A Guide to Paint Finishes: From Flat to Fabulously Glossy

Flat, eggshell, satin, gloss: When it comes to interior décor, there are a lot of confusing terms, but at least the names for paint finishes are fairly straightforward. Even the most novice painter can guess what’s what.

Flat (or matte) is a smooth surface without luster. Eggshell resembles its namesake. Satin has a subtle sheen reminiscent of the popular fabric. And gloss is, well, glossy.

When shopping for paints you’re faced with the inevitable question: What finish? To sheen or not to sheen? But there’s so much more behind choosing a paint finish than just their names. Some finishes work better than others in high-traffic areas. Some hide imperfections that are common in older buildings. And others add extra pizazz for home décor projects.

The next time you’re choosing paint finishes, use this user-friendly paint-finish guide -- with some expert input courtesy of international color expert and designer Maria Killam -- to help you find your perfect paint.

A QUICK-REFERENCE GUIDE TO PAINT FINISHES

The Finish: Flat (aka Matte)

· The Basics: Lacking any sheen whatsoever, flat paint is light-absorbing with a smooth finish. The flat paint finish hides imperfections but also holds dirt and is difficult to clean -- rubbing it with cleanser may even damage the finish.

· The Use: Living rooms, dining rooms, bedrooms, hallways and ceilings. “If you have walls with a lot of imperfections, flat hides them,” Killam says. “And ceilings should be flat for that same reason.”

· Good to Know: It’s a good idea to keep extra paint on hand to touch up nicks and scratches in flat finishes.

The Finish: Eggshell (aka Low-Luster)

· The Basics: This low-sheen paint finish resembles the shell of an egg (so, no, the name is not a coincidence). Eggshell paint absorbs light just like its flat counterpart above. It’s best used in lower-traffic areas, and is easier to clean than flat.

· The Use: Living rooms, dining rooms, kitchens, bedrooms, entryways, hallways and trims. “I like walls to have a little shine, so I always specify eggshell for the main rooms in a house, hallways, living and family rooms,” Killam says.

The Finish: Satin (aka Pearl, with certain paint brands)

· The Basics: A subtle finish with a soft sheen that reflects light. This is one of the most versatile finishes as it falls in the middle of the spectrum. It can be wiped clean with ease, making it ideal for active areas.

· The Use: Kitchens, dining rooms, children’s bedrooms, guest or powder baths, laundry rooms, trims, doors and shutters. “Satin is great for bathrooms and kitchens thanks to its high scrub-ability,” Killam says.

The Finish: Semigloss

· The Basics: A step up in sheen from satin, semigloss paint finish reflects more light. It can be scrubbed to keep clean, so it’s a great choice in areas with high traffic.

· The Use: Kitchens, bathrooms, hallways, cabinets, doors, trims and moldings. “If you are using latex paint for trim and doors, a higher sheen will give you more durability,” Killam says.

The Finish: Gloss

· The Basics: Gloss paint finishes come with a smooth, high-shine sheen. (Opt for high-gloss paint for the light-reflecting extreme of paint finishes.) Gloss can be scrubbed clean without concern for the finish, so it’s ideal for areas that most often require washing.

· The Use: Kitchens, baths, trims, woodwork, moldings, doors and cabinets. “If you opt to use a high-gloss finish to create an interesting sheen effect, such as on a ceiling or powder room,” Killam says, “spray it on to prevent roller or brush marks in the final finish.”

Home Decorating Tips: How to Style Bookshelves Like a Pro

If there’s one piece of furniture with endless style potential, it’s bookshelves. These spaces are often used for function only, but you can style bookshelves so they display your personality through meaningful objects and unique knick-knacks in addition to your reading collection.

“[Bookshelves] are the absolute architecture of a space no matter where they are on your wall,” says Ashlina Kaposta, a New York City–based interior designer and popular blogger on The Decorista. Kaposta styles bookshelves on a regular basis for clients and is never at a loss for items to fill them. “You can use anything,” says Ashlina.

Anyone can style bookshelves with Kaposta’s easy home decorating tips. Here’s how.

Begin With Empty Bookshelves
Move everything off your shelves and onto the floor. Group similar objects together to better see what you have: Try organizing books by jacket color (see below), by subject matter or by the years or places they were collected. Also gather unique objects and knick-knacks you want to display. See what fits in your plan and what doesn’t, and play with the placement of items. As far as the bookshelf itself goes, affordable units from discount stores will do just fine. But if you’re looking for showcase shelving, Kaposta’s personal favorite finishes are vintage chrome and brass, which will really highlight what they house.

Maintain a Sense of Balance and Symmetry
When you’re deciding where items should go, vary the placement to increase visual interest: Try stacking some books horizontally while lining others up vertically. Create balance and symmetry on your bookshelves by mirroring one placement pattern on an opposing shelf. Kaposta also suggests grouping things in odd numbers.


