However simple this option seems, there still is quite a range of possibilities to be considered before a particular paint is selected. The first of these may be the surface finish.
The main differences between the available surface finishes are quality, sheen and price.
Almost every paint manufacturer offers three to five qualities of paint. The highest quality is formulated for the most durability and best appearance over the longest time frame -- that is why it also is the most expensive. This quality of paint typically is the best value for any residential interior that is not repainted often.
Sheen ranges from a very dull appearance to a very glossy one. The amount of sheen selected has to do with the style and use of the room in question. These topics will be discussed further later.
Price is directly related to the quality of the paint and the amount of sheen selected. The higher the quality, or the greater the amount of sheen, the greater the investment. Obviously most clients will not want to constantly repaint a room once the design plan becomes reality, so it pays to specify a higher quality paint on the front end.
The most familiar surface finish is the flat finish. It is most frequently used on walls and ceilings. Once painted with a flat finish paint, the walls take on a matte or dull appearance. This finish gives most rooms a more casual feel. It is wonderful for basic wall covering as it helps to hide flaws or imperfections on the surface.
A second option is an eggshell finish. This surface has the slightest sheen to it. It is neither glossy nor matte. If a dressier feel is desired for a room, an eggshell finish could be a wise selection. It tends to be more durable than a flat finish, but it will show imperfections a little more readily than flat paint. It also is a little more expensive. An eggshell finish generally is used on ceiling and wall surfaces.
Though not available from all manufacturers, satin is the next finish. It is a little more glossy than eggshell. Unless being used in wet applications such as kitchens or bathrooms, this paint finish usually is placed on woodwork and trim.
A semi-gloss finish also is most familiar in applications that include painted bathrooms, kitchens or trim. The surface has a medium shine and increased durability. Usually it is scrubbable, which allows for easy maintenance. Because of the increased sheen, flaws on the wall surface are more noticeable than eggshell or satin finishes.
The last basic option in paint finishes is a gloss finish. This is the most expensive of all four options. Although it is available for wall surfaces, it usually is applied to woodwork and trim. It is easily wiped clean or scrubbed and is very durable. The main reason it is not applied to large flat surfaces is that its high gloss dramatizes every imperfection, major or minor.
Oil- Versus Water-based Paint
No less important than the surface finish of the paint is the kind of paint used. The two major choices for residential applications are oil-based or alkyd paint and water-based or latex paint.
By far, the most popular paint today is latex. It comes in all the finishes discussed above and any color imaginable. Its primary benefit is its easy clean up -- brushes and other painting equipment will come clean with water. It is moderately durable and reasonably priced. Its prevalence will continue to grow as the painting industry is forced to discontinue oil-based paints due to environmental regulations.
Oil-based paints are more durable than their latex counterparts. They take hard punishment and are easily cleaned or scrubbed. Oil-based paints may be slightly more expensive than latex, but their appearance is much richer. Their major drawback is clean up. Because this paint is oil-based, equipment requires cleaning with mineral spirits or turpentine. This can be hard on the skin and the smell is not very pleasant either.
Regardless of these drawbacks, oil-based paints may be the best choice when doing trims or high activity areas. Unfortunately, the oils used in these paints are not environmentally friendly, which has caused the decrease in their popularity and an increase in regulations against using them.
When painting over a previously painted surface caution is required. Some latex paints will adhere to oil-based surfaces, but others will scratch off with a fingernail or the first good scrubbing used to clean the wall. Discussions with a painting professional should include whether the previous paint was alkyd or latex, whether the above disaster is a possibility and how he or she will prepare the surfaces for a new coating. Typically sanding or the use of a deglossing preparation is required so any new coating of paint will adhere properly and last a reasonable amount of time.
The last 10 to 15 years have seen a resurgence in the popularity of decorative painted finishes. By using different techniques a qualified painter can create sophisticated looks that give the feeling of texture, movement and depth on a flat surface.
One of the easiest decorative finishes is sponging. This process requires a base coat that is usually, but not always, a light or tinted white hue. The base coat is followed with the application of paints in the colors of the design plan.
