Motivational Painting Advice


It's amazing what I learned by painting a pantry closet.  There were so many project details that never occurred to me.  I worked through the challenges and became more knowledgeable.

Anyone can stay motivated to paint a room or pantry shelves if they are prepared for the challenges in front of them. Be sure to stay well rested, have plenty of snacks and water, and paint with a buddy to share the project load. Breaking down the project into smaller steps helps.

Below are my tips to pass on after painting my kitchen pantry. Even though it was a small pantry, it was a lot of work. Keep the end picture in mind and take care of yourself! 

"If your work energy suffers, then you will find yourself deleting the little jewels that will make the final pantry project sparkle."

The painting project will take longer than planned

Oh my, there is no more truth than this.  I was mentally prepared for a big project, but I didn't think about the math (I was never good at that!).  The project multiplied because of tops, bottoms, and sides of the built-in shelves and all the nooks and crannies. This project will take longer than just painting walls in a normal room.

Don't forget about your mental "budget"

There is a financial budget, and there is a mental well-being budget.  When my husband and I moved into a run-down farmhouse, we were overwhelmed with home improvement decisions. We identified a few "morale booster" projects. These would make life a bit more enjoyable until we could decide what to do next. Some of those decorating improvements would have to be undone later.  Those decisions had a high return on investment because they made us happier in the short term. Lesson learned:  sometimes the budget gets vetoed for projects that deliver a bigger happiness boost.

Protect your paint project time

Plan to reserve uninterrupted time for your painting project, and allow more time than you think it will take.  This includes saying no to outside requests, letting friends and family know you are unavailable, and turning off the computer and cell phone to get your paint job finished. I had four days set aside to work on this project, which quickly crumbled as interruptions rolled in from family, business, and work.  Do what you can to make sure your project gets the attention it deserves.

1970s vintage lime green linoleum

This snazzy 1970s bright green linoleum was the highlight of my pantry (pre-makeover).

The default answer to everything is PRIME, SAND, and USE A ROLLER!

Seriously, the answers to my paint questions always leads back to: use a primer and use it correctly.  If you think you are "once and done" in the sanding step, you are in for a big surprise! The number one way to get rid of brush marks is to use the ROLLER... and of course apply the primer correctly.  There are other great painting hacks for getting the smoothest pantry paint job possible, like adding conditioners to the paint.

Prepare for the painting project

Prep steps are important and would have ultimately saved me time.  I was trying to fix things at the same time I was trying to paint walls and shelves.  If you look at my pre-painting checklist you will see lots of details to cover in preparing for the big painting day.  By reviewing the checklist (which I created after my project!)  you will be prepared for the expected challenges and have all of the necessary supplies.

Perform a thorough inspection of the room first

Another item on my list was to perform a thorough inspection of the room first. I was so excited to start the project that I failed to notice an unprimed wall, among other surprises. I removed the old 1970s contact paper only to find old boards splattered with wood stain.  I've dealt with this challenging issue before, but I was committed to painting the shelves. Inevitably, brown stains began to leech up through my paint. Not even the famous KILZ stain blocker could stop the freakish event.  I eventually stopped the brown stain through extra coats of epoxy paint.

Pantry 101:  Pantry closets have different goals than clothing closets

Painting a closet and painting a pantry have a lot of similarities:  they both are in small spaces and have shelves. However, pantry shelves need to meet a higher weight load demand than clothing shelves. When painting pantry shelves, pantry owners want to know when they can put heavy food items back on shelves.  

Putting food cans back on painted shelves

Heavy food cans require a fully-cured, painted shelf. Fully-cured shelves helps avoids the "sticky shelves" surface  and indents that come from setting food cans on the shelf too soon. All this means is letting your shelves dry long enough. Understanding drying and curing times means not immediately putting cans back on pantry shelves the same day! 

Another thing that makes a pantry closet different is the concern over food safety and choosing safe paint products for the food storage environment. Washable  and mold-resistant paint is of more interest in the pantry than a clothes closet. Maintaining a clean environment is important for food storage. 

 Couple taking a paint break.

Couple taking a paint break.

Choose the right pantry paint 

I thought I had the right pantry paint all figured out.  I was going to go with a latex satin paint, and at the last minute, I blurted out "semi-gloss" to the salesperson.  As I was painting it I thought, good choice! This is going to be super durable, I like it!  Then the paint dried and I found all kinds of drips that I had missed (OK, this quality control issue does go back to my high amount of interruptions mentioned earlier).  Semi-gloss paint is more shiny, which magnifies the flaws.  It reminded me of an old farmhouse we gutted years ago with layer after layer of glossy paint.  Even after careful patching and sanding, the shelves and walls don't ever feel quite "new."

Have realistic expectations and be open to new pantry ideas

Be realistic of your vision.  This is a pantry, probably a small step-in closet at that.  There are parts of this space that no one will ever see.  Keep your focus on what the eyes will fall on, and concentrate quality efforts there.  If your work energy suffers, then you will find yourself deleting the little jewels that will make the final pantry project sparkle.

Be prepared for inspiration to strike in the middle of your project.  I had toyed with the idea of painting the walls one color, and the open shelves another color. In terms of efficiency, what a mistake!  When everything was the same color, you can slather in your paint inside one "hole" and not have to worry about carefully trimming.  Side bonus:  my tiny little pantry took on loads of charm by appearing as if I had built in cabinets! 

Take care of yourself during your pantry project 

Quality dips when energy levels go down, so protect your energy reserves!  Understanding your end goal and having a timeline will relieve some stress.  Know what things to let go of so you can focus on the parts of the project that have a bigger WOW factor.  Make sure to eat healthy, stay hydrated, get enough sleep, and pace yourself.  If possible, work in tandem with a friend or family member to avoid project burnout.  Hire parts of the job out if you need to. Have patience and be kind to yourself when you make mistakes.  

Pantry paint project.

Pantry paint project.

Was I happy with my pantry project?

I'm not sugar-coating it, my pantry paint project was a lot of work. To be honest, I put a great deal of effort into it. Besides just a paint update, there were base repairs and prep that had to take place.  I took extra time researching storage containers and picking the right decor style. A classic white pantry with white shelves would have been easy, and skip the wallpaper. 

I put the effort in because I wanted to learn from it. Ripping out the old plywood shelves and installing new and better shelving would have been another "learning experience." I no doubt will cross paths with more pantry remodels in my future. In the here and now, it is very satisfying to see the fruits of my labor.

Not everyone understands the strong desire to redecorate or invest work in a tiny room. For those who do, it's about the reward of opening the pantry door every day and seeing something special, just for them. That's what keeps me motivated!

Have you  been through a pantry project or are thinking about one? Please share what lessons you learned!

About the author 

Renee Matt

Renee is a former kitchen designer, home remodeling enthusiast (having lived through several DIY projects), and an Iowa farmwife. Renee is passionate about preparedness, garden skills, and knowing where her food comes from. She uses her technical background and expertise to bring the Everything Pantry website to life.

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