Before You Paint a Room with High-Gloss Paint, Read This Cautionary Tale

May 17, 2023

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You may have noticed (maybe not) that I’ve been dancing around a somewhat sore subject: the study. I’ve been sharing updates on Instagram, but it’s time I hop over here and fill in some of the gaps with a good old-fashioned long-format blog post. For over 14 years I’ve been documenting and sharing our home renovation journey in hopes of inspiring, educating, and maybe bringing some exposure to the reality of all sides, pretty and ugly. Spoiler alert: this is one of the ugly sides of home renovation, to the fault of no one. Sometimes, despite all expertise, precaution, and preparation, things go wrong, and you learn some things along the way. Well, we’ve learned a lot over the last few months; patience being at the top of the list. But we’ve also learned a thing or two about the temperament of working with high-gloss paint. Proceed with caution, and keep your arms and legs inside the ride at all times. This is going to get bumpy.

Shop The Study

Before I get into what actually went wrong with the study, I need to backtrack to January 2022, when we initially painted the study. We had just installed fresh wainscoting, which we painted a muddy olive, along with all of the trim. The joy was short-lived, as the paint color wasn’t exactly what I wanted with the mural wallpaper. Just three months later we repainted the study (ourselves!) a gray-blue color, which felt much more like us. It’s just paint! Nothing was wrong with the color, but a year later, we decided to add built ins and close in the room a little more, which would require repainting. Was I 100% all in on the light blue. No. I knew that. So we decided to paint the study for the third and final time. I took my sweet time selecting the perfect dark green paint color, and this time I wanted to use a high-gloss enamel paint–something we’ve never done before. Our contractor, whom we love and trust, lined up a painting crew, and once the built-ins and pocket doors were installed, everything was all taped off and ready to be painted.

To paint a better picture (pun intended), here’s a little timeline of what happened next 👇🏻.

A Warning About High-Gloss Paint

High gloss paint can be notoriously challenging to work with when painting a room. Its high sheen and reflective properties can accentuate imperfections and flaws, such as bumps, dents, or uneven textures. Our painters went above and beyond with the preparation work, including proper sanding, filling, and priming, before even getting near the paint sprayer. They did everything they should, including buffing between coats, and when they peeled off the tape and plastic to the masterpiece below, I was in love.

The finish was absolute perfection, and the coverage was flawless.

Bubble Light | Picture Light | Cabinet Bin Pulls | Cabinet Knobs

All except the bookshelves. In the picture below, you can see what I’m talking about. The inside shelves looked a bit textured and muddled, and despite my urge to move right in, and per the painter’s insistence, they needed one final coat.

This is where the project spirals out of hand and where I start to get sick to my stomach. If I could go back in time to this moment and advocate to leave the study as is, I would. Hands down. Hindsight–it will haunt you.

Sometimes things get worse before they get better

What happens next is what I chalk up to purely a communication issue. For spring break, we set off to Idaho with the understanding that, while we were gone, the painters would cover everything up and spray one final coat on the shelves. Rather than spraying just the built-ins, they sprayed everything, and suddenly the perfect paint job was uneven, textured, and muddled. I’m not sure if the phone picture fully portrays what I’m talking about, but in that reflective patch of light, you can see just how uneven and splotchy it is.

As heartbroken as I was, our painters were extremely committed to problem-solving and making it right on their own dollars. At this point, they wanted to take a step back and reevaluate the situation before moving forward, so we decided to make the most of it and move in anyways.

Shop The Desk Area

You can totally see the painting imperfections in this picture, but for me, it was important to move forward and just enjoy the room as much as possible amidst the discouraging renovation blunder. During this time, the painters came up with a few explanations as to what possibly went wrong.

  1. It was raining outside when they painted, and maybe the humidity had an impact on how the paint adhered to the walls.
  2. Maybe too much time passed between buffing and painting?

That second one doesn’t really make sense to me, but I think it could have been a humidity thing, especially since I have noticed our home does feel muggier inside when it rains. Well, the time came for them to try to make the wrong, right, and unfortunate things got even worse.

