I am a Painter: choosing sheen

Welcome to Part 3 of my “I am a Painter” series!

If you are new here, please be sure to check out parts 1 and 2 for more great tips and ideas:
Part 1: How I Roll
Part 2: Choosing Color

This installment of “I am a Painter” will address the question of sheen. Typically, paint comes in the following spectrum (from most matte to most shiny):


Some companies have variations (for example, Sherwin Williams now combines their eggshell and satin), but generally speaking, those will be your available options in any given color.

Unless your walls are covered in some kind of fancy paneling (in which case you might consider something glossier), people generally only consider two sheens as wall options: flat and eggshell (or satin, if your paint company does not delineate between the two). Trim paints, however, are usually semi-gloss or gloss.

There are really only three considerations when choosing sheen:

  1. Clean-ability
  2. Light Reflection
  3. Wall Texture
Clean-ability: Basically, the shinier the paint, the easier it is to clean. Stains, grease, and dirt will wipe right off of high gloss paint, but will soak right into flat paint. So if you are choosing the wall paint for your kitchen, for example, you would probably want eggshell/satin to allow for better clean up.

Light Reflection: As I mentioned in my Choosing Color post, sheen can even affect color. The glossier the paint, the more light it will reflect, causing the color to appear lighter in some cases. I found this to be a problem when trying to paint my husband’s office recently. This room receives inordinate amounts of light (don’t you love the classy before picture? along with my paint swatches gracing the wall…):

As a result, I was having a really hard time finding something that looked charcoal on the walls. Even VERY dark grays were coming out more silver in that room. Finally, by going yet another shade darker and choosing a flat paint, I was able to achieve the look I desired. You can see how the paint was drying (dry on top, wet close to baseboard) with a soft, matte finish.

Wall Texture: In short, the glossier the paint, the more it will show your wall texture. Why does that matter? Well, if you, like me, have 80 year old walls with several different texture jobs over the years, the texture on the walls is not necessarily something you want to draw attention to. We have at least four different texture styles throughout our home (not including the rooms with wood paneling), and some rooms that contain all four of those styles. Needless to say, I would rather downplay the texture on most of our walls.

But therein lies the difficulty. How do you balance the need for light, smooth finish, and wipe-ability? Our recent paint job in the master is the perfect example. I actually started with a flat paint (since the texture in that room is particularly annoying to me), which you can see on the right side of the photo below:

With the odd ambiant lighting in the room, however, the color (which was an off white with a very warm gray base) looked lavender. I have no idea how that happened. But, after painting most of the room, I decided I coulnd’t handle the lavender… Thankfully, I knew the room would take two gallons, but I only bought one in case the lighting played tricks on the color. That allowed me to use the first gallon of paint as a primer, of sorts (since the room was previously a medium beige), and only required one coat of the final color (which you can see on the left above). Always looking to keep labor and cost down. 😉  Anyway, when I switched to the new color (a warmer off white), I also decided to go with eggshell because I wanted an even brighter effect in the room with so little natural light. And it worked! Soon I will be sharing the result of that transformation, by the way, so be sure to come back. 🙂

In the meantime, I hope you’re finding these thoughts on painting helpful. Like most things in life, choosing sheen is a balancing act of your priorities. Since my husband’s office was too bright and a low-traffic area of the house, flat paint was an excellent option. But for my master, where we really needed that extra light reflection, eggshell did the trick.

How about you? Have you had any positive or negative experiences with sheen choices?

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  1. Hey Rachel!! What happened to the rest of this series? I am so into it because I just bought a new house and need to put some personality into the plain greige walls.

    1. Hi Shauna! Congratulations on the new house!! I’m so glad you found the series and enjoyed it, but I confess that it stopped at just those three episodes. If you have any questions about anything I mention in the series, though, feel free to ask! Good luck!!

  2. What sheen did you use in your new home for your agreeable gray paint? I’m trying to decide between flat, matte, and eggshell. Thanks!

    1. With little ones in the house, I use eggshell for just about everything; it allows me much better clean up than matter or flat. I hope this helps!

      1. Hi Rachel, I tried to order Sherwin Williams Agreeable Gray in eggshell today, but they told me it’s only available to contractors. I’m so confused! Is their satin the same thing? Thanks!

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