You’ve decided to paint a room: the color is chosen, so you’re all set, right? Not so fast. The decision that will have the biggest impact on the look of your room is standing between you and a weekend of rollers and brushes: the paint finish. Matte, eggshell, satin, semi-gloss, and glossy—what do they all mean and which do you choose for a room that looks intentional and, dare we say, expensive? We consulted expert designers for their opinions and are sharing their tips with you.
Meet the Expert
- Andi Morse is the founder of Morse Design based in Atlanta, Georgia.
- Shelli Herring is an interior decorator and the owner of Making House Home Interiors.
- Devon Wegman is a Chicago-based designer and owner of Devon Grace Interiors.
- Mindy Gayer is the founder and principal designer of Mindy Gayer Design Co. in Costa Mesa, California.
First, Which Finish Is Right for Your Space?
From matte to glossy, paint finish terms describe how much sheen is in the paint or how much light each reflects. Glossy paint, with its signature shine, reflects lots of light, while matte’s flat finish absorbs light.
Beyond light, matte can be gorgeous on a textured wall where you don’t want to highlight imperfections. It has a warm, casual feel that invites you in. Yet, matte isn’t as easy to clean as glossy paint. Take a sponge to it and there’s a good chance you’ll leave a mark (take it from someone who recently spilled a pot of coffee on a matte kitchen wall). You’re going to see every smudge and scuff.
If you’re feeling lustrous, semi-gloss and gloss will bounce light around just like your favorite disco ball. These reflective finishes wipe up easily and are great in bathrooms, kitchens, mudrooms—anywhere you might encounter a mess. You can also use them in small rooms or on ceilings to make the space seem lighter and brighter, even in a dark color.
To err on the side of durability, satin or eggshell are solid choices and are the most common paint finishes in most residential projects. Somewhere in the middle between flat and glossy, these finishes have a slight, almost velvety sheen—feeling like matte’s dressed-up cousin.
How a Simple Paint Finish Swap Can Transform a Room
Each of these paint finish options can completely transform a room. You could use a dark hunter green in a matte finish to create a cozy, midcentury library, then swap it out for the same color in gloss and end up with a luxe parlor, perfect for sipping a cocktail in a coupe glass.
So, which finish do designers prefer to create a high-end, styled look? We asked the experts and, it turns out, the answer simply depends on the project.
Go Glam With High Gloss
“To take a room to the next level and make it a 'glam' space, using a high -gloss paint is the way to go," Andi Morse of Morse Design says. "It creates a vibe that you are entering a special place. Eggshell and matte are more practical and easier to apply, but they don't give you the same glam appeal that a high gloss paint does. If you don't want to go all the way just painting the ceiling in high gloss and using matte or eggshell on the walls will give you an elegant look without committing to it, entirely.”
Shelli Herring of Making House Home Interiors loves the bold look you can achieve with a glossy finish. She advises, “A high gloss finish reflects light and commands the attention of the eye. In essence, a high gloss paint finish gives a bold impact. Because of its high light reflective quality, the high gloss finish is the perfect way to accentuate ornate architectural details and millwork. It serves as an impactful way to obtain a high-end, elegant look."
Chicago designer Devon Wegman of Devon Grace Interiors uses a glossy finish for her dramatic projects. She says, “When we're hoping to inject some drama into the space or highlight some millwork, we'll opt for a glossy finish to refract the light and draw the eye directly to the paint," she says. "Most often, we incorporate glossy paints in powder rooms or areas with intricate millwork or paneling. A glossy sheen can also help lighten dark paints so that a room doesn't feel too heavy or weighed down.”
Let the Design Shine With a Matte Finish
Herring goes on to add, “Matte paint finish adds a casual and inviting appeal to a space. Because a matte finish absorbs light, it has less brilliance causing a subtle yet velvety effect. The matte finish allows for the other décor elements in the space to play a contributing role to the overall feel and design of a space.”
Mindy Gayer of Mindy Gayer Design Co. says, “We typically prefer a matte finish for walls. It sets a nice, neutral tone in a room and is the perfect backdrop for other design elements. Eggshell or satin finishes are great for cabinetry or millwork if you want a more matte look, but semi-gloss or high gloss finishes look best on millwork and cabinetry for a more traditional look and feel.”
Keep Things Easy and Elegant With Eggshell
Herring loves the versatility and slight sheen of an eggshell, “It is the happy medium between matte and gloss," she says. "Eggshell is typically used in a space for its durability in high traffic areas like children’s bedrooms, hallways, and bathrooms. It absorbs just the right amount of light without being overpowering or bringing too much attention to any imperfections that high traffic areas may cause.”