Budget remodeling in Tijuana: scoring some cheap paint

My house before patio, garden wall & paint

So, I’m painting both inside and outside my house in TJ. And the low price of paint and supplies here, plus the gracious assistance from my friends Chilo and Ernesto, have made it possible to do major work on landscaping and interior decorating–on a budget.

But the untold story of budget remodeling is much more funny than the mathematics of price comparisons.

I’m painting the exterior of the house white, with the lower third a bright orange, to frame the bright Mexican Talavera tile that I used to line the front staircase.

Use of traditional Talavera tile dates back to the 16th century in Mexico

So we knew we needed a cubeta– a 5 gallon bucket–of orange paint for the exterior of the house, plus I wanted two 1 gallon buckets in different colors to finish the paint job in my office. Ernesto just finished the patio the week before, which we ended painting a crazy “Panista” blue, but that’s a whole different story…..

We asked Ernesto how we could get our hands on some good high quality, cheap paint. Ernesto does construction and landscaping work, and he knows where to get stuff like this. In July, Ernesto and I went out and bought some excellent white paint from a guy standing on the side of the Periférico (a major highway running south).

A cubeta is five gallons, a galón is...a gallon.

We got a cubeta for 500 pesos, a five gallon bucket for about $45.00, a great deal! And it turned out to be outstanding quality paint–thick as mayonnaise, it covered well, and we’re still using it.

So, we figured … hey let’s see if this guy has the orange color I’m looking for. So one Saturday we all jumped into Ernesto’s car and drove down the Periférico to find this guy. He had lots of great colors, but no orange. Not to worry, though. He told us to keep going down the road and check out the paint vendors at the Fundadores Swap Meet.

Turned out that orange was not the color to be looking for that Saturday. Once again, at the Swap Meet we found lots of cool colors, but the vendors told us they didn’t have any orange. And they didn’t have any red. Or any yellow. Ok, no orange for you. I kept thinking I should have gone with aquamarine like I wanted in the first place and I wouldn’t be driving all over TJ looking for orange paint right now.

So then Chilo told us about this guy who was driving around the neighborhood selling paint back in July. And he was selling it cheap! 250 pesos for a cubeta, when you pay at least 800 pesos in the store or 500 pesos on the side of the road. Kind of sketchy, according to Chilo. “I told him that the owner wasn’t here, but if he wanted to give me his phone number I could call him. The guy didn’t want to give me his number–real shady–but he finally did. Yeah, that guy was real shady,” explained Chilo. We laughed and proposed a variety of theories to explain how someone could sell paint for 250 pesos a cubeta. They must be watering down the paint, we concluded. But we figured if we can get cheap paint, who cares. We would look it over, and if it was too awful, we just wouldn’t buy it.

We drove home and called the guy, Angel, but he didn’t pick up the phone. Oh well, we figured, this is another dead end. What do we do now?

Then Ernesto laid out the choices for us. He was coming back to our colonia to do some work for our neighbor, and he could drive me out to Femco and buy paint from the store right away, if I wanted to spend the extra money. It was going to cost me over 800 pesos, maybe 1000 pesos for a cubeta of orange at Femco. This was more like $75-$90.00 dollars, and man, that sounded like a lot. And on top of that, when we stopped by earlier, they told us that they didn’t have any orange.

Or we could wait and call Angel again. If the shady guy turned out to be a bust, we could always go back to Femco.

So, we waited.

We called Angel later that day, and a lady answered the phone and assured us that Angel would be available by 5:00 o’clock. But he never called. We called again the next day, and a different lady answered the phone and told us that they would call us. Angel called later, but told us he was way out in Otay and didn’t really want to drive all the way to our colonia until later in the day. But he assured us that he had good, dark orange, not some pale pastel that was mostly white paint. And he promised that he would bring us a cubeta of paint the next day, after he got done with his work in Otay around 5 or 6 o’clock. The price was right–250 a cubeta for white, and 280 a cubeta for orange. Dark orange.

So, we waited.

