As Bank Holiday traditions go, trailing to the local DIY store and loading up with emulsion and white spirit is as much a British tradition as queuing on an A-road near a seaside town or losing your friends at the Notting Hill Carnival.
But giving your front room a facelift no longer means puzzling over a million shades of neutral. Experts say that, as people stay longer in their homes, thanks to the stagnant market, paint choices are getting bolder.
The key paint trend that David Oliver, creative director at Paint & Paper Library (www.paintlibrary.co.uk), has noticed is that since the downturn we have been buying lots more of it, in favour of other – more expensive – options like wallpaper and fabrics.
The other effect the extended period of economic gloom has had on Britain's walls is to unleash a burst of colour upon them. "When the property market is rising people are more included to paint their houses in very neutral colours, because they may be moving," says Oliver. "But if they are not moving then they will decorate how they want to decorate. It is rather refreshing."
Oliver's next paint range, out next spring, will reflect this new daring with an appetising colour chart full of smoky grey-lilacs, acid yellows, Italian oranges and Etruscan reds.
Joa Studholme, international colour consultant for Farrow & Ball, believes people are looking for a relaxed, comfortable, slightly nostalgic feel and has identified four key colours which she believes will define domestic design in 2012. They are "pigeon", a dark blue-grey; "brassica", a purple with underlying black; "babouche", a cheery yellow and "railings", an almost-black dark grey.
Studholme also sees a resurgence of gloss paint – and not just on woodwork in place of eggshell but in blocks of colour on walls too. "A gloss just comes alive in candle light in a dining room, and it is such fun," she says.
In line with the braver colour environment Crown (www.crownpaint.co.uk) has enlisted the services of Wayne and Geraldine Hemingway, founders of Red or Dead, to create a new "vintage" range, inspired by fashion and design from the 1940s to the 1980s. Admittedly the range contains a super-safe selection of whites, creams and neutrals, but there are also some bolder options like Beatnik Blue, a deep greeny-blue. Sally Heppenstall, marketing manager at Crown, says that increasing bravery with colour is already being reflected in sales. "People are really starting to express themselves with shots of interesting colours," she says.
With its autumn and winter range, Crown is tipping a rainbow of shades to fly off the shelves: grey-greens and purples teamed with mustard yellows and sharp violets; warm shades like burnt orange, chocolate and burgundy; and a theme Crown has named "space" – think electric blues, greens, golds, blacks and metallic and iridescent shades. For the more cautious-natured, Helen Turkington, the interior designer who sells her own range of paints (www.helenturkington.ie), believes grey is becoming the new off-white. "It is still a neutral colour and it is a great base for so many other tones," she says. The fact that it is easy on the eye is critical. Unlike Oliver, Turkington says her clients want classic schemes that will last. "People can't afford to repaint every couple of years," she says.
Interior designer Giulia Adams (www.gainteriors.com), based in Stroud, Gloucestershire, has just repainted her own white kitchen in a greeney-grey Sanderson shade ("driftwood grey"): "I think clients like it because it is not scary, but it is one step up from white," she says.
The very words "paint effects" conjure up an early nineties nightmare of shaky stencils atop a terracotta background. But boredom with minimal neutral design is bringing a more sophisticated array of specialist paint finishes back into vogue. As a former set painter Pierre Clement (www.clement-interiors.co.uk) uses sleight of hand to create effects from the subtle to the downright flashy. The former could include a colour wash, where walls are painted a flat colour and then brushed over with translucent artists pigment (Clement recommends Paint & Paper Library, www.paintlibrary.co.uk or artists' supply shop L Cornelissen & Son, www.cornelissen.com). Another option would be to create a linen effect by marking a vertical section of a wall and then painting over it with glaze paint (try Leyland Paints, www.leyland-paints.co.uk), first in horizontal swathes and then vertically, to mimic the cloth. "It looks brilliant, especially when a room is large," says Clement. "It is cheaper than using a fabric and you can have whatever colour you want."
In fact Clement can use his artistic background to create a whole host of effects, from stonework to concrete to wood, painting on to MDF panels which are then attached to the walls. "I think that people are a getting a bit tired with the minimal look. The sky is the limit if you are creative," says Clement, whose recent jobs have included painting Italian-style cherubs on a suburban ceiling.
At the pinnacle of the market Maddie Argyle, of Glaze Specialist Decoration (www.glazesd.co.uk), works for "ridiculously rich" clients. Her team of fine art-trained painters can recreate damaged period wallpaper or, for one recent job, they hand-painted faux wallpaper onto the 44ft curved stairwell of a Mayfair mansion which would have been impractical to actually paper. "Really rich people also don't like to see joins," she says.
For lesser mortals Argyle suggests creating a dragging effect on walls, cupboard doors or even a piece of furniture by mixing paint and glaze for a softer look than regular painting, with almost imperceptible brush marks. This would cost between £65 and £70 per square metre.
Argyle runs workshops to teach would-be wall artists how to create one-off paint effects. Alternatively, contact the Society of British Interior Design (www.sbid.org) for advice about finding an expert.
Rebecca James (www.interiordesire.com) is seeing specialist finishes like polished plaster trickle down from commercial clients.
"Polished plaster always was popular in hotel lobbies and restaurants and now you are seeing it in people's houses," she says. "It is very easy to clean, which is great, and it looks fantastic for several years."
This effect is achieved through some laborious teamwork. The backdrop is any regular, smooth plastered wall. Then a thin skim of a specialist plaster mixed with coloured artists' pigment is applied with a flat plastering knife. Two people need to work on a wall at once: as one applies the mix the other smooths it down a second time. This is a recipe that goes off quickly, so mistakes are hard to correct, but applied correctly you get an immaculate glassy effect which is further shined up by a layer of wax.
It costs between £100 and £150 per sq metre and the darker the colour the more expensive it will be.