Paint drips galore

Does anybody else feel ill looking at this photo?? There were paint drips everywhere, and at this point, we just felt so completely defeated. What once was a nearly perfect paint job got so out of control, and now it feels nearly impossible to get back to where we want to be. Of course, it’s sickening to Chris and me, but I know our painters feel just as bad and are losing sleep over this whole project. We’re, of course, grateful to them for doing everything they can to correct the issue. They’re committed even when I have wanted to give up. Truly.

What’s next?

Moving forward, the painters have been spending the week sanding down all of the drip marks and imperfections. From there, we’re abandoning the previously used paint product and going with an oil-based paint called “Fine Paints of Europe,” color matched in the same Topsoil color. Since we’re switching to oil-based, they will first spray with an oil-based primer. They actually mentioned that they WON’T be spraying, but that this paint is best applied rolled and then back brushed. I’m really really excited about using this paint and feel optimistic.

We’ve talked about all the things that can derail a renovation, and I guess this is a reminder that even with years of experience under your belt, nothing’s ever really in your control, and home renovation is a rollercoaster full of ups and downs.

A few people have asked, “If it doesn’t go right this time, what will you do?” And I do think I would abandon the lacquer gloss altogether, but I really really think we’re going to get it this time.

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What do you think?

  1. Britt Bessinger says:

    What a nightmare! So sorry this happened to you. It is 1000% the painters fault. So many of them say “Zaire, I can do that”… when they really have no idea. I gather you are an amateur decorator, so you probably don’t know that all those gorgeous glossy finishes you see in design spreads are ALWAYS done by our decorative painters- NOT the regular painters. It is an art, not a skill. I recommend you stop trying to make it work with your painter and find a decorative painter in your area, or just fly one in, as you have learned- it is worth it to pay for the expert. Good luck to you!

  2. Hannah says:

    Oh MAN! What a bummer! But also- great customer service from the paint company that they’re in this with you and you’re not trying to fix it and fight with them! Fingers crossed that this time it looks fabulous!

  3. Erin Marchlewski says:

    You say your house feels muggier when it rains… my hair feel the same way. If I take a curling iron to it on a rainy, muggy day, the curls droop before I’m even finished. I definitely agree with the painters first guess about the humidity that day. Your house lives and breaths that sticky moisture, just like my hair. Welcome to southern living!

  4. Cici Haus says:

    My “design bestie” is a huge fan of Fine Paints of Europe and she has a high-gloss room she did with it (herself!) and it’s gorgeous and perfect so I’m feeling confident for you!

  5. Deirdre says:

    Thank you for sharing the wins and also the flip side of wins – we’ve all had them.

  6. Laura says:

    Not sure about the high gloss look. The green is beautiful but so was the blue. I would have quit while ahead and forget the glossy sheen.

    • Kim says:

      This is the kind of comment that’s better kept to yourself rather than posted on someone’s blog about their home that they have thoughtfully spent time and money creating.

      • Brittany says:

        But why? They weren’t rude or unkind about their opinion, just stated it. Do the comments have to only be a praise coaster? Don’t we have the maturity to listen to another point of view? Aren’t there many readers who mirror this commenters feelings?
        Disagreeing does not have to be an attack.
        Nor is this comment.

  7. Patricia Byrne says:

    Kudos to your contractor/painter. It
    Is so good to see that somewhere out there are professionals that stand by their work! As in all of life there are ups and downs. It is how one responds that counts. Good for them. Also, good for you and your family for seeing the whole picture not just the problem.

  8. sharon says:

    In one home we remodeled top to bottom, I decided I wanted the large foyer to be done in the eggplant shade that Mario Buatta did in a living room in NY and it was a lacquered finish. At the time I could not afford the time and expense to lacquer the walls so I told them to use high gloss paint. Three weeks later of 8 hr days 5 days a week, and countless hours at the paint store trying to get that color to look like Mario’s it was finally finished. I never attempted that again!!!!

