When you see a room lacquered up in high-gloss paint, the way Miles Redd sometimes does, it can feel like the most glam look in the world. The whole thing oiled up and sunning after a dip in the pool. But despite the new-new-newness of that look, high-gloss paint is actually the most traditional finish you can use. “It reminds me of utility rooms on a great ship or the back service halls of an old English house, with layer upon layer of shiny old paint accumulated over time,” says designer Dan Fink.
This was out of necessity: “In historical times in this country, they didn’t have the ingredients and know-how to bring the sheen level down,” John Lahey III, president of Fine Paints of Europe, explains. (Enterprising painters eventually figured out they could add calcium carbonate, an inexpensive filler, to make paints less shiny and more affordable.) But for a while it was the only option, and has always been an expensive one: With high-gloss paint, John says, “you aren’t making the meatballs with breadcrumbs.
For the everyday homeowner or renter, it’s probably not in the cards to splurge on high-gloss paint for a whole room. But a little—one bucket, maybe two!—will go an extraordinary way towards perking up the look of your home, whether you tend to be a thrift-everything kind of soul or a big-box shopper. You don’t even have to hire a professional to apply it, John says.
To impart smooth, liquid-like sheen with high-gloss paint, first sand the surface well, then sand the dried primer too before painting over it (always with a real brush, not a roller!). Or, you know, don’t: If you actually like the idea of a textural finish, accept that the imperfections of a surface will be highlighted by high sheen and brush it right on. “I tend to prefer it applied by hand, where you can see the brush stroke,” says Fink. “Often, the imperfection is part of the story.”
In Europe, it’s more traditional to use high-gloss paint to accent an exterior: front doors (“think of 10 Downing Street”), shutters, garage doors, and the like. (You could also paint the actual siding, the way they did back when, but the cost will not be low.) Dan says, “I use it regularly on trim, millwork, and doors for a tailored finish.” We also like the idea of high-gloss mail boxes, drain pipes, and planters—especially in a color that’s used elsewhere on the exterior (the subtle change in sheen to catch the light is what you’re going for).
Stateside, high-gloss paint is more traditionally used inside: on kitchen cabinet fronts, co offered ceilings, and trim. And, of course, on dressers, side table, and chairs: “In a modern, stark setting if we want to accentuate a piece of furniture we will paint it in a high gloss paint,” says Dorianne Passman of Thea Home. When shopping for paint, just know that it’s a go-big-or-go-home kind of situation—the glossier, the better, according to Dan: “I often say: make it look like the walls of a high school gymnasium!”