When choosing kitchen and bathroom cabinets, you already know you’ll need to consider material, cabinet sizes, paint or stain colors and style. But what about the cabinet sheen or finish? Have you thought about whether you’ll choose flat, matte cabinets or shiny, high gloss cabinets?
No matter what material your cabinets are made of, you have a choice of whether to go with a glossy, matte or semi-gloss finish for the end product. What sheen you should choose for your cabinets initially seems like a trivial decision that is based purely on aesthetics.
But the sheen of your cabinets can not only dramatically affect the way your kitchen and bathrooms look, but also how well the cabinets function and how durable they’ll be. Plus, the amount of cleaning they’ll need. So, this week we’ll compare and contrast flat, matte surfaces with shiny, high gloss surfaces. And we’ll end with some facts about semi gloss finishes.
Before making any final decisions about the sheen of our kitchen and bathroom cabinets, it’s a good idea to familiarize ourselves with the pros and cons of each. That way, we can make an informed decision and prepare ourselves for the cleaning and maintenance requirements of our selection.
Let’s jump right in…
FLAT, MATTE CABINETS
Although both matte and glossy cabinets are classic choices that have been used in new homes for decades, flat, matte cabinets, and countertops for that matter, have been trending now more than ever. Designers consider matte cabinets to be chic and contemporary, but they can be used in any style space. Ironically, glossy cabinets are also a mark of a contemporary kitchen or bathroom. Matte cabinets have also become very popular in Europe, where glossy cabinets dominated the market for many years.
A surface with a matte finish absorbs light, as opposed to reflecting light. This results in a more muted look. Because matte-finish cabinet fronts don’t reflect light, they won’t help to make your space feel any bigger, if that’s what you are trying to achieve.
That lack of light reflection allows matte cabinets to hide smudges, scratches and stains better than glossy surfaces. This doesn’t mean that no fingerprints or marks will show, it just means that you don’t see them as much.
The main exception to that rule is with greasy or oily fingerprints, smudges or stains. As you know, grease and oils are often used in kitchens and bathrooms. Because grease and oil are inherently shiny, they stand out against a contrasting flat, matte surface. In other words, oily smudges are easy to see on matte cabinets.
Another downside of matte cabinets is that cleaning those matte finishes is typically not as easy or straightforward as cleaning slick, smooth glossy surfaces.
While it’s true that most smudges, scratches and other imperfections might not show up as readily on matte surfaces, those imperfections can be more difficult to remove when they do show up.
Some matte surfaces also have a texture that can hold onto dirt, making them even more difficult to clean. For easier cleaning of matte surfaces, choose materials that have a smooth matte finish.
Whether your matte surface is textured or smooth, cleaning greasy fingerprints or smears off of matte finishes can be hard to do without leaving streaks behind. The matte finish might even absorb the greasy stain, making it difficult to eliminate completely. Make sure to ask your cabinet makers about their recommendations for cleaning products and techniques.
While the literature and common sense say that matte finishes don't show as much dirt, many homeowners who have commented on various online forums feel the opposite is true. They say they have to clean their matte cabinets more often than they had to clean their previous, glossy cabinets.
Ok, moving on to the opposite end of the spectrum…
SHINY, HIGH GLOSS CABINETS
High gloss cabinets are more suited for contemporary or transitional kitchens and bathrooms, especially if they have flat cabinet fronts.
High-gloss finishes reflect light and are great for bringing light into a smaller space, making the space feel bigger. This is especially true of white glossy cabinets.
Light also reflects off of dark glossy cabinets too. So if you’re considering a dark cabinet color, a dark glossy cabinet might be a good choice if you have a small kitchen or bathroom. Those glossy dark cabinets won’t absorb light as readily as dark matte cabinets, so your room won’t look as dark with dark glossy cabinets.
Bright and dark colors in your kitchen or bathroom can be reflected on glossy cabinets, especially glossy light cabinets. The color reflection can slightly alter the appearance of the color of glossy cabinets.
Because glossy cabinets reflect so much light, fingerprints, dirt and scratches are much more noticeable on them than they are on matte cabinets. And dark glossy cabinets show more dirt and imperfections than white or light glossy cabinets.
An advantage of high gloss cabinets is that they are really easy to clean, so those more noticeable fingerprints and smudges may not be a huge issue for you since you can get rid of them easily. Easy to clean cabinets are definitely beneficial if you have small children or a messy spouse. Typically a non-scratch soft cloth can be used to clean the cabinet fronts.
Although glossy cabinets generally show more smudges and marks than matte cabinets, greasy and oily marks and smudges are less noticeable on glossy cabinets. Since oil smudges and glossy cabinets are both shiny, oily smudges blend in better and are less conspicuous on glossy cabinets.
After hearing that both matte and glossy cabinets have their pros and cons, you might not be sure what to choose. In that case, you might consider something in between: a semi gloss finish, also called a satin finish.
Semi gloss finishes are not too flat or muted and not too shiny. They can work in any style kitchen or bathroom. Semi-gloss cabinets combine some of the advantages from both gloss and matte cabinets. They have some degree of light-reflection to keep light in the kitchen. However, because a semi-gloss surface is not as highly reflective as a high-gloss surface, you’re less likely to notice fingerprints as easily as you would on high-gloss cabinets.
A semi-gloss finish, like a high gloss finish, is also easy to wipe clean. And unlike matte finishes, oil and stains are less likely to be seen or absorbed onto a semi gloss cabinet finishes.
Before I go, let me give you a quick word about countertop sheens.
Shiny, high gloss stone countertops, also called polished countertops, are the standard finish in kitchen and bathrooms. They work in spaces that are traditional, country, contemporary and really any style.
Matte finishes on countertops are often referred to as honed or leathered. A honed countertop can give a kitchen or bathroom a more rustic, aged, casual or industrial feel. The slightly rough texture of a honed countertop can make it more challenging to clean and I’ve heard that many matte countertops show water stains, such as glass rings, more than shiny polished countertops do.
If you have your heart set on high gloss or matte kitchen cabinets, but want to reduce the fingerprints, smudges and oily stains that you’ll see, consider choosing larger, easy to grab cabinets hardware, so you and your family will be touching the actual cabinet surfaces less.
As for me, I’m still not sure what finish I will choose. I love a matte finish, but we live in the South and cooking with oil and grease is what we do, so a matte finish might not be the best choice. But I also love large cabinets pulls, so that might be good a solution. I plan to get a few samples of the cabinet finishes I’m considering before I order to test the samples with fingers covered with water, flour and oil to see which finish holds up best.
That’s all I have for you this week. I hope you learned as much as I did. Let’s do it again next week. Come back for the next episode of Build Your House Yourself University—BYHYU.
Please remember that the purpose of this podcast is simply to educate and inform. It is not a substitute for professional advice. The information that you hear is based the only on the opinions, research and experiences of my guests and myself. That information might be incomplete, it’s subject to change and it may not apply to your project. In addition, building codes and requirements vary from region to region, so always consult a professional about specific recommendations for your home.