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Pick the Right Paint Finish to Fit Your Style

Most would agree that wall color is a key decorating decision, right up there with choosing furniture and pinpointing your style. But what about the finish of your walls? From velvety matte to high gloss enamel, Venetian plaster, decorative finishes and more, the choices are endless — and the decision you make can have a profound impact on the look and feel of your room. Read on to get the rundown on nine of the most highly coveted wall finishes, so you can make a great choice for your space.
Paint Finishes

Not to be confused with flat paint (generally only used on ceilings), paint with a matte finish is velvety and makes colors look especially rich and deep. It is not at all reflective and hides wall imperfections well — but it is hard to clean. A good choice for areas with less traffic — and homes without crayon-wielding children.
Eggshell. One of the most popular finishes for interior walls, eggshell paint has a subtle gleam, medium reflectivity and is fairly easy to clean. It's a good all-around paint choice.
Semi-gloss. With much more reflectivity than eggshell, semi-gloss paint is a popular choice for trim. In the space shown here, the walls have an eggshell finish, the ceiling is flat and the trim is done in semi-gloss.
High gloss or lacquer. Lacquered (aka high gloss) walls and ceilings have been a hot look in decorating for some time, and it's a trend that appears to have staying power.

Real-deal lacquer contains toxic ingredients and is no longer used in most places. Instead, a lacquer-like effect can be created using regular paint with a high gloss finish, or with a modern lacquer that combines high gloss paint with water-based varnish.

High gloss paint creates a reflective surface and is highly durable. But be warned — it will show every imperfection in your walls.
Creating this look requires some serious wall preparation. Most walls will first need to be skim-coated, where a layer of joint compound or plaster is applied, before priming.

During painting, you may need to layer three, four, five or more coats of color to achieve the effect you are looking for. Pros spray rather than brush on the paint for an ultra-slick look.
If you want to lacquer a small area, like the pocket door shown here, doing it yourself is reasonable.

But if you have your heart set on high gloss living room walls (and ceiling), it's best to hire a pro.

And you can expect it to set you back more than the typical painting job — it will take a great deal more paint, plus extra time to prep and apply.
Special Effects

Decorative painting. Looking for something a little different? Consider doing a decorative or faux finish on your walls. From a gorgeous patina that looks like it came straight from an old European hotel, to fun textures and patterns, the only limit is your imagination. For some, this can be a fun DIY experiment; for others, a professional decorative painter may be in your future!

Rates vary depending on the intricacy of your paint job, the size (and difficulty) of your space and the experience of the painter — a single project could cost anywhere from a few hundred to thousands of dollars.
Murals. An original, hand-painted mural created just for your home is something to treasure. Whether you are looking for a special scene to complete baby's nursery, or a one-of-a-kind statement for your formal dining room, a mural can be the ultimate expression of your personal aesthetic.

Like other art mediums, mural costs can vary wildly. Depending on the finishes used, a mural may be easily damaged — or quite durable. If you need an easily cleaned surface, it is important to speak with the muralist during the initial planning stages to see if it is feasible.
Venetian plaster. Lustrous and rich in texture and in color, classic Venetian plaster is considered by some to be the ultimate in elegance.

Originating in Venice in the 1500s, this interior finish is made from slaked lime, marble dust and pigments. It is far more durable than paint and resists cracking.

Prices range from $5 to $15 per square foot. Ceilings and columns will cost more because these are difficult areas to work on.
American Clay plaster. This natural clay and recycled marble dust plaster creates a look that falls somewhere between southwestern adobe and Venetian plaster — rich, earthy and highly pigmented. American Clay is nontoxic and durable, and can be applied over just about any type of substrate. Costs tend to be a bit lower than Venetian plaster — about $2 to $10 per square foot.
Stained wood panel walls. If you have wood paneling rather than sheet rock or plaster, you have the option to stain, rather than paint, the wood. The appeal of stain is that the grain of the wood shows through. Wood stain alone will have a finish akin to matte paint, but you can alter the look by applying a glaze with a higher sheen on top.