Years ago, when I was a punk architect in my 20s, I asked a well-known San Francisco Bay Area contractor what he considered the most important factor in a good remodel. I suppose I was fishing for an answer along the lines of, "Excellent design," or at the very least, "A decent set of plans." His one-word reply: "Painting." He went on to explain that he had a sort of fetish for excellent painting. He maintained that the quality of the paint job was what really set apart a top-notch project, because when all was said and done, the paint was the surface that everyone saw. At the time, having just recently emerged from U.C. Berkeley's incomparably touchy-feely school of architecture, I remember thinking to myself, "Now, this is one shallow cat." But over the years, I've come to realize ...
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