atlanta home designUntil paint technology improved the durability of all paint, sheen used to be a matter of function. Now it’s all about taste.  The what-sheen-goes-where rules of the past were based on one single premise: the shinier the paint, the hardier it is. This led to a set of guidelines that most painters still stick to today. So here they are, along with how and why you might want to break them:

  • Ceilings – flat: The most fragile of all paint finishes, flat is the most common choice for ceilings because it is less expensive and no-sheen means it hides any imperfections and irregularities. The sheen is usually bumped up to eggshell or satin in kitchens and bathrooms for extra strength and moisture resistance. Some people think that shiny ceilings look institutional, but upping the sheen to eggshell, pearl or satin captures and bounces more light, making rooms appear brighter and taller.
  • Walls – eggshell: This finish has a slight sheen, similar to the surface of an egg, hence the name. It is durable enough to use on any vertical surface and the most common choice. Matte walls are a hugely popular alternative. Until recent years, matte was too fragile and impractical to use. Now, matte is hardier – wipe-able, not washable – and used so often that shiny walls might start gaining in appeal. Pearl, satin or semi-gloss sheen on walls, besides being strong and moisture resistant, add drama and incredible colour depth.  Narrow halls, bathrooms and powder rooms seem to expand in size when painted with higher sheen levels. However, you should avoid sheen if your walls are in bad shape and you do not want to see the flaws.
  • Trim – gloss: High-gloss trim, which was extremely popular for centuries, has given way to semi-gloss or satin, though all are practical and beautiful. Shine highlights trim details, so if your trim is not a feature then paint it to match the walls, using eggshell for both.
  • Floors – gloss: This is where you need to stick to the plan and get specially engineered products tailored to the abuse horizontal surfaces get. 

  • Exterior- gloss: Gloss used to be used on all exterior trim because it was more weather-resistant and over time it oxidized to matte anyway. Now, reducing the sheen to satin or semi-gloss works just as well. A front door can still be done in the glossiest of glosses to strengthen color and impact.
  • Accents: If you are going to play with color, then why not play with sheen? Color blocks or accent walls can be a different sheen from the rest of the room. Color banding can be done by alternating two different sheen levels. Upping the sheen for colour accents inside closets or on the back of bookcases makes the surfaces hardy and vivid.

Janice Lindsay is a designer who collaborates with PPG Porter Paints.

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