Lessons learned the hard way.

I was convinced the 1960s brick ranch was it the minute I walked through the door. There is a lot less stress involved in the home buying process when you let your emotions take the wheel, as long as you two have a good track record. It was a combination of the one-level living, open floor plan, large yard, and, truth be told, white walls that did me in. Now I've watched enough episodes of House Hunters to know you never hinge the decision on whether or not to buy a house based on paint color, wallpaper, or hardware finish. But, show me an empty house surrounded in white walls and I'm a goner. It's rife with possibilities, yes, but I also just love clean-looking walls.

What I didn't realize when staring at all those crisp, blank spaces was that they would be a beast to keep clean. We had repainted nearly every room in our prior home in my favorite Decorator's White by Benjamin Moore, so I had a false sense of confidence. The one factor for which I was not accounting in our new digs? The previous owner had painted every single one of those glorious walls in flat paint, instead of the eggshell finish we had (smartly, if I do say so) selected for our old house. If I had reached out and touched them even once, or pulled myself away from the lalaland of imaginary Pinterest boards where I was already curating design inspiration for every room of the house, I would have realized things weren't quite as they appeared.

River House living room with white walls and blue accents
Credit: Laurey W. Glenn; Styling: Elly Poston Cooper

Fast forward three months to the day I set out to wipe down the walls for the first time, hoping to remove all the smudged fingerprints and other signs of move-in day. As I set upon my task of getting this blank canvas once again sparkling, I quickly found the messes weren't wiping away like they did with my old Decorator's White. Not only were the stains and smudges more set in, but the paint started rubbing away, leaving a grainy effect, once I started to give it a little extra elbow grease. I found myself pledging to never again underestimate the power of a good finish—and a high quality paint. They're details that might not make their appearance known until well after the literal paint dries, but could be even more important than color choice.

After living with these hard-to-clean walls for over a year, I've realized a work-around for removing marks and dirt without the need for excessive rubbing is a bit of bleach mixed in with powder laundry detergent and warm water. A quick swipe and the smudges and splatters are goners. Will this cleaning hack ever convince me to go ahead and opt for a matte or flat finish and a cost-saving, lower-quality product? Absolutely not. If I've learned anything it's that when it comes to paint, finish and quality matter.