Through the use of a sponge one, two or even three colors can be co-mingled to give an interesting effect. The type of sponge used will affect the look of the finished product. Most professionals use natural sea sponges. The amount of paint applied will also have a dramatic affect on the final outcome. This style of finish can work in almost any interior.
Spattering is a more jazzy-looking effect. Once again a solid base coat is applied, then a stiff bristled brush is dipped into the desired color(s) and the paint is spattered upon the wall giving a spray of dots. This look has more energy and less sophistication than some of the other options being discussed. It might work well in contemporary interiors or more casual spaces.
One of the most versatile and attractive decorative finishes is ragging. I have seen this done in such a way that until it was touched one would swear the wall was covered in leather. Once the base coat has been completed, the selected colors(s) is applied by dipping a rag into the paint and pressing, rolling or dragging it over the surface. This technique creates a wide range of effects and can be as subtle or dramatic as desired. This style works well in any interior from traditional to contemporary and from formal living rooms to nurseries.
Strie (pronounced stree-ay) or combing is an unusual finish. The base coat is one of the colors of the design plan. A second color, typically darker, then is applied over it and a tool called a comb is dragged down the surface creating stripes. Depending upon the tool and how it is used the stripes can be even or uneven, straight or wavy. Attractive in traditional environments, its style and execution can be modified to create stunning contemporary effects.
If the client has the money marbleizing may be a preference. This treatment takes any surface and gives it the look of a piece of marble. To start, find a piece of real marble with veining that suits the style of the room in question. The painter then will apply the appropriately colored base coat followed by the marble veins.
This is where art, technique, skill and experience truly are critical. A qualified professional can paint columns that will be perceived as real marble until they are touched. The application of the veining usually is done with turkey feathers. It takes a good eye and a trained hand to attain just the right look. Expect to pay more for such a finish, but in a traditional interior it could be just the right accent to the room -- and it is much less expensive then the real thing.
Faux bois is another, more expensive but attractive finish. The French translation of these words is false wood, and it is the process of using paint to make trims or wall surfaces look like real wood rather than paint. Again the painter's experience is critical as it takes special tools as well as a good eye and a steady hand. With the price of wood continuing to escalate, this may be a finish that increases in popularity in the coming years.
Last, but certainly not least, is trompe l'oeil, which means to trick the eye in English. This technique has been used since the time of Louis XIV of France. It requires even more skills than the basic painter of many decorative finishes has mastered. The technician must be an artist as they will be painting a mural on the wall to make it look as real as possible.
When executed properly the finished surface should look as if one could walk right into the garden or across the street that was rendered. Obviously this takes a large amount of time and no small amount of money, but in the right place it can be the perfect addition to the design plan.
Before You Start
When specifying any of these fabulous finishes, keep the following thoughts in mind:
Discuss an overcoat to protect the finish and increase its durability and longevity. A glaze can be applied during or after an application for little expense.
Decide ahead of time whether the completed surface should be flat, eggshell, satin, semi-gloss or gloss and specify such to the painter. Keep in mind that the glossier surfaces typically are more durable, but also tend to show wall imperfections more readily. The style of the decorative finish may help to cover up the flaws.
Have the painting professional do a sample board or two. It is well within the designer's rights to have an idea of what the finished product will look like. The painter may charge a fee for this service, but it is money wisely invested as it will eliminate surprises when the job is completed and reduce confrontations over job satisfaction as well.
Simple decorative finishes typically price out similarly to quality wallpapers but are seamless and won't peel off the wall when properly applied. Of course, the more technically involved and the more colors applied the greater the investment. Decide on the price range and the ideal look as well as some compromise options with the clients before bids are requested. Regardless of your preferences, keep the style of the house, room and furnishings in mind when selecting the finish. The desired outcome is to augment the design plan not detract, compete or overpower it.
Susan Dudics-Dean is owner of Celestial Designs and an interior designer who has worked in the San Francisco Bay area of California for more than 11 years. She also is a newspaper columnist and seminar speaker.