Painting 101- What sheen do I use?

Paint sheens.jpg

So, you're at the paint store, standing in front of 146 shades of cream, trying to decide exactly which one will work best with your floors. Just when you finally think you've found the perfect paint, Ice Milk, you start to realize you have no idea what sheen to paint. You ask someone in the store and they quickly respond, "My house is all flat and I love it!" But will you? Chances are a big, fat NO! Let me tell you why, as I explain to you the wonderful world of paint sheens!

The average paint brand makes a few basic sheens. Some have a few extras thrown in for good measure. The very basics are:

FLAT                EGGSHELL                 SATIN                SEMI-GLOSS                HIGH GLOSS

Benjamin Moore makes -     PEARL    

It falls in between Eggshell and Satin. 

As a designer I NEVER recommend Flat paint to a client for anything other than the ceiling, which automatically comes in Flat, unless you order something other than ceiling paint to paint your ceiling. Don't- because they make Ceiling specific paint to make your life easier- just tell them it's for the ceiling and what color you want.

Flat paint is dull and lifeless on a wall, no matter what color you use. Worse than that, it's far too difficult to wipe clean. Walls get dirty very easily- finger prints, rubs against it, dirt marks, grease, kids and pets. Any paint with a sheen ( a bit of shininess) makes it easier to wipe off. Obviously the shinier, the easier... but that doesn't mean your walls should all be glossy.

The next sheen is Eggshell and well, it actually resembles the outside of an egg's shell. It has little to no sheen. It's one step above a flat. It used to be the most popular sheen, because most people, other than designers, didn't really understand many others. It has a slightly better clean-ability than flat, yet still is a bit difficult to clean with a sponge rubbing back and forth or using many cleaners, which can possibly stain or remove the pain.

Satin is my favorite sheen of paint. It has a nice shine to it without being too in your face shiny, like good old semi-gloss, which is what we used to specify for every kitchen and bathroom in America back in the day, because it's all we had. Satin is extremely durable and offers a strong, wipe-able surface to make cleaning your walls a breeze! I specify Satin for all of my client's walls throughout the home. It makes things easy for my painter and easy for my clients when they are buying their own paint.

Semi-gloss and Gloss or High Gloss are rarely used in homes anymore, unless on trim or accents. I love the contrast of using Satin on the walls and then semi-gloss on any trim work throughout the house- meaning the baseboards, casings ans window sills. High Gloss is only really used for an ultra-modern look. You find it on super shiny cabinets or furniture, but rarely on walls, because it takes many coats to get it looking perfect and it takes a very long time to dry. 


sheen stripes.jpg

Combining a low sheen, such as Eggshell or Satin and a high sheen, such as Semi-Gloss or Gloss on one wall in the same paint color, can create a beautiful wall. Use the combo to make stripes or patterns. Have fun with the tone on tone look.

That's pretty much it. Now you know the basics of paint sheens. Try these tips in your home. If you need help selecting paint colors, I do whole home paint consultations for just $350.00. If you need me to select 5 paint colors or less, I do that for just $250.00. I provide you with a Color Selection Sheet with all color names and numbers, including any notes for each room. You also get the paint swatches for each color and I can even mark the walls for your paint contractor. I save a copy of your Paint Selection Sheet, should you ever lose yours or need to refer back to a color. I have plenty of references from extremely happy clients. Reach me at 347-262-5713 or check out my website at  

Can I use a dark paint in my bathroom?

What a good question I received from a recent design client! One would automatically assume that the answer is going to be no... one would be wrong! This is a loaded question, so let me provide some follow up info to help clarify why my answer can sometimes be yes.

Photo credit to

Photo credit to

So, my first question to you is which bathroom is this?

If it's a powder room, my answer is YES, we can paint or wallpaper or do a dark wall treatment. Why? Because this room is for show. Yes it's functional because people will use the toilet and wash their hands, so they need to be able to see the faucet handles, but that's basically it! This bathroom serves no other purpose than to look cute and flush! Do what you want to this bathroom, it's your toy to play with. Use it to experiment with color, take a walk on the wild side here. The amount of wall space in here is so minimal and you yourself will rarely use it, so if you mess it up it's cheap to redo and if you go overboard, it's for your guests, not you.. just don't go in there! Chances are you will find your inner creative when designing this small space.

Is this a guest bathroom? 

Do you like having guests? If no- Paint it as dark as you want, then they won't stay long! LOL If your answer is yes, how often do you have guests and how small is this room? If your room has high enough ceilings or a lot of natural light, you may still get away with some dark paint or paper or stone or tile in this room on your wall. Dark tile on your floors doesn't affect the room looking small if you compliment it properly with your lighter wall selections. The purpose of this room is to function when your guests are here, in the morning when they wake up and freshen up, possibly apply makeup and then intermittently during their day and again at night. If your guest bathroom is small, and does not contain bright, natural light, go light on your walls. If you're in love with a dark color, try it in the shower or one accent wall, if it can be any wall other than your vanity sink wall. This wall requires "task" lighting and should be as bright as possible for applying makeup, face washing, shaving etc. 

Is this your master bathroom?

If your answer is yes, how large is it and do you get natural light in it? If you see the ultra contemporary master above, it's massive and has high ceilings. This makes the room appear large and, combined with the window and bright, illuminated mirror, any task can be completed with ease in this room. They counterbalanced the dark walls with bright floors and accent walls in bright white near the shower. As this is YOUR main bathroom, only you spend time in here, so it should be planned the way YOU will use it.  If you don't use a tub, don't put one in... as long as there is ONE tub in the house somewhere, you do not need one in your master. If you have ten foot high ceilings but your room is smaller, try using one dark accent wall, but leaving the remaining walls light. If you absolutely MUST have that fab new dark raisin color in your master, make sure you have a boat-load of lighting to attack the areas you need for tasks. Many homeowners feel that a light bar or two above their sink is sufficient enough to do all they need to do at their sinks. For some this is true, but once you go dark, this will not be the case. Add recessed cans to your ceiling to assist in brightening up your space. If you have lots of natural light coming in, either from a window or solar tube, go nuts with your dark-choosing self. Just make sure if you are the girl who takes two hours to do her hair and makeup in the morning, that your lighting is enough to see the smallest pimple you're trying to cover or eyebrow hair you're trying to pluck! As women, we get so wrapped up in the beauty of the new space, that we forget how it's supposed to function for us. 

SOOOOO... can you go dark in the bathroom? Yes, absolutely, depending on these factors. Now, get to painting! Ned help selecting the right dark or perfect combo palette for your bathroom remodel? I'd love to work with you if you're in the Phoenix-metro area, but I also travel for the right projects. Simply go to my contact page and call or fill out the inquiry form and I'll be in touch.