What paint finish fits best with your design aesthetic?

Benjamin Moore interior paint

Choosing the right gloss or sheen for interior finishes is critical to achieving design vision. For dining room applications, a matte or eggshell finish is ideal.

The choice of gloss and sheen can impact how colors look in your designs. AIA partner Benjamin Moore outlines what architects need to know about finish types.

When concepting the design vision for a space, color is often a driving influence—from flooring and furniture to walls and trim. But while architects consider myriad factors when choosing from thousands of nuanced colors, selecting the right gloss or sheen is just as critical to achieving a design vision.  

The terms “gloss” and “sheen” are commonly used interchangeably, which is incorrect by definition. The difference between gloss and sheen is based on the angle used to measure light reflectance from the surface of the coating into a receptor. The receptor measures the intensity of light in units, and glossier surfaces yield higher readings. Gloss is used when referencing satin, semi-gloss, or high-gloss finishes, while sheen is more accurately used to measure lower finishes such as flat, matte, and eggshell.

Painted surfaces interact differently with light depending on the sheen or gloss level, making the finish a determining factor in how the color and overall space will appear. When considering which finish is right for a project, there are four key factors architects should examine:

General appearance

The visual aesthetic of a glossy wall is far different than a flat wall. What look is the client trying to achieve, and how does this cooperate with surrounding design elements? Further, consider the condition of the surface—lower sheens are a better option for hiding wall imperfections due to their lack of light reflectance.

Functionality

The way a space is used may influence the selection of a particular sheen. Generally speaking, bedrooms are often designed to foster relaxation and soothing environments; for this reason, flat and matte finishes are commonly used to diffuse light and soften the appearance of the room, delivering rich color and a smooth, subtle look.

Durability

While all premium paint finishes are designed to be durable, some gloss and sheen levels are more desirable for higher-traffic or usage situations. For example, higher gloss levels are typically used on trim, windows, and doors to withstand wear-and-tear from frequent use.

Color perception

Since light has a direct impact on color, gloss or sheen will affect how the color looks throughout the day. Generally speaking, a higher gloss that reflects more light can make colors appear more vivid and bright while lower sheens will absorb light and make certain hues feel darker.

Historically, guidance around the use of gloss and sheen had been limited to specific areas and uses, such as semi-gloss paints being the standard for bathrooms because of the moisture and humidity. In recent years, the paint industry has benefited from significant advances in paint technology, and today’s products have alleviated many of the traditional rules around gloss and sheen. For example, Benjamin Moore Aura Bath & Spa is available in a matte finish and is designed to repel moisture and resist mildew in bathrooms and home spas.

Finishing guide

Here’s a more detailed breakdown of finishes and how you can use them:

  • Flat/ultra flat: The lowest level of sheen, ideal for hiding wall imperfections and seamless touch-ups. Best suited to ceilings and low-traffic areas.
  • Matte: Slightly more sheen than a flat finish, with very little reflection that creates a velvety look. Ideal for living rooms, dining rooms, and bedrooms.
  • Eggshell: Offers a slight sheen with a smooth, elegant appearance; it is washable with good stain resistance, yet still forgiving of wall imperfections. Suitable for living rooms, dining rooms, foyers, bedrooms, hallways, and kitchens.
  • Pearl/satin: A durable, medium-sheen finish that lends itself well to areas where washability is important. Think hallways, family rooms, kitchens, trim, bathrooms, playrooms, doors.
  • Semi-gloss: Reflects light and draws the eye, with high resistance to moisture and stains. It’s best used for high-traffic areas, trim, doors, and cabinets/millwork.
  • High-gloss: Highest degree of reflectance and highly durable, creating a formal and polished look; least forgiving of wall imperfections. Suitable for trim, doors, cabinets, furniture.

While there are still some generalizations when it comes to selecting the right finish for a surface, design preferences and visual aesthetics are stronger influences behind a selection compared to restrictions based on functionality. Innovations in paint enable architects and designers to expand their creativity and achieve a desired look, without sacrificing quality and key performance attributes.

To learn more about premium Benjamin Moore coatings and to explore color and design inspiration, visit www.benjaminmoore.com.

AIA does not sponsor or endorse any enterprise, whether public or private, operated for profit. Further, no AIA officer, director, committee member, or employee, or any of its component organizations in his or her official capacity, is permitted to approve, sponsor, endorse, or do anything that may be deemed or construed to be an approval, sponsorship, or endorsement of any material of construction or any method or manner of handling, using, distributing, or dealing in any material or product.

Image credits

Benjamin Moore interior paint

Benjamin Moore

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