Painted surfaces are everywhere in a home: walls, of course, but also trim, crown molding, cabinets, shelves, and ceilings. Paint can also be used on stairs, floors, and even furniture. Every time we make a paint selection for our homes, we have to select a paint sheen – or gloss level – for that paint, which affects both durability and appearance.

The best way to approach choosing a paint sheen, says Steve Preas, Benjamin Moore’s mid-Atlantic representative, is to understand the options, which may be different depending on the brand of paint under consideration. Sheens may be called flat, matte, eggshell, pearl, satin, semi-gloss, or high gloss – with flat and matte having virtually no shine and high gloss the most shine.

“There is no standard when it comes to paint sheen,” he says. “One company might say we have a matte finish, but one person’s matte finish might be somebody’s flat finish or somebody else’s satin finish.”

What is uniform, Preas says, is that each paint sheen has its own characteristics and strengths. “The higher the sheen, the more durable it will be, because it resists fingerprints, and is moisture- and scuff-resistant,” he notes. “You want to use high sheen on high-touch surfaces, like doors, cabinets, and trim.”

Ceilings often get the lowest sheen, since they aren’t routinely touched. Low-sheen paints are also useful in covering imperfections in surfaces, like dings or nail pops commonly found on walls.

“It’s about the way the light will catch the surface,” Preas says. “The glossier the surface, the more the light reflects off it and the more light will be bounced back to your eye.”

The sheen can also seemingly affect the paint color itself.

“A matte finish can make a color seem deeper, more saturated,” Preas says. “When you go up in sheen, more light is being reflected, so it can seem a little lighter than the shade selected.”

The overall brightness of a room should also factor into both shade and sheen selection, because both natural light as well as light from lamps or wall and ceiling fixtures will affect the perceived color of walls, in particular. Preas notes that the same paint color, when painted on different walls with different light exposures, can appear as mismatched hues.

“It’s a phenomenon that can drive people crazy,” Preas says. “We have customers who notice that their crown molding looks different from the other trim in the room. It’s about the tilt of the molding and how it reflects light differently.”

Paint color can also appear to change over the course of a day or across seasons – again, because of the way the light is moving. While this shifting might seem confusing, it can also help people enjoy the space.

“We have color stories – our color collections – that play up on that dynamic way that colors change throughout the day,” he says. “Some people want it to always be that green wall. But designers like a dynamic feel. A room that can feel cool in the morning but warm and cozy in the evening.”

Many of the old “rules” of household paint are now being upended, with more homeowners using color – and even high gloss paint – on ceilings for impact. In bathrooms, which historically have been painted with a shinier finish, such as satin or semi-gloss, it’s now possible to use a Benjamin Moore matte finish, AURA Bath & Spa, specifically formulated to withstand moisture.

“You don’t have to have that shiny paint,” Preas says. “You get that true color, but not the streaks that may happen.”

The bottom line, Preas says, is to answer three foundational questions at the start: What kind of paint do you want? What color of paint do you want? What sheen of paint do you want? “You have to have those questions answered before you start,” he says. “Paint is like labor; you want to make sure you have everything agreed upon from the beginning.”



Flip through current home design magazines, and you’ll likely see spaces that feature bright and glossy surface finishes. A front door, ceiling, or bookcase topped with a high gloss paint attracts attention and becomes the best kind of talking point, one that leaves visitors impressed and you happy with your investment.

When it comes to selecting paint for your project, it’s important to be educated about the options.

Wood furniture and cabinets are often finished with a pigmented, solvent-based coating that’s called lacquer. A lacquered surface is hard, can be any sheen (or shine) level, and resists scuffs and damage. Some design professionals will use the term lacquer to refer to high gloss paint, which is different.

H.J. Holtz & Son offers two different types of high gloss paint finishes: Fine Paints of Europe’s Hollandlac Brilliant – which is oil-based – and Benjamin Moore’s Advance – which is a high gloss alkyd enamel that is water-soluble. The differences between the two matter when it comes to pricing, says Patrick Picchi, H.J. Holtz & Son project manager for painting.

“When we’re using FPE’s Hollandlac, we have to essentially build a room in a person’s home to control the smell and dust,” Picchi says. “We use plastic to separate the room [from other areas] and then use fans to keep the space clean, so dust doesn’t get onto surfaces.”

Additionally, Hollandlac requires more drying time than with waterborne paints.

“You can only do one step a day with Hollandlac, because it takes all day to dry,” Picchi says. “People want to use their kitchens, but if we’re using Fine Paints, they can’t use the kitchen at all. If we’re using waterborne paint, by the end of the day, we can clean up the kitchen, it can be used at night, and the next day, we can start all over.”

Looking for a high-impact finish, customers will often ask for high gloss lacquer paint, not realizing the challenges and cost it entails, Picchi says. “If you want a mirror-like finish, use Fine Paints Hollandlac,” Picchi says. “But for a lesser price, you can do a high gloss finish.”

In a kitchen, for example, built-in cabinets can be painted with a high gloss finish, while a freestanding island can be transported to the Holtz shop, where it can be painted with Hollandlac in a sealed, climate-controlled room. Another way to add impact is with custom furniture crafted by the Holtz carpentry division – cabinets, beverage bars, bookcases, etc. These are made in the Holtz carpentry studio and painted in the spray room before they are delivered, so there’s no disruption in the home.

In the end, it’s all about creating a look the client wants.

“Our goal is to make sure our customers are happy with the finished project,” Picchi says.