Paint- It’s about the Sheen

Although the color of your paint selection is the glue that holds your design together, there are many other aspects to getting the most value out of the paint color selections for your project.

If you’ve hired a Designer, they will be walking you through these detail decisions.  General Contractors and Painting Contractors are not Designers. Unless they are offering up their services as Designers, it’s like asking a bus driver to help you with the mechanics of making the bus run. The painter’s job is to take you from point  “ A” (needing to paint, or repaint a particular project) to point “ B” (doing the work to get the project complete). I’ve heard many painters share resentment about situations where homeowners have asked them to help make decisions regarding color or sheen. If you give this situation careful thought, you can understand that they bid out the project based on a certain amount of time. If their bid, or “Scope of Work”, does not include a consulting fee, it’s unreasonable to expect that they should donate unpaid time to save money for a homeowner trying to cut corners. They could be spending that same time on another paying job or at home relaxing. When asking for this kind of consultation for free, you will undoubtedly get what you pay for.

The proper sheen is going to add substantial value to that perfect color choice.

I use 3 main paint sheens for just about every project:

  1. Flat
  2. Egg-shell
  3. Semi-Gloss

There are no hard and fast rules about which sheens go where, but there here are some good guidelines to follow.


I strongly recommend a flat paint on ceilings. One big reason is that flat paint hides a lot of imperfection in the drywall texture and the tape that covers the seams, under the texture. When natural light hits the ceiling, it tends to show off every imperfection and flaw, of which there are always many. Flat paint, and now a new “Flat Flat” that can be found in some brands, hides a multitude of sins.

The exception to that rule is in areas that get a lot of moisture: kitchens and baths. In that case we may use an Egg-shell finish that is more washable. If your kitchen has a high ceiling that is contiguous with other living space, Egg-shell is not necessary. Every home offers unique situations that need to be weighed.


The most popular sheen for walls is going to be Egg-shell.  Although there are new flat paints that are more washable, they still don’t compare with the wear-ability, but most especially, the look of Egg-shell. Especially in the no-VOC variety, Egg-shell is used on walls primarily for its durability. The one down side to it is that it’s not as easy to touch up Egg-shell after it’s been on your walls for a while. Personally, I like the added dimension that Egg-shell or Satin has to offer and never use flat on walls.


Always use Semi-gloss on painted woodwork. It’s tough, very washable and durable, looks great when it’s properly caulked and painted.


Keep the color light and the paint washable and durable. Semi-gloss can be sprayed on shelving and walls for a uniform durable finish.

House logic published a very comprehensive Paint Sheen Guide. I think it’s a good resource with the exception of saying that Semi-gloss works well for kitchens. For commercial kitchens, it’s just fine. For your home, absolutely not.

Another post I would recommend reading is in Small Space Style. Jim has a bit of a different take than I do on flat for walls, but I understand what he’s saying and appreciate that it’s just a different style.

I hope that sharing these details has helped to create a more general understanding about some of the detail decisions that should be made when deciding on the paint plan. I’ll write another post about where to color. It’s a great topic that requires it’s own space.

If you have a basic understanding of sheen, having a discussion with your painting contractor about the products that he or she prefers and why, will be productive time. They know their products and have good reasons why they prefer one brand over another or products within the brand.

If you have further more specific questions about Sheen, I would be happy to answer them. Your comments and questions are always welcome.