Here's How to Choose the Right Paint Finish for Your Space

black paint finish

Reena Sotropa

You’ve landed on the particular shade of blue that sparks more joy than the 294 other shades of blue you considered. Now, if only that was the finish line. 

There are many factors waiting to trip you up when it comes to choosing paint finishes. Paint finishes can dramatically change the look of a shade—and impact how it will weather wear and tear, from those day-to-day activities to your toddler's orange crayon. You may have heard the strict rules, like “never a matte finish in high-traffic areas,” but the process of picking a finish doesn’t have to be intimidating.

To help you get started, we tapped Melissa Wagner, a designer at Havenly, and Shelby Girard, the vice president of Havenly’s design team, to share their advice on choosing the right paint finishes for every space in your home. Here's a breakdown of the most common finishes below.

Meet the Expert

  • Melissa Wagner is a designer at Havenly, a virtual interior design service. She's been with the company since 2019.
  • Shelby Girard is the vice president of Havenly's design team and has been with the company for nearly a decade.

Finishes 101

The most common types of finishes are flat, matte, eggshell, satin, semi-gloss, and high-gloss. The amount of gloss in a paint refers to the amount of resin, which determines how much light it will reflect—flat being the finish with the least amount of resin and high-gloss being the finish with the most. 

Flat or Matte

Flat or matte finishes reflect very little light. This makes them good for covering surfaces with rough textures, like stucco walls or popcorn ceilings, or for camouflaging walls with a lot of cracks and mars in the existing paint.

The lack of thick, gluey resin makes flat paint less durable, though, so be prepared to reach for the sponge and your paintbrushes more often to clean and touch them up. 

Eggshell

Havenly interior designer Melissa Wagner always recommends clients use satin or eggshell finishes, as “they’re middle-of-the-road and aren’t as ‘controversial’ as gloss or flat finishes.” 

Shelby Girard, vice president of Havenly’s design team, says her rules of thumb are to do an eggshell or matte finish on walls and ceilings, especially in ancillary spaces like bedrooms and offices, but to use satin on trim and doors. Just don’t use either of them in a bathroom—more on that below. 

Satin

Satin is the “most forgiving” finish, according to Wagner, and it’s also a bit easier to clean than eggshell — ”if we’re getting picky.” She recommends satin in high-traffic areas, such as kitchens, bathrooms, hallways, and family rooms. The midway point between matte and high-gloss, satin is subtle but still has more of the durability of higher resin paint. 

“If there are any flaws in the drywall or texturing, gloss and flat finishes are going to highlight those flaws,” Wagner says.

That means if you’re sprucing up an old rental or are just unsure of what to pick, choose satin. And Wagner’s favorite finish "for those who can’t hear in the back: satin!”

While Girard says most painters will recommend ceiling paint for ceilings, which is completely flat and typically white, she prefers to paint the ceiling in the same finish and color used on the walls for a consistent effect.

“This works with neutrals or bolder colors as well, particularly in a space like a home office or bedroom,“ Girard explains.

Semi-Gloss

Semi-gloss is a popular pick for trims, cabinets, and doors, and it can provide a nice contrast to more matte finishes. Designers often also recommend semi-gloss paints for high-humidity rooms, like bathrooms and kitchens, as they’re easier to wipe down and do a better job sealing out moisture to prevent water damage and mold.

High-Gloss

Wagner would have you never use a glossy paint a day in your life.

"If one is concerned about cleanability, a satin finish is probably going to be just fine for what you need in a residential setting," she advises.

But not every designer feels similarly or as strongly. High-gloss is a hot trend for kitchen cabinets, and they’re especially practical for backsplashes that need frequent cleaning. If you’re going to do a higher gloss finish, however, Girard recommends you make sure you have a completely smooth surface and hire a professional to do it right. 

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