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What Paint Finish Should You Use?

Architectural Digest Young House Love

When planning to move to a new home, or simply planning to re-freshen your current one, choosing the right colour scheme for your space can be one of the most exciting steps or the most stressful task, depending on who you ask.

For us, this is one of the most exciting parts of the design process. Designing a colour palette not only involves paint colours, but it also needs to take into account the décor, accessories, furniture, and finishes. Your paint colour is the backdrop canvas for everything else in the room! It can make a space look bright and open, warm and cozy, highlight design elements or be the focal point of the entire room.

The topic of paint colors can get very technical and detailed when taking into consideration things like undertones, base structure, quality, etc. Today we will be focusing on finishes since that's the question you usually face right after you pick a color, that can really make people sweat! So, let's get started!

What Are My Paint Finish Options?

Urban Company

The word "finish" in this context refers to the grade of sheen: the amount of light reflected by a painted surface. These options change depending on the brand or manufacturer. The standard ones are flat/matte, eggshell/satin, and semigloss/high gloss (also sometimes referred to as pearl). The main purpose of the sheen is protection; so the higher the sheen, the more durable and wear-resistant the paint is.

The most common wall paint finish is eggshell, this is typically the safe and trusted choice. However, there are so many more options that often go unexplored. Going beyond the easy choice is how you can bring your room color to the next level! Some considerations when choosing the right paint finish are the amount of maintenance required, activities taking place in the space, the look you're going for, and of course your budget. Now let's take a look at the various rooms in your home and see the most appropriate paint finishes for each area.

Bedroom and Home Office

Studio McGee

Flat and matte are your best options for rooms like your home office and bedroom. Areas like these are considered to be low-traffic spaces, where not a lot of activity happens. Therefore, "easy it is to clean" walls is typically not a point of concern (unless of course, you have young children). The flat and matte finishes provide a smooth and soft look that looks great in all colours, but even more so in dark tones.

Entryways, Hallways, Kids’ Bedroom, Living Rooms & Family Rooms

Clare Paint Doltbest

Eggshell and satin are the right options for areas where there is a higher level of traffic and overall activity. Even though the look of satin is still smooth and soft, it has a higher level of gloss and stain-resistance compared to eggshell – although both finishes are wear-resistant and are normally easy to clean/maintain. You can never go wrong with these, and that's the reason why they are the go-to options for most people who want to keep it simple.


House Beautiful Pinterest

For the bathroom, you can go two different ways:

1. A satin and semi-gloss finishes for your bathroom walls are great, not only because it elevates the look of the space, but also because it requires the least maintenance and is more durable to wear and scratches. When using a satin finish, make sure of two key things: (a) that your walls are properly smooth and finished so that any imperfection won’t be as noticeable, and (b) that your paint is mildew resistant in order to avoid peeling and bacteria growth.

2. If you are not a fan of the sheen in the satin and semigloss finishes and prefer a matte or flat look, you are in luck! Paint brands like Sherwin Williams, among others, now have special paint lines that offer these finishes and are specially designed for high moisture areas. These more specialized paints may require a bit more of your budget, but they offer multiple benefits that can save you some money in the long-term. We love the Aura line from Benjamin Moore and the Emerald line from Sherwin Williams.

Millwork, Wainscoting, Doors, and Architectural Elements


Semi-gloss and high gloss are the go-to options when looking to paint your trims, moldings, shutters, and railings. Their sheen can significantly elevate the look of smaller areas and millwork, and it's great for cleaning and overall maintenance. But beware! Semi and high gloss finishes are not ideal for DIY projects. So, we suggest having a professional do the job. However, if you want to take on the challenge, just make sure the surfaces are properly prepared and smooth, even more so when they are old and worn out.


House Beautiful Architectural Digest

A flat and matte finish is perfect for ceiling surfaces where you don’t really need much light reflection but have a more uniform surface instead. Different brands have paint lines specialized for ceiling areas that offer special features, such as imperfection masking. When moving to a place that is not new, you should always make sure to double-check what type of existing ceiling paint type was used (if either oil or latex) before applying a new coat, as latex-based paint won't adhere to an oiled-based one.

Pro Tip: A quick DIY way to find out if it's oil or latex paint, is to rub a cotton ball with rubbing alcohol in a small area. If the paint comes off, then it is latex; if it does not, then is an oil-based one.

Kayla Simone Home

To recap, we recommend basing the degree of sheen not only on the activities taking place in each specific room but on the degree of smoothness of the existing wall as well. So, if your wall has a lot of imperfections, then we suggest sticking to flat, matte, and eggshell finishes.

Also, always consider the colour you want to use, as most darker hues won’t look good in a high sheen unless you have a very unique design like in the image above (you can get super creative with pattern and custom designs). In the end, it also depends on the look you want to achieve. Some people use high gloss paints in the washroom to get a more elevated look, while others use matte in millwork. Therefore, know your needs, make sure that what you have works, and most importantly, don't be afraid of getting creative! If you need some extra guidance on choosing a unique paint color or color palette for your room, book a consult call with us!

If you want more on this topic, check out our past post on tips for choosing an accent color wall.

Yours Truly,

White Dahlia Design Team



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