The Writing's on the Wall

The Writing's on the Wall

DIY home trends have been popular for many years, both as a result of an uncertain economy and our addiction to Pinterest. Re-upholstering furniture and creating handmade accessories is en vogue, with some amateur decorators dabbling in affordable and easy-to-use chalkboard and dry-erase surfaces at home to create an ever-changing, personalized DIY touch.

"Today's consumer is so busy with work, family and other activities, that she’s desperately looking for easy ways to organize and streamline her life," says Michelle Neuhauser, a consumer goods expert, Akron, Ohio. What could be easier than a spray-on chalkboard, applied exactly where you want it, to keep track of everyday details? It's also an easy way for families to communicate with each other as they come and go to different activities. The desire to personalize one's environment is another key reason different chalkboard incarnations have made the jump from the classroom to the living room. "[Chalkboards] are reminiscent of older days, of schoolhouses, of Americana," explains Hannah Milman, holida crafts editor at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. "There's a friendliness to them. Plus they're useful." Dedicating a spot in the home as a handwriting safe haven is a quick, creative way to customize your environment. Milman also points out the eco-angle of chalkboards - using them for lists and regular notes cuts back on paper waste.

Home Is Where the Chalk Is

The most popular way to incorporate a writeable surface at home is to create an expanse of chalkboard (usually around 4 feet x 4 feet) in the hallway or kitchen. The area can be near the pantry or on a cupboard door to write down grocery items as needed, next to the phone to jot down important messages, near the door to write quick "back in 10 minutes" notes, or even in the kids' room for endless, non-permanent doodling. This treatment can help define an area of a home, creating a conversation and encouraging people to interact, Milman says.

While these surfaces aren’t meant for high art, artist Lori Richter, Freeport, Illinois, found a great use for the homemade chalkboard in her studio, which, she notes, doubles as her home most of the time. "It's an easy way for me to plan my production schedule and keep track of things, especially when I’m firing both kilns," she says. "I have one [chalkboard area] by each kiln and another by my workbench for making quick notes to myself – which glazes need mixing/topping off; how many of what pieces I’m in need of for which galleries or shops; ideas that need to be jotted down right away before I lose them. It's much kinder to the temper than hunting for my notebook when it's not handy. I can see the 'blackboards' from anywhere in the studio."

And the options for displaying chalkboards throughout the home are endless, as Milman points out. You could hang small chalkboard reproductions from hooks with colorful ribbon; paint labels of any size or shape for drawers, jars, boxes, bottles, etc.; keep an ongoing list of house rules, important phone numbers, chore schedules, special days, shopping lists or quick notes; decorate the chalkboard area of a child’s room by incorporating store-bought stencils, painter’s tape or even household items like paper plates; or you could just leave the surface blank with a bowl of colorful chalk nearby to capture those impulsive moments.

The Right Stuff

Making a chalkboard or dry-erase surface is not as intimidating as it may sound. Using chalkboard paint is simple.

"As in any painting project, proper surface prep is the key to success," says Neuhauser. "When working with wood, sand and smooth with medium to fine grain sandpaper, then wipe clean with a tack cloth to remove dust and spray with primer. When working with metal, remove loose rust with a wire brush, sandpaper or chemical rust remover. Remove oil with a degreaser or denatured alcohol, then prime the surface to protect against rust and corrosion." Chalkboard paint will work on plastic surfaces, too, as long as the surface is prepared properly.

"When working with plastic, glass or ceramic, lightly sand with fine grain sandpaper so that surface will not be slick – this allows paint to adhere better," says Neuhauser, who also reminds decorators to wipe the surface clean before applying the paint. She also points out the first rule for any paint application: "Read and follow the instructions on the can."

Words, Words, Everywhere Words

For those DIY decorators out there who are wary about covering their wall with slate or paint, there are accessories that give the same effect without the commitment.

Reena Kazmann, owner of, an online gift store that features eco-friendly gifts from recycled, reused and natural materials, believes the popularity of the chalkboard surface won't be ending any time soon.

"I think chalkboard is unique and I am happy to see designers exploring its possibilities. Due to the high cost of gold and silver, I'm interested to see what less costly and more easily available metals designers will use to make jewelry. I see that more people are taking matters into their own hands these days, for a variety of reasons: saving resources, saving money, expressing individuality in a world swimming in mass-produced products, etc."

Though the slate effect is the more popular form of at-home writing surfaces, creating a dry-erase surface is also an option. This method often requires a second step: An intense, full spectrum "curing light" is usually used to set and cure the surface. If it sounds too involved, ready-made dry-erase home accessories will do the work for you.


If the chalkboard trend passes, you won’t be stuck with a dark green or black expanse of chalk dust. According to Neuhauser, writing surfaces are as simple to erase as yesterday's to-do list. "When you're ready for a new look, it's easy to paint over chalkboard paint. Simply paint over with a primer, and then paint on your topcoat. Any time you dramatically change colors, a lighter color might require several coats of paint to cover a darker surface."

Changing your mind about the look and feel of the home is, in fact, one of the beauties of DIY style. When the redecorating itch grabs you, just make sure you've got chalk nearby when brainstorming.


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