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Preference, location determine paint’s sheen

DEAR GAIL: Why do builders use flat paint in all the houses? When you try to clean off a dirt spot, you end up down to the drywall and then have to touch-up. We’re planning to repaint, so what are our options? — Sandy W.

DEAR SANDY: There are two reasons flat paint is used in almost all new homes. First, it is nonreflective, which masks any surface imperfections. Second, it is easy to touch-up and also less expensive most times.

Sheen refers to how much light is reflected off the painted surface. There are varying degrees of sheen, from no sheen to high gloss. Paint manufacturers may refer to their paint sheens by different names, but basically there are five different sheen levels: flat, eggshell, satin, semigloss and high gloss.

A flat sheen can be used in low-use areas or where you want to mask any imperfections. With its matte finish, it makes the surface appear smooth and uniform and is preferred on ceilings. But as you and many others have found out, the standard paint in new-home construction is difficult to clean because the texture traps the dirt more. It also has a chalky appearance and feel.

Just so you know, they do make flat paint that is washable. It is nice for rooms that get a lot of sun and where you’ve used a bright color. If you use a high-gloss paint and, let’s say, a bright yellow, the room can tend to glow.

Eggshell sheen gets its name from the texture and sheen of an actual eggshell. It has a slight sheen and is more washable than a flat finish.

A satin is sometimes also called pearl, it has a slight gloss and can be cleaned more than flat paint. Personally, I only use a satin or eggshell sheen as I don’t like the reflection and glow from semigloss paint on the walls. I even use it in kitchens and baths. Really how dirty do these areas get? If you wipe down any splatters in the kitchen after cooking, you shouldn’t have problems. I have it behind my blue and gold macaw’s cage and use a scrub brush to clean it. But I did purchase the best quality the company offered; it really does make a difference.

Typically, a semigloss is used in kitchens, bathrooms and laundry rooms because it makes surfaces easier to clean and is moisture resistant. The higher the gloss, the tougher and more stain resistant the paint. So in areas that have high traffic and require frequent washing, such as a hallway, you might want to consider a semigloss. Semigloss is reflective, so know it will show imperfections.

High gloss is extremely hard, has a very shiny rich finish and is highly moisture resistant. It is normally used on trims, cabinets and doors. It is the toughest and most stain-resistant finish. Being that it has more of a mirrorlike finish, it also will make colors more intense.

Determining the sheen level for your home does require a look at both function and aesthetics. So before buying those 20 gallons of paint, take time to consider the use and feel you want in each area.

Also, please consult with the paint experts where you are buying your paint because every paint company has different levels of quality and you’ll want to inquire about primers. If your walls are flat, they will soak in the paint, which requires additional coats. And if you didn’t know, they also make color primers, which can make all the difference when you have a vivid or deep color. Nothing is worse then having to paint four coats of red to finally get the color you selected.

Gail Mayhugh, owner of GMJ Interiors, is a professional interior designer and author of a book on the subject. Questions may be sent by e-mail to: gail@gmjinteriors.com. Or, mail to: 7380 S. Eastern Ave., No. 124-272, Las Vegas, NV 89123. Her Web address is: www.GMJinteriors.com.

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