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Steal vs. Splurge – Part 1: Buying paint for office walls


I am an ardent advocate of stealing.  No, no, not in the sense of taking somebody else’s belongings. No. I love “stealing” as the opposite option to “splurging”. George and I did quite good mixing these two on several occasions. We did that while we finished the three condos we own (in our native Bulgaria), totally different from one another in size and functionality; but we are most happy that we did good and we acted wise while finishing our 4000 sq.ft. office there. The word “finishing’ embraces all the possible stages after the purchase: architectural space design project, demolishing, construction, electrical wiring and cabling (mind you, this is a software company office and it needs tons of cables), central air-conditioning featuring advanced cooling and heating system which is also eco-friendly, flooring,  lighting, painting and furnishing.

After splurging enough with all the key stages – we felt like going for some “stealing” with the last three ones. We surely had an overall architectural design to stick to, which helped a lot, but the items suggested by the designers in these last three stages seemed to verge almost on the ridiculous. There are so many options out there for lights, paints and furniture pieces that look attractive and can do efficiently sans the outrageous price. Moreover, we have had a budget to stick to.

As we all know, whenever designers are involved in construction/renovation/design process, they always take the conversation up onto a highly artistic level. The view from up there makes ordinary people feel small and almost illiterate, being not ready to embrace all high-end large-scale proportions of customization that they are advised to go for. “Customized” and “done especially for you” are phrases being whispered in our ears like a sweet spell we should not escape easily from. That whisper has always reminded me of Kaa enchanting poor little Mowgli. “Cussssssstomizzzzzed…”

I so much prefer to go for the more sensible budget-friendly option. Especially after we have splurged enough until that point (is that such a concept as “splurging enough”?) I am not a designer by any means, I am a simple consumer who tries to sometimes do wonders on a low budget. The architects have been brilliant with the office reconstruction project (it was the ugliest fixer-upper one could ever imagine), they have done a great job designing the spaces in a functional and yet attractive way to be both efficient and good-looking. The construction guys have also done a great job with demolition and then drywalling (some places feature decorative four-step drywall levels on the ceiling, most of them with recess lighting in them).

So, imagine, everything has been built and looks ready for the next step – painting it all. Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? Calling the painter’s group seems to be the easiest part. The trickiest thing as architects and designers explain to us, is buying quality paint that would stay exactly the same hue that was initially designed to fit a specific wall. Really? We look at them with all the suspicion in the world. The Eastern European market is flooded with companies selling various goods of “prestigious” brands, just like anywhere else in the world.

Our designers insist on covering our walls with high-quality paints that the company XXXX (no names needed) offers. They are sure the quality of this company’s products is really good and the store assistants are pretty well trained to produce with mathematical precision the exact tints and hues of colors you have only dreamt about. We still believe computers do that in most paint stores so we do not feel like painting times the price of a paint that we can take from any store around… Anyway, we are given the exact names and codes of the tints we have to get, and we are ready to jump into this huge adventure and go order quality wall paints. Then all that will be left to do is just call the Michelangelo’s group to come along and paint our Sistine Chapel.  As easy as this.

So, supplied with a fan of selected color palette tints, we head to that fancy paint store (prices there and in some three-four similar stores are about 30% above the prices of the regular stores but you always pay for better quality, don’t you?) and we find a lady sitting inside. She is nice and smiling and smarmy, and ready to sell the world to us – or at least a million gallons of paint to color it pink.

She starts explaining what makes their paints so different than all competitors, then she tells us stories of the long process of training all assistants in the stores undergo in the country that the paints originally come from. Then she gives us two pieces of drywall to compare – the left has been painted with competitor’s paints a year ago (the color has now faded like the dress that has been washed with the wrong detergent, according to the commercial for detergents ) while the right one is supposedly also one-year-old paint but still bright and colorful and beautiful and you could not take your eyes off it, as this is what quality means, after all, as the lady points out. And, here she uses our most hateful East European trick in sales – she points out that this is a quality product for quality people that can actually AFFORD it, not for some cheap guys that need just some paint to put on some wall. She calls the  paint she sells “ the BMW of paints” and if we need to go for less (say, “the KIA of the paints”), this is not our store. But she sees that we would go for the BMW of paints because she knows people and she feels we are “BMW guys”…

At this point I start feeling nauseous. Sales people do have their old tricks and most often those tricks surprisingly work just fine. I think that they should come up with something smarter than trying to flatter you calling you “BMW people”. We start wondering at this point if there is any wall paints for  “Bentley people”, then? Or maybe the “BMW of paints” apply for all the “worthy people”? George is sitting next to me and his look gets more and more aggressive, which makes me feel uneasy as I am usually the good cop and  this timeI need more info before we give the sales lady our realistic feedback. I need more time.

