Trend Alert: Lacquer and High-Gloss Finishes

Here’s an easy(ish) way to add instant impact to any space: Choose high-gloss or lacquered finishes for everything from walls to ceilings to furnishings. Just keep in mind that this light-reflecting finish highlights imperfections, so if you’re dreaming of glossy walls, be prepared to spend serious time on perfect preparation before you paint.

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August 08, 2018
By: Amanda Lecky

Photo By: Tom Crane

Photo By: unknown

Photo By: David Duncan Livingston


Photo By: Kari Whitman

Photo By: Safavieh

Photo By: Jason Kisner

Photo By: Chad Mellon Photography

Dramatic Pause

Within the light, expansive spaces of an open-plan house, this high-gloss butler’s pantry functions as a sort of punctuation mark, providing a surprising interlude in the overall design. "The space was intended to be a small moment of great intensity, to create a sharp contrast to the pale palette characteristic of the balance of the house," says architect Richard Buchanan. "The entire interior is the same gloss enamel, which proved a challenge for the painters to get right and required a couple of tries to manage the demands of a very smooth, very reflective surface without ripples or runs."

Right on Red

"This hall had a lot of sedate tones and as a counterpoint we used this bookcase to drop a big color punch," says architect Emily Jagoda of her design for a contemporary home. "The thing to keep in mind with glossy surfaces (especially in spaces with good light) is that the sheen telegraphs every imperfection. If you’re okay with that then fullspeed ahead, otherwise take the time to do whatever prep work is necessary to get the surface perfectly smooth before you paint."

Small Space Strategy

"The project started with a typical, plain white box junior one-bedroom apartment, with the main living area and bedroom separated by pocket doors," says designer Courtney McLeod, principal, of Right Meets Left Interior Design. "We decided to paint the doors using a high-gloss lacquer in a blue-black color. This accent of strong, glossy color added a much-needed architectural elementto the space.We painted the walls and ceiling of the small bedroom in a deep peacock blue, blurring the lines of the ceiling and walls to make it appear larger. The rich hit of color is a wonderful accent when viewed from the main living area."

Pretty and Practical

When designing a girl’s bedroom in Chatham, MA, designer Laura Wilmerding kept things simple, using pink and brown accents against an all-white background. "I’m a fan of white walls—they look fresh and clean and let your eye go toward the windows, without fighting with the natural colors of the outdoors." To add a touch of glam, Wilmerding chose a bedside table in a glossy lacquered white finish, a choice that’s also smart in a kid’s room, as the hard, shiny finish is easy to wipe clean.

Cool Character

To give the classic architecture of a home office a more contemporary edge, designer Ann Lowengart treated the walls, trim, and built-ins to a medium gray, lacquered finish. The high-gloss surface is unexpected; bright pops of color and modern accessories complete the eclectic look.

Light Effects

"High-gloss finishes are fabulous since they bounce and reflect light, so even if you’re using a darker hue, they can really enliven a space," says designer Mariel Goodson of Brass Hill Design. "This sunroom—which we’ve dubbed the 'Jungle Room'—has a south-facing wall of windows so we wanted to add depth and warmth, while creating a really rich backdrop for the dramatic over-size print on the chairs."

Shining Example

Architect Emily Fisher Paprocki, AIA, of Rock Paper Hammer used a collage of textures to give this laundry/mudroom addition its fresh indoor-outdoor appeal. "We wanted it to have the feeling of an enclosed porch," she says. Accordingly, the design team used the same cove wood siding on the interior walls as they used outside, and paneled the ceiling in beadboard, to echo the ceilings of the home’s outdoor porches. "The glossy paint reflects the natural light of the space and also provides easily wipeable surfaces in this high traffic space," says Paprocki.

Luxe Library

Designer Meredith Heron transformed a bedroom into a combination library and media room with the help of custom-designed millwork in a high-gloss lacquered finish. Heron suggests going darker than you might initially think when choosing a paint color that will have a glossy sheen. "The color we chose is considerably darker than it looks on the walls—when you go with an oil-based lacquer the reflective nature of the finish makes the color look about 20 percent lighter once it’s on the walls," she says.

Refined Retreat

"Our bachelor client loved the idea of a moody men's lounge with dark colors and leather chairs," says designer Laney Reusch."Lacquering the walls in a deep blue gave him the feeling he was after, while keeping the look polished and sophisticated."

Grand Entrance

"For this loft in a converted industrial building in Chelsea, the concept was to introduce an elegant 'black box' that served to subdivide the open space and create an intimate salon and wine cellar," says architect Scott Springer. "The finish on this wall achieved its lustrous finish through the application of several coats of high-gloss paint, with sanding between coats."

In the Black

Designer Kari Whitman created a high-drama entertaining space by coating the walls and exposed beams of this dining room with black lacquer. The glossy finish, plus the gleaming art deco pendant and sideboard mirror, reflect light around the space, keeping the look dynamic and not dreary. Blue upholstery on the Louis XVI-style chairs and a light area rug help balance the dark ceiling and walls.

Flexible Focal Point

Clean, angular lines and a bright, white lacquered finish make this coffee table an instant design highlight. But there’s more: height-adjustable, the Radford desk from Savafieh can transform easily, allowing a small space to cross over from entertaining zone to work space.

Perfect Cocktail

This former closet is now a party-perfect bar, thanks to designer Linda Sullivan’s bold design choices: cabinets lacquered in bright blue, "Colonnade Blotch" wallpaper from Timorous Beasties, shining brass hardware, and a pair of show-stopping pendant fixtures.

From: Sullivan Design Studio

Bright, Not White

Like the fresh, light look of a white kitchen, but craving something a little different? Take inspiration from this modern space designed by Lindye Galloway. Cabinets in a soft, pale taupe look contemporary thanks to their lacquered finish. Stark white marble on the counters and backsplash and stainless steel appliances amp up the reflective factor, making the room look even lighter and brighter.