How to Choose the Right Paint Finish

Today is a pretty exciting day.  Not only is it my birthday, but it’s the day I kick off the new blog series I’ve been anxiously awaiting: Designer Diaries.  This has been in the works for quite some time, but I didn’t want to pull the trigger on it until my blog was safe and sound at its new address.

The point of Designer Diaries is to spill all the design secrets that us designers have up our sleeves, because when I first started working in the design industry, I had so many questions. There were so many things that seemed obvious to everyone else, yet I somehow missed the memo.  Over time, I’ve learned a lot of the tricks of the trade, so I’m here to pass them along to you.  This way, you can avoid the “uhhh…what?” moment when person at the hardware store asks you what paint finish you want, or if you want sanded or un-sanded grout with your tile, or…you catch my drift?

Are you ready for all kinds of fun?!

I figured I’d kick off the series with a topic you’ll all encounter at some point, if you haven’t already: selecting the right paint finish.  It’s important to note that nowadays, as the quality and durability of paint has improved, the finish you choose has become more of a personal preference. Regardless, these are the general guidelines I use when I select paint for myself and my clients:


Flat:  Flat paint has little to no sheen to it.  Because of this, it absorbs light, making it great for hiding imperfections on the surface you’re painting.  However, since there isn’t much sheen, it can often be incredibly hard to clean if dirt/grime/fingerprints get on the paint.  Often times, you’ll have to paint over it to fully get rid of any spots.  Since it is so hard to clean, and because it easily hides imperfections, flat paint works great on ceilings.  When you do go buy ceiling paint, a lot of paint companies make special ceiling paint.  This paint usually has the tendency to drip and splatter less, which comes in handy since gravity is not working in your favor.

Eggshell: Eggshell finish is my favorite paint because of its soft texture.  Overall, it appears matte, but there is just a touch of sheen to it.  That extra bit of sheen makes the paint more durable and easier to wipe down.  However, since there isn’t much sheen, it still absorbs more light, helping to hide imperfections on the walls.  This paint is best suited for bedroom, living room, and dining room walls.

Satin: Satin is my other favorite finish.  While it is definitely glossier than an eggshell finish, it isn’t over the top like semi-gloss or gloss.  Satin is best used in kitchens, bathrooms, laundry rooms, and hallways.  It works well in hallways because they are usually high traffic areas, and since it has a substantial amount of gloss, it holds up very well.  Furthermore, since hallways are normally narrow, the gloss reflects light, helping the space feel larger.  In kitchens, bathrooms, and laundry rooms, satin is my finish of choice because it is easily wiped down, and does a great job of resisting moisture (which could otherwise lead to mold & mildew).  Some people prefer to use semi-gloss in kitchens, laundry rooms, and bathrooms, but in my opinion, satin holds up nearly as well, yet looks a lot better since it’s less glossy.

Semi-gloss: Semi-gloss is an extremely durable finish, and because of this, it is suited perfectly for trim, molding, doors, cabinets, and other woodwork around the house.  It’s important to use a very durable finish on these items, as we are in constant contact with them.  Food splatters on cabinets finished in a semi-gloss are easily wiped away, and hand prints on doors and trim come off with minimal effort.

Gloss: Personally, I have never used paint with a gloss finish.  It looks very glossy (nearly mirror like), and because it reflects so much light, and it shows practically every imperfection on the surface its painted on.  The only time I would ever use gloss paint is if I were trying to achieve a lacquered look on a piece of furniture or accessory.  One other time it would be acceptable to use a glossy finish is if you were painting subtle accents on wall by varying the sheen in the same color.

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4 Responses to How to Choose the Right Paint Finish

  1. Elise Bauling says:

    I am in the proses of doing my lounge in moroccan colours and textiles. I would appreciate any input on that.

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