Brushing Up with LWB Paint Expert Dan Knipstine

At LWB we have an extraordinary in-house paint team that is a vital part of our new construction and remodeling projects. There is a lot of talent on this team and they continually deliver the high level of craftsmanship you’ve come to expect from LWB. This team holds almost 75 years of collective painting experience and comprises Dan Knipstine (38 years), Jon McCoy (15 years), Evan Knipstine (15 years), Austin Lucas (3 years), Eric Swanson (2 years), and Caleb Samland (2 years). We wanted to share a little bit of the history of our paint crew lead, Dan Knipstine, and also talk about the service this crew provides to our clients.

We sat down with Dan to talk about the LWB painting department and here is what he had to say:

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How long have you been painting?

I started painting in 1984, so about 38 years. Nobody grows up wanting to become a painter, you sort of fall into it from some other direction. I had been in the restaurant business after college and I decided to leave it to work with a friend at his paint company. We built quite a company together, however, in 1998 I decided to go out alone. With family and financial demands, raising 5 children, it prompted me to pave my own path and do things the way I wanted to do them. I wanted to be more in charge of the day-to-day.

What is special about the LWB paint team?

We do a very hand-crafted paint job. An extraordinary amount of work goes into our prep work. We have a high priority placed on the finish. The surfaces are always left extra smooth and flat, the caulking is perfect. Nothing is left behind, no dimples or ham-fisted caulk jobs, or excessive texture. In the end, the trim piece or wall is just color. We try to reflect the carpenter’s work. A painter takes their cues from the carpenters. If they are hacks then you know what level you are executing. If they are skilled you dial it up. At LWB the skill level of the carpenters is high. As finishers, we tie up loose ends and we polish to a gloss, so to speak. Our responsibility is to reflect the level of craftsmanship that was put into the trim carpentry. When we come to a trimmed-out window or door, there isn’t anything that needs to be done to make the carpentry better.  At this point, we use what is needed to make it perfect.  There’s no need to manipulate any further. At LWB we build differently and our finishing must reflect this.

What would you say is one of the most important aspects of working with a client?

The client relationship. My background was in the niche called “Upper Residential Repaint”. You come into beautiful homes, and you respect the property, the client, and their home. We went into the most intimate spaces of homes and we had to have a good relationship with these clients. They trusted us and we had to make sure that trust was justified….then we had to deliver the goods! When our crew works with the clients today, we are the face of LWB in every aspect, and this is when one of our values comes into play; delivering an amazing client experience.

How do you approach unique custom work you’ve never done before?

We do our homework. One job, in particular, comes to mind when the client wanted Venetian plaster walls. I thought about it, and of course, I said, we’ll do it…but I had never done it before. I was willing and excited to find out how to do it, so I researched the whole process. There is a lot of history to it, different applications and techniques, and I studied it all. But then you have to practice. There is a saying, “You should do crown molding for the first time in your own house, never a client’s house.”  We first try to understand the chemistry, then the process, and then it’s about having your hands create the object. Practice, practice, practice! 

What service do you provide for our clients?

I provide any technical assistance. I know the right paint for the right surface and I can explain the nuances between paints and offer color consultations. Most people don’t know how color works, and how complex it can be. Sometimes clients don’t understand how color works or how to deal with the fixed elements in the home, like brick, limestone, tile floors, and wood. Sometimes people pull colors out of the air that they like or are drawn to, but it just doesn’t work right in the end. I help them find the right team of colors, help them broaden their view of picking paint, and help them through the order process of choosing those colors. My practice is to choose the common area first and then the bedrooms. In addition to our consultations, it is my responsibility to then manage the job and see it to completion. At every step of the way, I want to be there for the client. The best part of the job is the people I meet.

Favorite paint job for LWB? 

A house we completed recently, which originated from our design team, incorporated an indoor greenhouse, with a nuevo Arts & Crafts exterior. There were many decorating challenges, both interior, and exterior. After much discussion, I was given the opportunity to suggest colors. I told them what approach I would take and why. They ultimately went with my ideas and I was very pleased with the results. The windows were a challenge because they were pine and the casing was red oak but they had to look the same when finished. In the end, we were able to match them so it all looked like clear finished unstained red oak. Another challenge was the greenhouse with its 80% humidity. We needed to make sure it was completely sealed. We used vapor barrier primers and finish coats. Then every joint everywhere was caulked to ensure no moisture could get behind it and cause trouble down the road. This required thorough research but this is indicative of the type of work we do here at LWB. We are very proud of that project, it really made us feel great that they trusted our experience. 

Most difficult job?

A full home remodel in Bloomington, specifically their bathroom. They wanted Tadelakt walls which ended up being a very stressful project. Honestly, if we were doing it again it wouldn’t be so stressful, but what happened is we found ourselves in a place we weren’t sure how to move forward from. 

How do you move forward when you find yourself in that place?

You have to stop and rethink. You have to ask yourself…what am I missing? What can I add or subtract? We had to rework our process altogether. In the end, we figured it out and it worked. I will say though, even as tough as it was, I would do it again.

What is something people don’t realize about painting?

It’s much, much, more difficult than they think. The difference between a professional painter and a DYI painter is that they are spending time and money on something they’d rather not. They’re going to spend as little money as they can and put as little time and effort into it in order to achieve a good enough job….but the professional painter buys the best paint brushes, and takes as much time as they need to on prep before they do the actual job. We will do everything to make the project work perfectly, whereas the homeowner won’t. We do it every day so we don’t have to take the time to figure out how to do it.

Do you use painter’s tape?

Haha, yes, we do. There are 3 inventions that have been developed since I started painting that make things easier; fast & final spackling, the Whizz roller, and blue painter’s tape. Before, there was masking tape, and duct tape, which is worthless. Back in the day a professional painter learned how to cut in, learned how to draw a sharp line because there were no alternatives. However, in the late ’90s, blue tape came out. 

In the early 2000s, I was part of a large custom home project and the paint crew there had everything taped off, floor to ceiling. I remember looking down my nose at the crew that was using paint tape, thinking how unnecessary that was. Later, I did an estimate for a person and she said, “You do use painter’s tape, don’t you??” I realized at that moment this was the new professionalism. I paused and said, “of course we do!” What I learned was that by using the tape, I could go much faster and be much neater. So we changed our process and adopted the use of painter’s tape. I will say though that we actually use yellow tape mostly. This tape is best for delicate surfaces. FrogTape is our go-to tape. It’s more expensive but it’s the cost of doing business if it is to be done right.

Any final thoughts?

We are always looking for people interested in learning the trade. It can be rewarding. It’s not for everyone. What I’ve found is that people will only work up to the level of what they think is a good job. You have to give them a vision of what you expect because they have a vision of something based on their own experiences. We show them what a good finish is, what a sharp line is, how we work cleanly and the importance of being mindful of our surroundings, and how you keep and leave the space in a clean manner. The subjectivity to this work is huge, and it is all handcrafted. Our job could never be outsourced. We are part of a long line of craftsmen who have been protecting and making things beautiful. We aren’t perfectionists…I don’t like that term. The term I connect with in our work is craftsmanship. We strive for high-end craftsmanship.

Here is Evan Knipstine applying Tadelakt to the bathroom walls:

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