When it comes to interior or exterior home design, you will probably just choose objects and colors that look attractive. Alternatively, you could utilize an existing color pattern as a means for guiding your decision. What you need to realize is that paint and its myriad of colors are incredibly powerful tools when it comes to interior and exterior design. With the right paint color, for example, you can create illusions of space set an atmosphere and mood or inspire certain emotions.

In this article, we look at the many ways paint impacts interior and exterior design. We will look at the different finishes available, types of paint, the color wheel, and unusual effects.

Paint Finishes

When it comes to painting, there are generally two classifications – interior and exterior paint. We explore both types in detail below.

Interior Finishes
Interior Wall Being Painted Green

There may seem to be an almost unlimited number of finishes available, but most paint manufacturers sell only four or five interior finishes. The “right” finish depends entirely on the kind of durability and look you are searching for.

  • Flat: This is a chalky finish and contains a matte sheen, which is excellent for hiding the imperfections of surfaces; it also absorbs light. Ceilings and rooms with high traffic are prime locations for paint with a flat finish.
  • Eggshell:If you want a little less luster, choose an eggshell finish instead of a flat one. It is easier to clean but is not the best choice for a high traffic area.
  • Semi-Gloss: This type of finish is very good for reflecting light and provides any room with a shiny appearance. It is a good choice for rooms that need to be frequently cleaned, such as the bathroom or kitchen
  • High-Gloss: If you are seeking a shiny and polished look, a high-gloss finish is what you need. Again, areas of the home that undergo the most wear and tear should be painted with a high-gloss finish.
  • Satin: This is probably the most popular interior design finish and is a very good option for hallways, doors, walls, and woodwork. Satin finishes are also excellent for resisting mold and mildew; however, while it is washable, it is not scrubbable.

Exterior Finishes
Exterior House Wall Being Painted Blue

There are fewer exterior paint finishes to worry about, so this is a slightly easier choice:

  • Flat: This finish does not reflect light and is more porous than your other options. On the plus side, it is great if your house is old, as it can make it look beautiful and hide the wear and tear caused by aging. The downside is that you shouldn’t use a light color, as stains are quite apparent.
  • Satin: Many homeowners choose a satin finish for the exterior of their home because its sheen is relatively neutral in that it isn’t too bright or dull. It is also easy to clean; a pressure washer won’t damage it, and satin finishes are durable.
  • Gloss: This is the easiest of the exterior paint finishes to clean, and it is also the most durable. However, it does give off a fake look, and decorating your entire exterior with a gloss finish could make the home look tacky. Generally speaking, it is better to use a gloss finish on windowsills and door frames.

Paint Types

When you consider all the different paint types, finishes, colors, and formulas, once again it almost seems as if you have an infinite choice, which can be rather confusing. Believe it or not, however, you can classify all paints into just two categories: Water-based (latex) and oil-based (solvent), though it does get a little more complicated than that, as we see below.

    • Latex (Water-Based) Paint

Water-based latex paints make up an estimated 75 percent of all paint sold. The majority of the liquid portion of latex paint is actually water, hence the name. Although the highest percentage of latex paint users are those who indulge in DIY decorating, professionals also predominantly use this form of paint. One of the main advantages of latex paint is the ease of cleaning; all you need is a bucket of water and some soap.

The top latex paints on the market easily exceed their oil-based counterparts when it comes to durability of color retention. Latex paints are not as brittle, either, which means they won’t crack as easily. Yet another advantage of latex paint is its quick drying time; virtually all paints of this type will dry within six hours and some dry in less than two hours.

    • Emulsion

This water-based paint is extremely popular when it comes to painting ceilings and walls because it comes in a wide array of colors, dries quickly, and doesn’t leave a smell when drying. You can apply emulsion to previously painted surfaces or certain wall coverings. It comes in a matte finish, which works well for hiding imperfections, and a silk finish, which has a shiny reflection.

    • Oil-Based Paint

This is also known as solvent paint, and one of its best characteristics is its adhesive ability. It really sticks to the surface and looks fantastic when the job is complete. However, oil-based paints take a long time to dry and give off an unappealing chemical smell. Unlike latex paints, many oil-based products contain a large amount of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), which add to pollution and also turn yellow with age.

This type of paint oxidizes and gets brittle over time, which can lead to cracking. As it takes such a long time to dry, you will need to leave the room overnight. Finally, cleaning can be a problem, as is evidenced by the fact you need to use white spirit to clean it from the brush after use. Fortunately, the U.S. government has stepped in and regulated the paint industry; now products can only have a certain level of VOCs or else they will be banned. Click here to find out the limits according to product type and location.

