UNDERSTANDING PAINT SHEEN
Happy Spring! There is something about spring weather that inspires change. I think it is the season turning over and the new life of spring replacing the dreariness of winter. Don’t get me wrong - I love the coziness of the winter season, but there is a turning point where I am ready to move beyond the dark nights and into the fresh air and sunshine of spring.
Spring brings the energy of change…and with it comes spring fever. For me, that means cleaning house. The funny part is, once my house cleaning train begins, suddenly I am inspired to do more. I see a transformation of decluttering and a space seems new all over again. So, I start thinking about refreshing the space, which usually leads me to my most economical and high impact solution - paint. It’s kind of like the “if you give a mouse a cookie” book. If you give me an hour and a trash bag, I will eventually want to paint a room :) It’s a small disease I have; unfortunately, it’s a chronic illness!
Paint means a lot of things - you find that out the minute you step foot in a paint store. Once you have chosen your paint color, the next question is going to be about what paint sheen you will choose.
There are lot of reasons to choose certain sheens, but I wanted to provide a quick overview on what benefits each each provides, how it is most often used, and when to use each type. Hopefully that will be helpful to anyone out there that is having this question themselves.
Most often, paint can be found in the following sheens:
This can get more complicated by each brand. For example, Sherwin Williams adds additional names to their sheens like Low-Lustre, Pearl, flat Enamel and Matte. Understanding the type of sheen you need will allow you to enter any paint store and ask for the sheen you want and they can provide you with their brand’s equivalent. While there are variations on each type of sheen, this should give you a basic overview. Let’s begin!
Flat paint is your most inexpensive paint. It is the most basic of the bunch and is the most economical. For this reason, flat paint is often used in new construction. It costs less, covers easily and is easy to use. Flat paint also tends to hide imperfections and flaws in surfaces. Flat paint is often popular in older homes because walls are imperfect and the paint does not have a reflective quality that highlights flaws.
The drawbacks to flat paint is mostly durability and sheen. It is exactly what it says it is - flat. There is no luster or warmth to the paint, and there is also very little durability. In fact, you can scrub the paint right off the walls if you use water and a rag (or we found out with Mr. Clean magic erasers!). Thus, if you have a low traffic area with some imperfect walls and are on a tight budget, flat paint will likely get your job done. As for me, I almost never use flat paint. If I am going to spend the time and money painting, I am going to do something that will be more durable and warm.
The only place I do consistently use flat paint is on the ceiling. It is almost never touched and I don’t usually need the reflective quality of the paint there. There are times i have made exceptions to this, but typically, you can do flat paint there with little difficulty.
Your next step up in paint is Eggshell. Eggshell is like flat paint with a hint of sheen. Eggshell paint has about 10-25"% sheen in it, depending on the brand. The sheen adds a touch of warmth and durability, without being super glossy. It can handle a bit more scrubbing and traffic, but is still not considered a high durability paint. Because it is not super glossy, it still hides imperfections fairly well.
If your budget allows, I would make this your basic minimum paint level for most walls in your home. If you have a high traffic area, then I would upgrade to satin and here’s why….
Satin paints are usually about 25-35% sheen. That is a great combination of durability and warmth, without being high reflective and shiny. A satin finish allows a great level of durability (think good solid scrub on the wall), and will not fade as easily. Satin finishes will show imperfections a bit more, but they offer forgiveness for marks and spots which can be removed.
If you have higher traffic areas, pets, or kids (or maybe you are just rough on your living space!), then satin paint is a great happy medium. It does cost more than its little sister Eggshell, but usually lasts longer, can be cleaned, and offers great warmth to a space.
If you are painting a kitchen or a bathroom, this should be your minimum level of sheen. You can also incorporate some anti-bacterial paints into satin for these areas, that is often a good idea since these types of room seen a higher level of moisture.
Anytime you see gloss in the title, we have moved into “shine” zone. Gloss paints have more gloss in them. Like in our other paints, more gloss means more durability, but also higher sheen. Now you are going to see more flaws in whatever surface is covered in semi-gloss paint because the gloss will reflect the imperfection when light hits it.
Though it does highlight imperfections, the trade-off is great durability. I like to use semi-gloss paint on cabinets, trim and baseboards because they see heavier wear.
Semi-gloss paint can come in a variety of sheen percentages - anywhere from 35-70%. The higher the sheen, the more durable and shiny the surface will be. There is a recent trend to paint semi-gloss on walls, but for me, it is too reflective.
Gloss paint is glossy (shocking, right?). When you open a can of gloss paint, you’ll know it. Even in the can, gloss paint is thick and shiny; it’s actually quite beautiful. Gloss paint is my favorite for a front door - bright, shiny, and thick. High gloss paint is durable and can be scrubbed and scrubbed. It is also the most expensive since you are paying for that gloss. Some people really believe in high gloss for all cabinets and trim, but I prefer a slightly more matte look. High gloss will highlight any type of surface flaw, so remember that when applying. It is also a little more difficult to paint with as it is very thick.
Natural light and also the size of the room can help you decide on your paint sheen. Rooms that are filled with natural light will tend to throw more sheen and color throughout the room. You can safely choose a lower sheen paint (like eggshell) and probably have the same level of warmth as a satin painted room. The inverse is true as well. Poorly lit rooms often benefit from a higher sheen. What little light there is in the room, can more heavily bounce off the sheen and warm up the space.
Walls that are textured or imperfect will look better in a flatter sheen; it will help smooth them out. Just remember your trade off for the sheen is lack of durability.
Rooms suspect to higher moisture often benefit from a higher sheen paint as it is more durable and less suspect to moisture retention. The sheen can help reflect moisture.
Higher sheen paints allow light to bounce and help make rooms feel larger. It sounds crazy, but can really help ‘open up’ a room visually.
Same Tone, Different Sheen
One of the most popular trends right now is painting the trim and the walls the same color. This look is seamless and really can open up a room, giving a larger visual appearance. The best way to achieve this look is to paint the walls in a lower sheen paint, and then paint the trim in a higher sheen. You want a nice level of contrast here.
Depending on your taste, you might consider an eggshell wall with a semi-gloss trim. If you don’t mind spending a bit more and having a bit more light bounce in the room, then going to a satin finish wall and high gloss trim can work as well. The result is really stunning! The picture above this section with the fireplace illustrates this technique.
I hope that this helps you determine what type of paint sheen is best for your space. Remember to consider cost, lighting, room size, and surface texture when choosing your sheen. Again, my catch-all favorite is satin for walls and semi-gloss for trim, but you should feel free to experiment and find out what appeals to you!