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Red is, well, it's red hot. Espresso, mauve and chocolate are tops. And wallpaper is making somewhat of a comeback.

These are the leading edge color and home decorating trends in the do-it-yourself painting business as seen earlier this month at the National Hardware Show in Las Vegas, where a number of new paint-related products also were introduced for the first time.

One of the more interesting new twists is a three-color application in one coat of paint. Created by Padco, the technique allows painters to create a centuries-old fresco look by applying, mixing and blending three different colors at the same time as opposed to more traditional sponging, ragging or color washing.

Padco was just one of hundreds of exhibitors devoted to household paints, stains and wallpaper, and for good reason, according to show manager Rob Cappiello. "Paint continues to be homeowners' top do-it-yourself project," he said.

Actually, painting is one of the first things home buyers turn to after they move into their new abodes. Even those who purchase a new house grab a brush to bring some color to those stark blank walls their builders tend to leave them with. It's like the old Model T philosophy -- you can have any color you want as long as it's black, only in this case it's usually white.

It is those who buy existing houses, though, who are more likely to paint their places during the first year of ownership, according to a study released at the annual hardware show. And for good reason: After all, there probably is no better, less-expensive way to customize your new digs than with a fresh coat of paint.

According to the Paint and Decorating Retailers Association, earth tones are still in, but in bolder shades like espresso, mauve, chocolate and even dark brown.

Also dominating color palettes lately are purple gray and deep maroon, PDRA said at the show. And red is on the rise, allowing owners to create strong, passionate and inspiring rooms. Red hasn't been this big a seller in a half-dozen years, the paint pros reported.

Black and pink, meanwhile, are said to be the latest combination for opulent interiors. For kids, there's a new glow-in-the-dark paint that is luminous for up to 15 minutes after the lights go out. And teens can choose from metallic shades and paints that create a denim effect.

Another new covering, this one a prototype that uses nano-technology to mix microscopic sensors into the paint, allows walls to change colors in reaction to minute shifts in moisture and room temperature.

In the wallpaper category, which is expected to grow nearly 6 percent a year to some $2.5 billion in sales by 2007, the hottest trends are said to be 3-D designs and textures.

And among the new equipment designed to make all this easier on the do-it-yourselfer are tools that speed taping around trim, windows and fixtures.

Purchasers of existing homes are not only more likely to paint their places, they also are more likely to replace or repair flooring, do some electrical work and install new appliances and light fixtures, according to the survey conducted by the Home Improvement Research Institute.

Owners of brand new homes, meanwhile, tend to concentrate more on landscaping and building patios or decks, the telephone poll of 600 recent buyers found. New house or old, though, kitchens, bathrooms and living rooms are most likely to receive the most attention.

The survey found that 52 percent of all purchasers complete one or more improvements within the first year of ownership, and half were planning to take on at least one more job within the next 12 months as well.

Two out of every five owners also said that they made improvements to their previous residences to get it ready to sell. On average, they spent about $3,000 to pretty up their places, most frequently painting kitchens and bathrooms.

"The vast majority of homeowners said they believed that the money spent on improvements to their previous home was compensated by the increased value," said Fred Miller, managing director of the not-for-profit HIRI, a 25-year-old group which conducts research and is considered the non-biased authority on the home improvement business.

One third of those selling older homes made structural improvements to the exterior or interior of the house such as replacing or repairing roofs, windows or doors; repairing or replacing interior walls or ceilings; or converting a room to a different use.

Consumers selling newer homes, on the other hand, were more likely to install carpeting and improve landscaping prior to putting their places on the market.

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