Painting Your Home #4: Quality Paint & The Right Finishes

It’s only paint, you think.

Fancy brands are just more expensive but not better, you surmise.

Not necessarily.


Europeans think about house paint in the same way it is said that a chic French woman buys clothes. She will purchase infrequently but buy the highest quality and style she can afford. The cost is amortized over time because the clothing holds up beautifully. A saavy European will purchase premium quality paint despite the higher cost, knowing that a great paint job will last many years (with appropriate cleaning and touch ups) rather than the short 3-5 year wall life one can expect of a lower quality paint. By that point, the wall will look worse for wear and repainting is nonnegotiable. Not only do you buy time with high quality paints, but they are easier to apply and adhere better. Fewer coats are required for color depth and uniform appearance.

High quality paints are more resistant to the wear and tear of daily life and hold up to repeated cleanings like the champs that they are.

Oil or Latex? The choice is one of trade offs.

Oil Based Paint: It has long been true that oil based primers and finish coats offer the toughest scratch resistant surface and are the most easily cleaned. However from an ecological standpoint, the solvents that are needed to keep the formula liquid are highly toxic and flammable and the odor will choke you while drying. Oil based paint colors yellow over time especially in dark areas like closets with no sunlight.

Latex And Acrylic Paint: The finishes while not as tough as oil based, are still tough enough for high traffic areas. Additionally, it’s no longer true that oil based paints have to be used in areas given to high moisture like kitchens and bathrooms. High quality latex paints have evolved to be on par with oil based paints in resisting moisture, dirt and stains. They also hold up well through repeated cleanings. Water is used as the primary solvent so they don’t have the “green issues” of oil based paint. Nearly odor free, the colors stay true over time.

Finishing School: The standard finishes until now, have been satin or semi-gloss for doors, molding and trim and flat for walls and ceilings.

Think of paint as a film. The shinier the finish, the tougher it is and the easier it is to clean.

The shine factor is a determinant of moisture resistance too. On the other hand, the flatter the finish, the less any imperfections in the wall surface will show.

Choose Your Weapon: This short glossary of finishes will better help you make more modern and creative choices beyond customary.

  • Flat paintsalso known as matte, have no sheen. As stated above, a flat finish hides imperfections but mars easily and can’t be washed without removing the paint. The “work around” is to look for the companies that offer a “Washable Matte. This finish hides imperfections and you can wipe it down (gently) as needed.
  •  Eggshell paints – are only slightly shinier than a flat paint, but still matte enough not to pop out the wall flaws. They are more durable and give the walls a kind of glow that doesn’t shout “Shiny”!
  •  Satin, semi-gloss and gloss paints are successively shinier such that you choose one of these based how much abrasion you expect, washability and shine preference.

While oil based paint isn’t a necessity in high moisture areas such as bathrooms, there are varying opinions on finish ranging from:

“no flat finish at all”,

“no flat finish on the ceiling”,

“eggshell finish is permissible”

“only satin or semi-gloss finishes will hold up”.

To decide where you stand on the matter ask these questions:

  • Will the surface be wiped down as part of regular cleaning? If so, it needs a sheen.
  • Are the walls largely tile and the painted surface minimal? Flat is a possibility if good ventilation is available.
  • What’s your comfort level with bending the “sheen rules”?

When in doubt, shine it up. For a foolproof solution, order your color in formulas that are specially prepared for kitchens and baths.

Your color choices reflect your personal style and the impression your rooms will give. Which colors tell your story? Read about the special effects of your favorite colors here.

Related Posts

(Guide To Painting Your Home Four Part Series)

Painting Your Home #1: Color Confusion

Painting Your Home #3: What Color Goes Where?

Painting Your Home #2: Perfect Wall Color



The original version of this post was published on It’s represented here as a foundation for further discussion