Even though I hate applying a single rule to anything in design, I do use these considerations when choosing paint finishes for cabinetry or wood trim on a project.
Yes, I know, there are many, many qualities and varied finishes available out there, but let’s try to boil them down to three simple ones for this particular discussion, shall we? Good. Then...
If you’re painting a piece of wood trim, some cabinetry or a door, you generally have three choices:
1. High Gloss
I would love to use high gloss enamel more often; however, you must have really good painters to pull this finish off. (ie: really good budgets)
Your surface needs to be smooth and perfect so the reflection of light that bounces off this finish doesn’t go all wonky on you and telegraph any flaws underneath.
(For the record: This doesn’t mean my painters aren’t good, it just means that in order to achieve perfection you need more time to get there, more time sanding and smoothing the under-surface to get a flawless finish. And time costs what? That’s right: money.)
In terms of style, this finish is best used in a traditional interior, where heavy, detailed mouldings are helping enhance the style of the space. Contemporary interiors can also use high gloss paint to add interest to simple, plain surfaces. You better believe that, in this instance, that surface below must be perfection.
High gloss paint was used on all the cabinetry and mouldings in this project of mine.
Having the light bounce off that hood emphasized the traditional elements in the space and gave the kitchen the elegance it needed. It added interest in a tone-on-tone interior, giving some gleam and polish to the surfaces.
This is more of a standard. Many builders use semi-gloss paint on mouldings and trim so that those elements stand out, but the slightly duller surface is a little more forgiving.
Great for traditional interiors and easy to clean, this finish is quite popular.
My favorite. I live in the suburbs and do lots of remodeling out here. Many times the homeowners I work with want to change the look or style of their interior but can’t change all the trimwork.
To minimize a heavy, ornate trim, a satin finish paint dulls down those features so they don’t stand out as much visually. This gives a more contemporary, up-to-date look, while still being wipeable. It also works well in a more rustic interior style where glossy finishes aren’t as welcome.
I especially love the subtlety of painting the trim to match the walls, using a satin finish on the mouldings.
In this kitchen remodel project below, we modified and painted the kitchen cabinets but wanted to tone down the traditional details. This kitchen was painted in a satin finish.
The main question you need to ask yourself when selecting a paint finish for your woodwork or trim is this:
Is this house all about the mouldings?
Does the trimwork and cabinetry make a significant style statement that needs to be highlighted or focused on?
If you answer “yes”, then you might want to go glossy or even semi-gloss. :-)
However, If you answer “no” — if you want other things to stand out more, like furnishings, special finishes, or treatments; or if you’re trying to downplay the trimwork, not call attention to it; or if you’re wanting a more modern or rustic feel— then perhaps a satin finish is more appropriate.