With more pigment than any other finish, it’s the concealer of paints.
The Look: Non-reflective, a flat finish will soak up light and hide any bumps or scratches in the surface of the wall.
The Lowdown: Flat finishes are the hardest to clean, so don’t use them in high-traffic areas. But if it’s high-quality paint, you should be able to gently scrub away any imperfections after paint has cured for 30 days.
Best For: Low-traffic rooms with lots of light, like an office or a formal sitting room.
This popular finish is not shiny but not totally matte, and easier to clean than flat.
The look: “It’s slightly velvety in appearance,” says Barr. “When the light hits it, there’s the softest glimmer.” Think of it as a goes-with-anything glow.
The Lowdown: Though not as tough as semigloss, eggshell hides imperfections better, and it’s easier to clean than flat finishes.
Best For: Everyday spaces, like living rooms and bedrooms.
Perhaps the best all-around player when it comes to durability.
The look: Right in the middle of the sheen spectrum, a satin finish is more light-reflecting than eggshell without appearing as shiny as semigloss.
The Lowdown: Hides imperfections like bumpy walls reasonably well, and it’s easy to clean.
Best For: Humid spaces like bathrooms or dark rooms that don’t get a lot of natural light, like basements.
Sleek and easy to live with, semi-gloss is a happy middle ground.
The look: Shinier than a satin finish, semi-gloss is known for its radiance. It pairs well with other finishes when used as a an accent, too.
The Lowdown: If you need something durable, and you’re OK with shine, semigloss is your match. However, due to its heightened sheen, you’ll be able to see existing imperfections more easily.
Best For: Great in high-moisture, high-traffic areas, such as kitchens and bathrooms, or on crown moldings and trims to make them pop.
Super light-reflective and statement-making, it’s also the most durable.
The look: Most designers would consider high gloss a specialty finish, as it has a glamorous glass-like effect, Barr explains.
The Lowdown: It does show imperfections, but it’s also extremely easy to clean. That being said, high gloss is the trickiest to apply. Barr suggests using a quarter-inch roller or a high-density foam roller for smaller spots.
Best For: Accents that you really want to stand out, like furniture, doors, or cabinets.
An Intro to the Specialties…
Matte surfaces can look like velvet: rich and saturated. They’re not easy to clean, so beware if you’ve got a house full of kids. This office nook by 2LG Studio and John Lewis of Hungerford was sprayed with Mylands’s FTT-018 in Matte. If you’re not sure whether your home would accommodate a matte finish, Barr says to “ask yourself what your expectations are as far as durability and lighting, both from natural and artificial sources. But if you have a low traffic home, you can just think about your decision in terms of shiny or not shiny,” Barr advises.
The rich, liquidy sheen of a lacquer-like finish bounces light around a dark room. Designer Alisa Bloom used Fine Paints of Europe’s Delft Blue 4003 in Hollandlac Brilliant to illuminate this bedroom. And remember, “before you make up your mind, take a personal inventory of your house and be realistic about the condition of your walls, thinking about how a sheen can either highlight or minimize imperfections,” Barr advises.