A Primer on Paint Sheen

choosing paint sheenWe all know that choosing paint sheen (or finish) is one of the most difficult decisions for the average home owner. There are many different sheens and to complicate the matter paint manufacturers use a different array of names to describe more or less the same finish from brand to brand.  

What to consider when choosing paint sheen.

The proper choice of appropriate paint sheen is a matter of considering the type and function of the room, the amount and direction of natural light and to a lesser degree, personal taste and design goals.  

Semi-Gloss and High Gloss Paint.

The higher the sheen, the more reflection on the surface. This means every imperfection in the wall will be visible and available to scrutiny. Light will bounce off the wall, in effect, lightening the color of the wall. In certain situations, especially with dark color paint, you will literally see white/light patches on the wall. A high gloss paint is a terrific choice for an exterior front door where the shine creates a more formal look and the high gloss is robust enough to stand up to the wear and tear a front door takes.

gloss sheen paint

House and Garden

Millwork, doors and wooden moldings do well painted with a higher paint sheen. Here satin/pearl or semi- gloss work well. They stand up to fingerprints, the wet mop and more regular use.
high gloss walls

Livia Mucchi Roberto

High gloss on walls and/or ceilings have come into vogue in the past few years but this treatment works well in rare situations. In the first example above, gloss has been used on a ceiling creating reflections which bounce off the white walls which is the most reflective wall color there is. This is hardly a visually ergonomic design. In the green room, the paneled walls are painted high gloss but because of the uneven nature of the paneling the walls don't become a mirror-like lacquer surface and is therefore more livable.  

Eggshell Paint.

Rooms which are more trafficked or need to have walls washed regularly like a kitchen or bathroom are better with a low level sheen as those finishes create a harder shell and are easier to wipe down. I use eggshell for kitchens and bathroom walls and satin or pearl for cabinets. In this bathroom the wainscoting has been painted in semi gloss. Not only does this higher sheen look appropriate on the millwork but it will stand up to the water splashes from the sink better than a flatter paint finish.
semi gloss paint on wainscoting

Amy Krane Color

Matte Paint.

Rooms which don't take much abuse do best with a flat looking finish. They cover wall imperfections very well. Today's matte paints are billed as washable flats which allow for a certain amount of washing. (not scrubbing) The surface looks velvety and rich with a suede-like appearance and the color looks true, not adulterated by light reflections. I use matte whenever possible in a home. For even less reflection, a Flat paint finish can be used on the ceiling.
matte paint sheen

Amy Krane Color

Painting a Staircase.

Paint sheen for a staircase

Amy Krane Color

If you choose to use paint on your staircase keep in mind how much abuse it withstands. As you walk up a staircase the risers occasionally get scraped by a shoe. Bannisters are constantly handled. These are reasons to use a stronger, higher sheen like a satin or semi gloss paint. Ultimately, your own personal taste should inform your choice of paint finish but keep in mind it may be at the cost of practicality.