy medium, she says, is to do it with paint. “Wallpapers are coming back into fashion,” Kaye says. “But they are difficult to remove and difficult to paint over. A lot of people are finding stenciling is a way to create something personal.”

3. Don’t wrinkle up your nose. Kaye says while most people associate stencils with “ducks and geese and ivy,” a new generation of stencils have hit the market that are stylish without a fowl in sight.

An inexpensive and personal way of stenciling is to create your own using poster board and tracing paper. Sketch your design on the tracing paper, refine it and when you’re satisfied, flip it over and trace it onto the poster board. Then cut it out with a utility or craft knife and stencil away.

4. Consider Your Mood. Kaye recommends spending some time in the room you’re going to paint and think about how you want to feel when you’re there. Will this be a space to spend time with the children, or is this a quiet place to write that novel you’ve been planning? Are you going to turn it into an exercise room, or is it a place for quiet reflection?

Then think about how color affects the plan for the room. You might not accomplish much if you paint your home gym in cool greens and blues, but vibrant yellows and oranges could keep you on the treadmill longer.

And while red is a romantic color, if you paint your entire bedroom in scarlet, you might never get any sleep.

5. Finding Inspiration. If you want to give your room a paint makeover but are unsure of what color to use, Kaye suggests taking a clue from your furnishings.

“I like to take a piece in the room as the inspiration color,” Kaye says. “A favorite pillow, art work, curtains.”

Take it to the paint store or grab some paint strips and bring them home. Hold them up to the item and see how the color works.

For example, with a floral pillow, a green shade could bring out hidden greens in the pillow; orange could highlight other colors.

But Kaye warns against getting too matchy. You want the wall color to complement the favorite item; an exact match could make the item blend in and disappear.

6. Color Carefully. Too much color can overwhelm you and your room. “Oranges and yellows are cheerful,” Kaye says, “but when you multiply it by four walls, you could be glowing out the door when the lights are off.”

Be sure and safe by using tones from nature. “Stay away from candy colors,” she says. “They’re pretty in small pieces, but too strong for an entire room. If you decide on orange, look for an earthy, burnt orange or a warm peach.”

A dark green in a small room can make it feel like a cave, yet sage and celery greens can give it a lighter, softer feel. “You do have to experiment a bit.”

7. Color Test. Kaye recommends picking two or four colors that you like and then pick up some relatively inexpensive sample-size paints.

Paint patches on each wall of the room. Live with it for a few days, looking at it from different angles, at different times of the day and in different light. See how it works with your furnishings and how it looks from other rooms.

8. Accent? Maybe. The trend not too long ago was to create an accent wall- typically in red. But you need to be careful and use accent walls sparingly.

Often, the darker color only makes the other walls appear dull or dingy. And the deeper the contrast, the easier it is to see flaws in the paint job-splashes on crown molding or imperfect lines.

Kaye prefers a technique that is more sophisticated and, she believes, more effective. She uses two to three colors that have softer contrasts. A silver gray with a charcoal, for example.

Choose one color for the wall and then paint large squares or rectangles on the same wall with the contrasting colors.

It’s a nice touch for children’s rooms, too, where paint choices tend to be more vivid. By painting white or light pink squares on a darker pink wall, you break up the intensity of the pink while providing a neutral background to hang photos or artwork.

In Kaye’s San Mateo home office, she has painted the room in a pale pink, then painted a large rectangle in taupe. “It gives me a general sense of space that I wouldn’t have otherwise,” she says.

Don’t be afraid to experiment, Kaye says. If it fails, you can just paint over your mistakes. But you just might end up with something that sends those winter blues flying.

© 2009, Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.).