Other Paints

    • Primer:

Practically all bare surfaces need a coat of primer or the topcoat paint will not set in; primer also ensures the paint adheres correctly and gives the surface a protective coat. The type of primer you need depends on the surface, as there are primers for wood, tiles, plaster, and more.

    • Undercoat:

This tends to be an oil-based paint and is added on top of the primer to add a little extra body to paint with a gloss finish. In most cases, an undercoat is applied when you need to significantly change the color of a surface.

    • Anti-Condensation:

If you live in humid conditions, this type of paint could prove to be very effective. Even if you don’t live in a humid climate, you can still add anti-condensation paint to surfaces in rooms such as the bathroom or kitchen. It stops the surface from being cold to the touch, and while it doesn’t prevent condensation completely, it does greatly reduce the effects.

The Color Wheel

Color wheel
You can use the color wheel for the interior or exterior paint scheme of your home. It seems to have received something of a negative reputation over the years, but this is mainly from people who have no idea how to actually use it. It is important to note the color wheel is merely a tool you can use, and if you utilize it incorrectly, it will produce less than ideal results.

Typically, the wheel can be divided into 12 segments that include the three primary colors: red, yellow, and blue. Then there are a trio of secondary colors, which are orange (red plus yellow), purple (red plus blue), and green (blue plus yellow). The final segments are made up of tertiary colors, which are a combination of a primary and a secondary color in a 2:1 ratio.

Benefits of Using Paint Schemes

One of the great things about the color wheel is that it can simplify matters and help you come up with amazing ideas for harmonious room color schemes or an exterior look that really makes your home stand out in the neighborhood. All you need to do is look at professionally designed homes and you’ll see the color wheel in action. While professional designers could pretty much use the wheel in their sleep when going beyond the normal patterns, newbies are better off sticking with basic combinations:

    • Analogous Colors:

These are colors located next to one another on the color wheel. Typically, you will use three colors, and this is an excellent idea if you are looking to reduce contrast. Click to view analogous paint schemes.

    • Complementary Colors:

Located opposite one another on the color wheel, complementary colors are a little more limited, since only two colors are used. An example of this would be red and orange. You will be amazed at what you can achieve when you simplify matters.

    • Triad:

This involves choosing a color and, rather than picking its complement, you choose a color on both sides of the complementary color. The result is an interesting three-color combination.
Limitations of the Color Wheel

While you can create ideas using the wheel, there are no must-use rules when it comes to choosing the intensity of the paint color. For example, you can use the color wheel to show you how orange complements blue, but it can’t tell you the shade of blue that should be used. Once you have used the wheel to find the paint color idea, get your hands on a fan deck to look at the different shades of the color.

Paint Designs and Effects

You don’t need to confine yourself to finishes, paint types, and colors when decorating your home. There are a host of innovative paint effects you can use to give your property a unique look on the exterior and interior. When you gain an understanding of the different paint effects available to you, it will be easier to achieve the specific look you crave. Below, we look at some of the paint effects you can end up with:

    • Lacquering:

This involves layering numerous coats of varnish, and then you sand between each coat. The result is a smooth and lustrous effect that can really add something to furniture, but it also looks great on walls.

    • Antiquing:

This is the process of aging paint in an artificial manner. It is surprisingly simple, as all you need to do is rub a darker glaze over the new coat of paint. “Dirty” colors such as raw sienna are popular for rubbing on and off the paint. An alternative method is to rub off the color with steel wool. Yet again this is a design effect best used on furniture and walls.

    • Dragging:

This is used to create fine, irregular lines that are vertical and give walls a soft, textured look. You can pull this off by adding a translucent color glaze on top of a base coat and drag it across using a dry wide brush.

    • Sponging:

If you want to create a granulated, mottled, and distressed finish, try the effect created by sponging on paint. You can do this by dabbing a thinned glaze over a base coat. You can create a cool marble effect through the sponging process if you use two or more colors. It is also possible to “sponge off,” which involves using the glaze to cover the base coat and using a clean sponge to “distress” the surface, which should be wet.


The number of options you have when it comes to painting the interior and exterior of your home is extraordinary. Unless you plan to hire a professional designer or painter/decorator, it is better if you keep things relatively simple. When it comes to color, the color wheel is a terrific option for helping you come up with ideas.

There are different finishes to choose from for indoor and outdoor painting, and in most cases, you will be using a water-based latex paint. Finally, you can really make your home stand out by adding one of the innovative paint effects described above.