A new coat of paint: the language of decorating

John Giustina/The Image Bank/Getty Images

by Liz Walter

In my last post, I looked at general language for home improvements. This post will focus on one specific area: decorating. As you will see, there are lots of nice collocations associated with this topic.

If we are decorating a room that has been decorated before, we often use the verb redecorate:

I decided to redecorate my bedroom.

Before you paint something such as a wall, you need to prepare the surfaces, usually by cleaning them or by filling the cracks. We often use the verb apply with paint:

First, prepare the surfaces by cleaning off any dirt.

All these cracks need to be filled.

Use a clean brush to apply the paint.

If a surface is rough, we might sand it (also sand it down) with sandpaper (paper with sand on it):

You should sand the wood before you paint it.

Each layer of paint is called a coat of paint. The first layer of paint is called the undercoat and the final layer is called the topcoat. The same words are used for the types of paint we use. If we paint something in a quick way, we sometimes say we are giving it a lick of paint:

The walls will need at least two coats of paint.

Allow a few hours for the undercoat to dry before you apply the topcoat.

I gave the cupboard a lick of paint.

We often call the way the surface of something looks its finish. Gloss paint looks shiny and matt (UK)/matte (US) paint does not:

Use wax to give the polished table a shiny finish.

We used gloss paint on the window frames and matt paint on the walls.

When we strip wallpaper, we remove it from a wall, and when we put it on the wall, we hang it or put it up. We lay or put down flooring, carpets etc:

It took all day to strip the wallpaper.

We decided to put up/hang wallpaper in the living room.

We paid someone to lay the carpets for us.

Finally, I want to mention a general phrase I didn’t have room for in my last post. If we employ someone to do a job rather than doing it ourselves, we often say that we get/have something done:

We’re having the outside of the house painted.

I need to get the window frames varnished.

8 thoughts on “A new coat of paint: the language of decorating

  1. Denis

    Terribly informative & awfully educational! 🙂
    At the same time, I’d like add a couple more rather useful collocations:
    we hammer nails into walls, and we plane wooden surfaces (use a special tool (a plane) to remove small strips of wood from a surface).

  2. Denis

    Dear Liz,
    I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind kindly answering my question about punctuation.
    Is punctuation correct in the following sentence?

    ‘When I run out of steam having busted a gut redecorating my house and making home improvements, I prefer to kick back and unwind reading compelling, unputdownable books.’

    I’m particularly interested in whether I should put a comma after the word ‘steam’.

  3. Anna

    Thanks a lot for the post! Great and advanced ideas for redecorating a previous horrible painted room. I also learn doing things as well as learning English here, many thanks!

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