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  • Writer's pictureFletcher Decorator

Decorating a Room - What Do I Do First?

Pretty simple, you would think. But it’s a question we get asked a lot. Five times a year, at least.

The answer depends on what you are doing to the room (for example, are you papering or just painting?) and can be broken down 3 ways.

All methods require getting the room prepared. In other words, clearing the room of furniture as best as possible and preparing the surfaces (I’ll save preparation for another entry).

1. Painting Only (surfaces: ceiling, walls, woodwork.)

Start at the top. Ceilings first. Unless you have particular design ideas, I would recommend white, matt emulsion ceilings. Where the ceiling meets the wall, use a paintbrush and allow yourself to paint onto the top of the wall edge by at least a centimetre. You will be painting back over this with the wall colour and it is important to leave yourself some room for cutting back in. Use a roller for the big areas. If you can get someone to help, try one with a brush (steady hand) and one with the roller (sturdy neck).

Walls next. I always recommend matt emulsion finish for the walls as well (you should only really use silk or soft sheen in kitchens or bathrooms to help with moisture). Silk is shiny and shows up every imperfection. You'll want perfect walls to even want to go near silk.

By the way, darker colours are much more difficult to cut in (get straight lines). If you are DIYing with dark colours then good luck. When painting walls, use a brush to go round the edges of the room and allow yourself to paint onto the skirting and architrave by a centimetre (only if you intend to paint the woodwork afterwards).

Woodwork last. By woodwork I mean doors, skirting, dado/picture rails, architrave (the wood that frames the doorway) and windows and sills (if they are not UPVC). Just, you know, anything made of wood. Woodwork normally requires two separate coats of paint. 1. undercoat and 2. top coat of either gloss, satin or eggshell (satin and eggshell are basically exactly the same – both only half as shiny as gloss). I would recommend to buy oil based (smelly) versions of these paints because they are hard wearing and cover better. You can buy water based versions which are labeled as “quick drying” and low odour. The undercoat is ok, but top coats are generally poor - unless you are willing to spend £50+ on Farrow&Ball or Little Green Paint Company.

So to recap:

1. Ceiling

2. Walls

3. Woodwork.

Papering using papers which will be painted over (Lining paper or blown vinyl usually)

In this case, after your initial preparation work, papering is the first thing you do. Again, start with the ceiling if you intend to paper it. If not, paper the walls before any paint is opened. Once all papering is done, apply the same painting instructions as written above.


1. All papering (ceiling then walls)

2. Painting (again ceiling first before walls)

3. Woodwork.

Papering using finish papers such as Laura Ashley/William Morris.

In this instance, the finish paper is the very last thing you do. After all preparation work; first you will paint the ceiling (remembering to paint onto the top of the walls by upto an inch), then paint any walls which aren’t being papered (if you are only using the finish paper on a feature wall) then paint all of the woodwork with two coats (undercoat and top coat). Finally, when all the paint is dry you can begin your papering.


1. Any emulsion work – ceilings before walls.

2. All woodwork – 2 coats

3. Apply finish paper

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