  9. Amy C says:

    Gah! I feel sick looking at that pic too. Nothing is worse than when something you envision in your head turns sideways when trying to implement it. I feel as if this has been every other project in my home. Always pivoting and then re-thinking how to fix it.

  10. Rosa Colucci says:

    This entire post makes me shiver! As a color consultant (PPG Paints) I can attest that doing these types of finishes are the hardest. Your painters are amazing and the room looked great before it all went south. I look forward to seeing the final finish and–The dark green was the best choice of the three you chose. It pulled the trees forward and gave the illusion of them popping off the wall. Thanks for always sharing your journey, the good, the bad and the ugly.

    • Ali says:

      Our designer quoted $40,000 for lacquering a 15ft x 13x custom built in. Now I know why! The pros charge for their expertise.

  11. Tyler says:

    Just keep swimming… just keep swimming. Renovations… got to go with the flow. At least your contractor is fixing the issue.

  12. Kate says:

    The only high gloss paint I have used is by Benjamin Moore (Advance) and with good results. I did have a similar experience as you did with high gloss paint with drips, etc. I do know that you DO have to pay attention to humidity (as it affects dry times) and with using a sprayer you have to use a particular product to thin the paint correctly to achieve correct coverage and not affect the gloss. Too much thinning results in drips and the color sheen flashes and goes foggy so that you have a mixture of high, medium and low reflective color. You need to have them do a sample before spraying again. Alternatively, You could paint in a low sheen and finish with them spraying a high gloss lacquer. That would provide the best result. Best of luck.

  13. Natalie says:

    Good luck Julia. Sorry to hear you are going thru all of this. Stuff like this, even with it being “just paint” can be exhausting mentally. Hopefully they’ll get it spot on this time but if not, I think a flat paint would be really nice!! I’d actually prefer it but it’s not my house! Hang in there. In the end it will be beautiful ❤️

  14. Kathleen Wille says:

    I actually felt nauseous looking at the photos. You were soooo close, and then, ugh! The best news is, your contractors feel the same, so I have hope this is gonna be good.

  15. Addie says:

    Thankfully your painters are so committed! Every time I’ve seen a new paint color I wonder if the wallpaper has held up well and no paint on it…? It’s beautiful!

  16. Lesley Merkle says:

    Thank you for sharing the imperfections and lessons learned. Our bathroom floor tile was installed today and one 12” square of pennyround is a hair lighter than the rest. It’s really noticeable when photographed but after reading your post I will shrug and strategically lay a bath mat. Can’t wait to see your “It’s just paint” rap dance.

  17. REK981 says:

    Sneaky humidity ruining paint jobs and baked goods since the beginning of time. I am so hopeful that this next round is the final paint job and it works.

    • Renee says:

      We have a cookie we call “Everyone’s Favorite Cookie” aka chocolate macaroon, it’s made with egg whites, chocolate and almonds. It cannot be made when it’s raining.

  18. Di says:

    This happened to me – have an older home and as a “quick fix” we painted our bathroom tile – like old school half walls of tile, which looked great for the most part but if the painters sprayed too harshly or too closely, it left drips, imperfections, and was downright bothersome to me. We loved with it for a time, but eventually it was chipping in the wet spaces and had taken a beating. Happy to report the bathroom has since been updated and lucky me! We have nice white real tile, no paint necessary. Lol. So glad you are getting to the bottom of this- but with all the details on your walls and moldings, eesh no fun! Fingers crossed this time works!

  19. Amy says:

    Is your mural holding up to all of the painting and sanding?

  20. Deb says:

    I believe Flat paint is soooo much nicet (personal opinion). Gloss on large areas like this always remind me of lego shiny plastic. So if all goes wrong this time in my opinion flat will be beautiful. But crossing my fingers your wish if shiny perfection comes true. 🤞 I love your style and often surprised at incredible results you achieve. That is why I am not a designer.