Credit: Emily A. Clark

Color Coordinate Books and Objects

Grouping items by color “instantly changes up the space,” says Kaposta. Line up book spines in a rainbow order to turn books into an eye-catching element from a distance where titles are indecipherable.

Group Collections Together
If you have a collection of similar items -- such as colorful rocks or sea shells -- keep them together in one area. Give order to your collection by placing the pieces on a lacquered or mirrored tray.  


Credit: Tim Barber LTD Architecture & Interior Design

Stack Boxes Full of Paperwork
Keep important documents within reach -- but out of sight -- by storing them inside chic boxes. Buy boxes in multiples and look for luxe textures and graphic patterns to make a stylish impact.

Include Travel Keepsakes
Remind yourself of fun getaways with objects from travels, such as volcanic rocks and carved statuettes. Mix them in with other treasures to keep it interesting.


Credit: SRM Architecture and Interiors

Use Mirrors and Artwork Sparingly
Remember, this is a bookshelf -- not a wall. Save most, if not all, of your artwork for a wall instead of hiding it away in a bookshelf. If you want one piece, that should be sufficient; use two small pieces at the most.

Make Use of Eye Level
A standout photo or detailed statuette is of no use to anyone on the top shelf of a floor-to-ceiling unit. Arrange objects that require a more detailed appreciation within eyesight.


Credit: Abbott Moon

Capitalize on Storage Opportunities
Your bookshelves can serve as functional storage for more than just your books. For example, a showpiece serving tray that’s too big to fit in kitchen cabinets can find a home among other objects. Plus, it can be appreciated at all times from this perch, instead of just a few times a year when you’re entertaining.

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Photo: Corbis Images

Decorating How-To: Layering Rugs

Layered rugs are a growing trend in the world of interior design; just browse Pinterest for a few minutes or open your most recent decor magazine and you’ll quickly spot the craze.

This trend creates a collected, textural feel for a room that satisfies and surprises. But trying to achieve such a look makes for tricky work. How do you confidently shop for the mismatched, yet coordinated, colors and furniture pieces required for this perfectly collected and curated design style?

One easy way to create that eclectic vibe is by topping a more neutral, natural-fiber rug with a pretty patterned option, which can put your living room on the fast track to that had-it-forever-but-works-perfectly combination. It’s a fairly easy trend to get on board, so long as you follow some simple tips!

For beginners, start with a natural fiber jute, sisal or seagrass rug. These make great rugs for busy spaces because they typically stand up well to high traffic. They’re also basic, casual and inexpensive enough to support a more fun, patterned rug on top. For the top layer, feel free to go much smaller and in a different shape. Even consider some color for a playful pop of personality.

Take a look at these inspirational photos to get motivated and layer it on!


Rebekah Zaveloff

Andrea Schumacher


Garrison Hullinger


Kate Jackson Designs



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How to Organize Holiday Decorations

The holidays have come to a close, which means you can finally relax and stop worrying about that persistently pesky to-do list. But before you get too comfy, you’ll need to tackle one more holiday task -- storing and organizing holiday decorations.

These expert tips will get your decorations perfectly organized and ready for next year. Your ghost of Christmas Future will thank you!

GENERAL ORGANIZATION

Downsizing is an important element of organizing holiday decorations. Before you pack away this year’s items, bring out all the decorations that didn't make the cut. Decide which treasures you can donate, give away or throw out, suggests organizational expert Kammie Lisenby of Seattle Organizing Experts. Just think: If you get rid of old ornaments, you’ll have extra space for new ones next year!

• Store decorations in “the heavy green and red containers that are on sale this time of year,” suggests Marilyn Bohn from Get it Together Organizing. You’ll immediately recognize them as Christmas decoration containers thanks to the festive colors, and you won’t be scouring the attic or storage shed next year to find them. In addition, Lisenby suggests storing all your holiday decorations in one area for easy access next year. Somewhere that’s not prime year-round real estate -- such as the back of the garage or attic -- is best. And make sure that your containers are made of hard plastic and have a tight locking lid.

• Label, label, label, Lisenby says. Mark even individually wrapped ornaments so you’ll immediately know what’s what next year without having to unpack everything first. Clear nametag inserts attached to the outside of boxes are great because they allow you to change the label from year to year if needed.

• Accidents happen, so keep a tube of crazy glue with your Christmas decorations, suggests Bonnie Joy Dewkett of The Joyful Organizer. If you open your holiday decorations next year to find a break, you’ll be ready for a quick fix and the broken ornament won’t be left sitting in the corner all holiday waiting for you to “get around” to mending it.

• We all like to keep the original boxes with our grandmother’s writing on them, Lisenby says. But to really preserve memories, make sure you have the proper storage for your treasures (large, sturdy boxes in which to store the smaller treasured boxes). 

LIGHTS 

• One trusted (and inexpensive) trick for organizing holiday lights: Keep them from becoming tangled by wrapping them around a flat piece of cardboard -- a paper towel tube also works. Bohn, Dewkett and Lisenby all love this trick. On an exposed end of the cardboard or on a label tag, jot down where the lights belong next year (Christmas tree, mantel, entry window, and the like). Wrap lights in newspaper or packing paper and store them in a hard plastic, durable container.

