The Sheen Effect: When to Choose a Flat or Glossy Finish

September 21, 2012 | By | Comments (0)

By Katie Reynolds, Ace’s Design Expert

After you’ve selected the right paint color for your project, one decision remains before the paint can be mixed – flat, glossy or somewhere in between? Let me share a few tips to help you pick the right sheen every time and some surprising ways to get creative with it.

Tried-and-True Rules

As an interior designer, I’ve always referred to this set of tried-and-true rules that can be applied in any space:

1)      Flat sheen looks great on ceilings

2)      Satin or eggshell finish is best for walls

3)      Semi gloss sheen is best on cabinets, trim and doors

The reason? The more sheen in a paint, the easier it is to clean. This is especially important if you have children. Wherever where you anticipate sticky fingers on surfaces – semi-gloss finishes are perfect. It’s also a go-to sheen for kitchen backsplashes and bathrooms, where you may want added “scrub-ability.”

Bending the Rules

If you like to mix things up a bit, here are a few ways to create dramatic effects with paint sheens:

  • High gloss paint adds high drama. Try a high gloss finish on ceilings or doors in a bold color.

I love a bright entry door. Clark+Kensington® Autumn Gourd 5018 is a fabulous autumn terra cotta shade that brings a punch of color and warmth to an entrance. In a high gloss sheen it will bring just the right amount of drama.

A high gloss sheen isn’t just for front doors. Recently, I redesigned my personal home office space and painted the interior French doors in a high-gloss Clark+Kensington Saphire 1018. The sheen adds just the right amount of the unexpected.

  • Wrap the room. For this fun effect, paint every surface in a room all in one color – but vary the sheen throughout the space. For instance, choose a fresh, beachy white like Clark+Kensington Innocence 4026. Use a flat finish on the ceiling and walls and paint the trim and doors in high gloss for lots of contrast. I’m partial to an all white room with crisp white furniture in a light filled space full of windows.
  • Furniture and accents. Sheen is also key on smaller scale paint projects. High gloss finishes work great with painted furniture. A glossy black or white will add instant pizzazz to a vintage chair.
  • Kick up your color. Fun, bright color combined with a glossy sheen can add a pop of interest to a room. Try this on the inside of bookshelves or cabinets. For another twist, paint the interior of white kitchen cabinets in a high gloss neutral green like Clark+Kensington Apple Tart 2062. The glossy finish will stand up to everyday wear and tear and make the color really stand out.

Whether you stick to the basics, or try for something dramatic, these tips will help you create the finished product you’re looking for!

Clark+Kensington® is a new premium line of paint+primer in one available exclusively at Ace Hardware. For more painting tips and advice, stop by your neighborhood Ace Hardware store or visit