  21. Patricia says:

    No words. Hope the next go round works out.

  22. Ali says:

    Ahh, sorry you’ve had these challenges. I recall when you first shared your plan to go with a high gloss finish & I was going to recommend using Fine Paints of Europe, then I saw that several of your followers had suggested this. I learned about that paint from a family member working in the painting business. Their company did most of their work in high gloss and always/only used Fine Paints of Europe for it… yet a caution that to do that high gloss painting (something their company specializes in), their crew was highly trained in the unique process (including training by FPofE). I was surprised to learn that to attain the stunning FPofE high gloss finish, it should be done by a painter/team that is trained in that specific application, not even something we could expect success (to full potential) from an experienced painting team that does high quality work with other paints. …It’s a speciality that requires a unique process & experience. Your office is already beautiful, and there’s no doubt that in the end it will be just as you’ve envisioned – best wishes!

    • A Brown says:

      Absolutely Ali. When I first used a high gloss I as told that you should only hand brush, never use it in even slightly damp weather and only oil base. When I had a room done in FPoE I was informed that it had to be done with a crew trained by them. The analogy they used was “you wouldn’t have a hip replacement done by a dermatologist, would you.” We still laugh about that.

  23. Sarah says:

    Between this room and your sisters dining room, I have empathy fatigue! haha! I hope it gets sorted for you and all is to your liking!

  24. Lindsey says:

    My husband has a portable thermometer that also measures humidity. He loves using it to make sure environment inside or outside is optimal for spraying / finishing projects. Fingers crossed high gloss works out! I love the look :)

  25. Patricia Smith says:

    I am so sorry! What a nightmare for all involved!

  26. Elizabeth says:

    Hoping it works this time!

  27. Jackie says:

    I’m shocked at the “maybe the humidity had an impact” line, because OF COURSE humidity has an impact, as does the temperature. And the new paint (and primer, if needed in that specific application) has really specific requirements. I would recommend that you and your painters get on a call with them to explain exactly what the current state of the study is and where you live to understand exactly what needs to be done to get a good result. And then do those things, of course! Which may mean waiting to repaint until late fall.

  28. Beth Leach says:

    We used Fine Paints of Europe on our front door, it’s a wonderful product. I think you will love the results!

  29. Lorin Core says:

    We used Fine Paints of Europe to paint our front door a high-gloss black. I can’t imagine a more finicky paint. I would make sure you use a painter who has been trained to use this particular paint. It is beautiful though! Good luck!

  30. Sunshine English says:

    Oh my mercy I’ve been following along with you all! Bless! If you have not seen the account called “paintedbykaylapayne” you HAVE to see her high gloss paint experience with the same paint you are currently trying and it will plant good seeds of hope for you! She is remodeling her childhood home in the middle of all the other projects she has going on. I don’t know her, just thought of her trial and error experiences when I saw yours and the same paint choices. You will enjoy hearing from her. I pray 6th time is the charm for y’all! Your work is just beautiful and I enjoy keeping up with CLJ! Have a wonderful rest of the week! – Sunshine

  31. SP says:

    Oh wow, what a roller coaster. This has definitely been a learning experience for the painters too! I’m so impressed you have stuck with your vision through all of the ups and downs. I loved seeing how it came out when they first painted it high gloss and it was perfect. The study looked European so it makes sense that this new paint product might be made for this exact look. I hope that this time it will work beautifully!

    • Michelle says:

      Oh good luck Julia! Sounds like a rough journey with this project. You (and the painters) didn’t know how lucky they’d been on the first try! Maybe lots of your followers would’ve been emboldened to try high gloss without realizing how tricky it can be.

      • Donna Kane says:

        I’m so sorry you are having to go through this experience, but am so thankful for your transparency to educate the rest of us. I think of this home being renovated in 100 years and them wondering about all the paint colors.
        Best of luck this last time!

      • Lorel says:

        I absolutely love the high gloss look and was wondering what you originally used – was it just a BM or SW high gloss, like is typically used for trim work?

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