The lady is a talker. She talks and talks and we learn stories about her personal life, about her young daughter, and her husband who works in another city, and what car she drives, and how her mom helps a lot, and… We politely interfere with the transmission, needing to know more about the paints she sells. She stops and looks at us with a surprise – hasn’t she told us everything yet? She seems confused as she obviously cannot think of any other trick to pull from her sleeve. She has bared it all, she is sleeveless now. And, on top of all her efforts, we need to know MORE…

Ok, we have mercy and we try to arrange a day to come again and play around with some colors to see what they will actually look like. The lady takes out the same two pieces of drywall and shows us what they WILL look like. Noooo, Madam, we mean what OUR colors will actually look like. She explains that there is no way we can do that as she needs to prepare the whole quantity of paint we need and then tint it. Ok… So, no experimenting with something like 4 oz is possible, for instance? She is speechless, obviously. She gets doubts now whether we really are the “BMW people” she thought we were and that makes her completely lost. We sound cheap, we need samples of 4 oz each, how should she feel about us, after she trusted us and flattered us and did everything she could…?

Ok, ok, we show her we can be flexible – we agree to get just one of the dozens colors we altogether need – so let us come and mix just one color and see if we will be happy with this one. We will buy, say, the “blah-blah blue” tint, then call the  Michelangelo’s guys to put it on the appointed wall, then wait until it dries out and see how close the tint is to the designed one and if this really is the paint for masterpieces. How about that?

The lady is obviously disappointed. We are definitely not even “KIA people” according to her scale of “who can afford what” - we seem more in the range of some Russian-car-people, something like” Lada people”… Her faces tells how she feels about us but she still forces a smile because she is a lady of dignity who works mostly with “BMW people” and she will swallow her pride for their sake at least.

She looks at her schedule and sees that in four days she will be on a business trip and will not be in the store on the day we try to make an appointment for. Actually, she will go and visit her husband, while she will pretend to be on a business trip, but she shares this with us because we have talked for half an hour and she feels we are close now, and she can share things with us (moreover, the hope that we are “BMW people” in disguise, still lingers, and you know you can always trust the “BMW people” she is used to working with…). So, she will not be there that day.

Ok, any other well-trained assistant that knows about the magic of colors? We need a substitute magician to prepare the blah-blah blue tint that is one and only in the whole wide world. Anyone else to help us? Or the store will be closed while she secretly visits her husband? No, the store will definitely be open. Her mom will be working for her in the store, while also taking care of her four-year-old daughter (who, unfortunately, will not be in the store as she will be attending preschool and we will not have the pleasure to meet her in person, but she is really sweet, here is her photo…). So, it will be the lady’s  mom who will prepare the special blah-blah blue tint for us and it will be as unique as if she herself has done it with her own magical hands? How nice!

At this point, we feel like stepping into the shoes of the “Toyota people” we actually are. We say goodbye to the magician lady and head to the local Mr. Bricolage store (Lowes’ or Home Depot’s European counterpart, although much smaller in scale) and we spend exactly the same 50 min there, including Q&A about the paints and the very mixing of samples in small cans (4 oz approximately). Not only the blah-blah blue is done, but also the enigmatic beige, and the strange-looking orange, and the kiwi green, and all the other hues…. Voila.

We have samples and quotes. We go try the various tints of the paint, have them stay for ten days. Dried out, they look exactly like the designers have them. We have saved time and efforts and money -  the whole paint project, including the fee of the Michelangelo’s guys, will cost us less than paints only with the magician lady. So, shall we splurge or steal in such a case?

So, we have gone for the budget-friendly (and sanity-friendly) option  – and we have not been sorry for a single moment. Here are some photos from the painting process: