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.


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.”

Window Weather Proofing

Windows contribute enormously to the beauty and personality of our homes. Yet they can also be the single largest source of energy loss. 

Today’s modern windows are extremely efficient when compared to those installed in homes just a decade or two ago, but even if you can’t afford to replace old windows, there are things you can do to help save money on your heating and cooling bill. Follow the steps below to eliminate drafts from the most common areas of a typical single- or double-hung window.

Skill Level: Medium

Time Required: Variable


Tack hammer

Caulk gun



Adhesive-backed V-Channel

High-quality neoprene strips

Metal tension strips

Reinforced felt

Tubular gasket

Clear silicone caulk

Shrink-wrap product

Step One:

Cut metal or vinyl v-strips to fit in the sash channels. Cut them long enough to extend at least one inch beyond the sash ends when the window is closed. Cut vinyl with scissors; cut metal with tin snips.

Step Two:

Remove the adhesive backing and stick the vinyl in place. Tack metal strips in place, driving the tacks flush so that the window sash will not snag on them. Flare out the open ends of the metal V-channels with a putty knife to create a tight seal with the sash.

Step Three:

Wipe down the underside of the bottom sash with a damp rag and wait for it to dry; then attach self-adhesive closed-cell vinyl foam to the edges of the underside. The surface must be at least 50 degrees for self-adhesive strips to stick.

Step Four:

Seal the gap where the top sash meets the bottom sash. For double-hung windows, raise the bottom sash completely to the top, and then lower the upper sash a couple of inches. This reveals the lower rail, which is normally hidden. Seal with V-channel weather stripping. If the top sash is stationary, tack tubular gasket to the outside of the lower sash so that it compresses slightly against the top sash when the window is locked shut.


Step Five:

Apply paintable caulk around both the interior and exterior window trim. Smooth the caulk -- a craft stick or even a spoon will get the job done! Once the caulk has dried, paint over it to hide your job well done. 

Window Treatments 101

Window treatments add a finished element to any room. But choosing the perfect window treatments for your space is a complex process. It’s not just about color or pattern; to find a window treatment that’s just right, you’ll need to take into consideration a number of factors -- as well as know some basic terminology.

First, let’s begin with some of the most common window-treatment terms:


  • Blackouts: Lined or coated window panels that are made from a heavyweight fabric with the intent of blocking light and insulating windows so that interior air doesn’t escape and outside temperatures can’t penetrate the rooms as easily. Blackout draperies may also be used to reduce exterior noise.
  • Blinds: Window treatments made of plastic, metal, wood or heavy fabric that come in horizontal or vertical slats, kept in place with string, cord or fabric tape.
  • Brackets: A piece of hardware attached to a wall or window frame to support a rod.
  • Cellular shade: A style of multi-layered or pleated shade that has a distinctive “honeycomb” fabric construction, and provides a high level of window insulation.
  • Curtains: Unlined, stationary window coverings made of lightweight fabric that are typically hung over windows using a curtain rod or decorative pole, and are often held back with tiebacks or holdbacks.
  • Draperies: Draperies -- not to be confused with curtains -- are made of heavier fabric. They can be stationary or mobile on a track, and can be paired with fabric tiebacks or fixed holdbacks mounted on either side of the window.
  • Finial: A decorative end piece that comes in a variety of shapes used to finish or cap the ends of a drapery rod or the top of a drapery holdback.
  • Grommet-top: Also known as eyelets, these are metal, plastic or rubber rings used to reinforce a hole in the fabric at the top of the drapery or curtain through which a curtain rod is placed.
  • Holdbacks: Used to hold curtain or drapery panels when pulled to the sides of the window so the panels can remain open.
  • Panel: A single curtain or drapery. Most window treatments require two panels, one for each side.
  • Rod pocket: A horizontal sleeve stitched across the top of curtains or draperies that opens to allow a rod to be slipped through.
  • Roll-up shade and roller shade: Flat shades made of fabric, plastic or vinyl that roll up onto a cylinder. Roller shades are spring loaded, while roll-up shades are drawn up with cords or strings.
  • Roman shade: The classic Roman shade has a fabric that forms pleats as the shade is raised; these pleats are formed by rings threaded with cords or tapes sewn on the back of the fabric that allow the shade to be raised and lowered. 
  • Shade: General term to describe blinds, pleated shades, roller shades and other opaque window coverings that can be adjusted to expose or cover a window. 
  • Sheers: Lightweight, translucent and finely woven fabrics.
  • Swag: A decorative treatment placed atop windows that features a soft, curving semicircle centered on the window top with fabric hanging down on both sides.
  • Tab-top: Fabric loops or tabs sewn across curtain tops through which a curtain rod is threaded creating a window treatment that hangs straight and flat.
  • Valances: Decorative window treatments that cover the top part of a window, used primarily as the top layer of a layered window treatment or alone as a decorative accent.

Now that you know the basics, it’s time to purchase your perfect window treatments. To guide you through this complex process, you’ll want to consider both function and form. Here, Sally Morse, director of creative services for Hunter Douglas, offers some tips to keep in mind when choosing window treatments.

Window Treatment Factor Number 1: FUNCTION

  • Energy Efficiency. Cold winters and hot summers are no match for window treatments that are designed to be energy efficient. Think about the direction your windows are facing and how much direct sunlight they receive to determine what level of energy-efficient coverage you might need.
  • Light. How much light do you want filtered in the room from the outside? Do you prefer to wake up to natural light in the morning or would you rather have an ultra-dark space that enables you to sleep in? Window fashions with rotating vanes or louvers can be used to direct light where it’s needed most, so consider this option if you prefer the appearance of slat treatments.
  • Convenience. If your windows are large or out of easy reach, you may want to consider remote-control-operated window treatments. Many companies offer a variation on the remote option, including Hunter Douglas -- their PowerRise 2.0 battery-powered remote control options are easy to use (and affordable), and they enable you to move your treatment to your desired position by shade, room, time of day and even activity (for instance, when reducing glare on the TV is an issue).
  • Noise. Window treatments can even help reduce noise. Consider treatments designed with features such as rear fabric air pockets that trap more air to provide sound absorption.
  • Privacy. Your home should be a private refuge from the outside world -- but not necessarily a dark cocoon blocked from natural light. Choose window treatments that provide both privacy and a view. Pair sheer fabric with fabric vanes to keep your view of the outside while maintaining variable light control and privacy both during the day and into the night.
  • Safety. Little ones running around? Keep their safety in consideration when choosing window treatments, including cordless systems.

Window Treatment Factor Number 2: FORM

  • Color. Color is always an important consideration in any home décor purchase. While white is a popular choice for window treatments, you can also add color with soft, light hues that expand the room. Coordinate your window treatments with the wall color, as low contrasts will keep the eye moving around the space. Reverse the technique to draw the eye to the window. You can also make the window or room appear smaller and cozier by using dark, warm colors and high contrast between the window and the wall.
  • Pattern. Pattern, like color, can add intensity on a large surface. Keep size and scale in mind when bringing pattern to your space via window treatments.
  • Proportion. The right window treatment (and placement of such) can help expand and enhance the feel of a room. Choose window treatments s within the overall scale of the space to maintain proper proportions. With a smaller window, try extending the window treatment higher or wider to make the window appear larger. For a window with interesting details, place the window dressing within the frame to keep the architecture visible. 
  • Texture. Texture is needed in every room, whether casual (rough, nubby or earthy) or formal (smooth, elegant fabrics). To easily integrate texture into a space, add it to your windows.
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Photo: Corbis Images

Christmas Trees 101

Once a year, we have an important decision to make: Fir or Pine? Fraser or Norway?

For those who celebrate Christmas, the tree is the centerpiece of any holiday home decorating. Make sure you get one that fits your needs and style by following our guide to the most common and popular Christmas trees you’re likely to find.


Types: Douglas, Balsam, Fraser, Noble, White


Douglas Fir

Needles are one inch to one-and-a-half inches and have some of the most fragrant aromas among Christmas trees when crushed. The tree, which is one of the most popular trees for the holidays, is a conical shape. Keep it well watered at all times in order to extend its life through the holiday season.

Balsam Fir

These long-lasting needles are three-quarter inch to one-and-a-half inches and are rounded at the tip. The tree’s dark green color has a silvery cast. The fragrance is lasting and pleasing. This is another popular tree for the holidays.


Fraser Fir

Soft-to-the-touch needles are a half inch to one inch long. These pyramid-shaped trees are dark green on top with a silver hue underneath and have a pleasant scent. Strong branches turn upward and hold ornaments well. To care, keep it consistently watered and the tree will have excellent needle retention.

Noble Fir

Needles are one inch long. Nobles are deep green in color, sometimes a bluish or silvery tint, with an unusual (but popular) branch shape. Branches are sturdy with spacing between them, making it easy to hang ornaments as well as hold heavier ornaments. These trees are extremely aromatic and keep very well as long as they’re watered regularly.

White (or Concolor) Fir

Needles are typically a half inch to one-and-a-half inches long and are pointed or notched at the tip. Trees are bluish-green when young and turn a dull green with time. They have good needle retention and a nice, citrusy aroma.


Types: Scotch, White

Scotch Pine

This tree’s vibrant green needles, which are about one inch long, can be sharp, so you may want to wear gloves when decorating. Branches are stiff -- one of the reasons this is one of the most popular Christmas trees. The tree has a nice, long-lasting aroma and good needle retention (about one month). As with all trees, keep it watered, but this pine has a longer survival rate even if left dry for a while (great for the brown thumbs of the bunch!).

White Pine

Needles are two to five inches long in bundles of five. The slender branches of this full-looking tree won’t support as many decorations as the Scotch Pine and aren’t recommended for heavy ornaments. But its bluish-green color and soft, flexible needles are appealing. It retains needles well when consistently watered, and it has little to no fragrance (great for allergies).


Types: White, Norway, Blue


White Spruce

Short, stiff needles are a half inch to three-quarter inch long and have a blunt tip -- excellent for holding ornaments. When crushed, its needles have an unpleasant odor. But this green or bluish-green tree has the best needle retention among Spruces and a nice, natural shape. Fun fact: It’s the state tree of South Dakota.


Norway Spruce

Needles are a half-inch to one inch long. Norways have a shiny, dark green color, a conical shape and strong fragrance. The tree has a short lifespan and needle retention is poor unless it’s cut fresh and kept consistently watered, so it’s best to purchase about a week or so before Christmas. This is a popular choice in Europe.

Blue Spruce

Needles are three-quarter inches to one-and-a-half inches long. Needles will shed in a warm room, but typically this tree has excellent needle retention. Its stiff branches will support many heavy decorations. Blue Spruces have good form and symmetrical shape, and its name comes from its bluish hue that can also appear silvery. Keep it well watered, especially in warmer rooms (and if possible, keep room temperature as low as is comfortable).

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New Ways to Reuse Old Holiday Decorations

As you dust off your boxes and bins of holiday decorations this season, you may be feeling excited for the holidays -- but uninspired for your décor. Rather than replenishing your stock of seasonal décor items, consider giving those “leftovers” a new lot in life by repurposing them in new ways. Try these seasonal décor ideas from interior designer Virginia Burney.

Have a Re-Ball

Have some old ball ornaments that you no longer use on your tree? Burney suggests spray-painting them a favorite color or covering them in a thin coat of glue and rolling them in glitter. Then tie them to gifts as part of your gift wrap, or group a selection in a bowl and display as a centerpiece on a table or mantel. You can also purchase a circular wire mold at a craft store (in your desired wreath shape and size), then use fishing wire or clear elastic cord to tie the balls around the mold for a modern DIY wreath. Another option? Take them outside! Tie them to trees or bushes in your yard for some added seasonal curb appeal.

Go with Garlands

If you have strands of garlands gathering dust, try weaving them into your favorite wreath to give it some new flare. Is your garland outdoor friendly? Consider a new place for it outside, such as around your mailbox or above your entry steps. Does the garland itself need a refresher? Paint it with spray paint and add embellishments such as glitter and tied-on beads or accents.

Grow Up and Out

Just because you’ve grown up doesn’t mean your favorite childhood ornaments need to gather dust. Opt to display a second, smaller tree in a less formal space (such as the kitchen, family room, kid’s room or office) and pay tribute to holidays past. To display the ornaments in another way, Burney suggests hanging a selection of favorites from a garland above your mantel. Place a grouping of framed family portraits throughout the years along the mantel to create a nostalgic display.

Prevent the Hum-Drum Next Year

To prevent your style from feeling tired or stagnant, Burney recommends taking photos of your holiday décor after you’ve finished decorating each season. File those images with the ornaments. Next year, refer to the photos and aim for a new look. Having the previous seasons’ photos will help inspire you as well as remind you of unique ways you’ve used your seasonal decorations before.

Pare Down

If your seasonal décor collection continues growing each year, but you (like most of us) neglect to discard or donate old pieces, heed Burney’s advice: “My counting system for ornaments (and all collectibles): One is a find, two is a pair, three is a set, four is a collection and five or more is an obsession.”

And sometimes, of course, it’s just time to say goodbye. “When you haven’t used an ornament in any way for two years, it’s time,” Burney says. “Date your leftovers after decorating, and then delete necessary items to make room for new memories.” Find a new home for your unused decorations at a resale shop or with a deserving friend or neighbor.


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