In the meantime, we figured… ok, so we can’t paint the outside of the house. We might as well paint the office instead. But I still needed a pint of brown for the trim and a gallon of bronze for the upper part of the walls. We had no idea if Angel was going to show up at this point, so we decided to go up to Soler to Femco, spring for the paint at full retail prices, and at least get something done while we waited for Angel to call.

Well, that’s when I remembered that Chilo doesn’t like to ride the bus. As he explained to me, he just feels weird around all the people on the bus, and so he never rides. He walks everywhere. And I don’t have a car. So we decided to walk it–it isn’t really that far to walk up to Soler, and we figured it would be great exercise anyway.

On our way, we noticed that the sobreruedas was happening right across the street in Colonia Alemán, so we decided to stop and grab some fresh fruit to munch on while we walked.

And there it was. A stand with a guy selling paint. SCORE!

Astonishing how a random decision to grab some fruit could save us so much time and effort. So we grabbed a can of sable brown and I chose a beautiful shade of deep salmon-red, and we got each gallon for 130 pesos, or about $12.00 bucks.

My office, deep olive green with a rich, dark salmon and sable brown trim.

Cheerily we took up multitasking–scrapers, sand paper, paintbrushes & rollers in one hand, and cell phone in the other, to call Angel.

After a long day scraping and sanding and painting the office, Angel appeared at our gate. Just like we thought, they all looked pretty sketchy.

Angel, a young guy about 22 years old, was the front man, and his buddies were riding in the back of a pickup with the paint. A guy with the bright mirror sunglasses and a huge smile opened the cubeta to show me the paint. “Mira, este color es muy oscuro,” he assured me, “This orange is really dark.” He dipped his finger and swiped the color along the side of the pickup, and I too dipped my finger to check the color.

I could see that there was some bright red and neon orange & yellow lingering on the sides of the can. I was a little worried that the orange was going to make my house look like a pep rally for the Netherlands soccer team, but hey, it was dark, and not some pale pastel orange. So I counted out 280 pesos for Angel, and the three guys drove off.

These guys were shady for sure, but at least we got our good paint. And I had spent less than half of what I had planned on spending. 260 pesos for the two gallons, and 280 pesos for the cubeta. 540 pesos–about $48.00 bucks–for enough paint to finish the exterior, paint the garden wall, and finish my office & hallway inside. So it was all good!

Right before our eyes, the crazy neon orange turned to a pale pastel.

The next day, we opened the paint and started to stir. And of course, we realized immediately how they got us.

Angel and friends had put about a gallon of some nice dark crazy orange on the very top of the cubeta, and underneath the rest was white.

We stirred and stirred and tried to figure out what to do. The orange was barely perceptible. There was no way I was going to go to all the trouble to paint the house, and have it be some pale pastel color.

Luckily I brought all my old paint from San Diego–thanks Dad, for teaching me to save everything for rainy day!

I figured we could mix some of my red-orange paint in there and see if we could get it to turn more orange. With red alone, we ended with with a nice salmon pink. Clearly not the orange we were looking for. We needed more yellow, and I went into the office and grabbed every color I could find with yellow in it–crazy lime green, orange red… sadly, I had no actual yellow.

We started mixing small amounts to see if we could get it to turn orange. The lime green was making it turn sort of burnt sienna-orange. And the red was just making it turn more pink. Finally, Chilo remembered that Jose had a couple of old cans of orange paint back in the storage shed.

The paint cans looked like they were at least 20 years old… the tin was all rusty and the labels were faded. But there’s nothing like orange to make your paint look more orange! We experimented with proportions to mix a good 3/4 gallon, and with a whole 2 cups of orange, mixed with some green and red.

In the end, a nice shade of “bargain orange.”

Bargain Orange

And the house looks pretty good now. We aren’t finished painting, but all in all, we got good value from our shady friend Angel. Front Entrance

Update: After two weeks, we have made a little more progress on the house, and it is starting to look more alive with some plants and my patio furniture. Today I’m having my housewarming: we’ll run the house through the paces and see how it works!

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  1. Cheers! That’s a great story…and the house looks beautiful. I can tell you’re an artist. And the price is right, too. Win. Win. Win! :)

  2. this is neat really awesome!

  3. Looks so gorgeous!

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