Bohn recommends investing in a Lightkeeper Pro (about $25), the complete tool for fixing miniature lights. It is worth its weight in gold as it fixes light strands that have been rendered useless thanks to a fixable problem. Keep it with your lights for next year for ease of use.

BREAKABLES AND DELICATES

• Next time you’re at the wine or liquor store, Bohn suggests asking if you can take some empty boxes with bottle separators off their hands. The boxes are perfect for dividing and protecting bubble-wrapped delicate ornaments.

• For another affordable option to safe-keep breakables, glue the bottoms of plastic cups to a flat piece of cardboard, says Dewkett. Once the ornaments are inside the cups, place another flat piece of cardboard on top, tie them together and store in a tote or large box.

• Lisenby warns against wrapping ornaments (particularly delicate or valuable ones) in printed paper. Always use plain packing paper or tissue paper so the ink doesn’t rub off on your ornaments, she says. And when you purchase new ornaments, keep the original packaging if possible.

• If you have broken ornaments that you want to keep, fix them before storing them, Bohn says. As you’re downsizing, get rid of those you don’t like or don’t plan to use in coming years. If there are ornaments you don’t plan to use but will keep for sentimental reasons, store them in a smaller box, label it and place in the bottom of the larger storage container. This will save you the time of separating these ornaments from the others next year.

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Photo: Corbis Images

Holiday Décor: Home Decorating Ideas for Inside and Out

INSIDE

  • Branching out. This free home decorating idea takes just a minute. All you need is a large leafless branch and a pitcher or hurricane lantern. Fill the pitcher with enough sand to hold the weight of the branch, then place the branch in the sand. If you’re using a clear lantern, fill with colored sand. Add more personality with a set of twinkling lights or ornaments with a theme or color. Set near the front door or stairway or make two to flank a fireplace.

  • Inside the box. Cut florist foam to fit an old wooden box (the more weathered, the better!). Add greenery -- try trimmings from your Christmas tree -- plus snippets of juniper, hemlock and holly branches. Tuck in pinecones, votives in glass canning jars or apples and pears for a rustic centerpiece for your mantel or table.
  • Family sentiments. The holidays are all about family, so place them front and center in your home decorating. Ask each member of your family for one word they feel sums up the holidays. Print their words on a piece of heavy-duty paper and cut each word out. Embellish the cards with a stencil, if you wish. Attach a piece of florist wire to the mantel or stair rail, then clothespin each word to the wire. Cover each end of the wire with a large velvet or burlap bow.
  • Forgo the red and green. Just because red and green are the holiday colors doesn’t mean you have to use them. If your living room is a color that clashes, play up that hue instead. For instance, a silver-sage living room becomes the backdrop for a white-and-silver color scheme. Choose white candles, silver candelabras, paper cutouts or German feather trees, spray-painted pine cones and twig wreaths, white poinsettias and white and silver pillow covers and throws.
  • Keep it simple. You don’t have to go crazy with the decorations. A grouping of same-color candles in the fireplace, a bowl of ornaments on the dining room table, an unadorned swath of greenery on the mantle all give nod to the season while staying subdued. If you have an open or glass-front china cabinet, add some pinecones or ornaments to the shelves. Have a collection of pitchers or glassware? Add a few bare branches to your favorites.

OUTSIDE

  • Gather the greenery. Swap out the flowers in your window boxes for an armful of cut evergreen and berry branches. Insert a florist bow and plastic gold or silver balls too. If you prefer, use potted dwarf conifers such as golden false cypress, boxwood, Old Gold juniper or even lavender.

  • Dine al fresco. Who says Christmas dinner needs to be in the dining room? Move the meal outside if you live in a warmer climate (or use outdoor heaters). Use an old plaid blanket as a tablecloth and set the table with mismatched white or old holiday china patterns. Add a runner of evergreen and twigs woven through with a colorful or burlap ribbon. Place hurricanes with candles intermittently down the center. Don’t be formal and matchy-matchy. Remember: you want rustic! Tie place cards to pinecones or natural brush ornaments.
  • Deck the outdoor halls. If you live in a warm climate, bring the holidays to the lanai or porch by incorporating the colors of the season. Typical holiday plants such as poinsettia or amaryllis will do just fine outside. And a plant on each table or a swag across the fireplace makes the season merry.
  • Festive façade. Dress your house for the holidays with a wreath on each window. The look is timeless, but you can easily make it modern with grapevine wreaths or rustic with naked evergreens and no bows. Too many windows for this to be practical? Center a battery-operated votive on each windowsill instead; flameless candles can be bought for about $15 a dozen.
  • Festival of lights. You don’t need to be Clark Griswold to light up your home-- and you don’t need to use those “little twinkling lights.” Try a giant chain of snowflakes so your house twinkles in a different way, and add some to the trees, too.

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Photo: Corbis Images