Wall painted in Becky’s Room; bowls painted in Leaden, Cubby and Cassius, all £46.83 for 5ltrs of emulsion, Ecos

For centuries, paint has been the go-to choice for brightening up a property’s interior. However, as it was traditionally made using an oil-based formula with a high VOC (volatile organic compound) content, paint was not always the easiest or most environmentally friendly decorating solution.

Today, the introduction of water-based formulas has made the painting process more straightforward. It is now a requirement to state the VOC content on the packaging, so there is a conscious effort to reduce any potentially harmful side effects. The range of finishes has also evolved


A matt or flat paint offers the least reflective finish and is ideal for interior walls and ceilings. It is popular for period properties as it helps to disguise surface imperfections. The downside to matt is that it is the least resilient, so avoid using in rooms which require a lot of cleaning.

Eggshell and satin

Eggshell has a subtle sheen, which is more durable than matt but not too overbearing for use on walls and ceilings. It withstands cleaning better, too, so is a particularly good choice for children’s bedrooms. A satin finish has a greater shine and a velvety finish, which looks elegant in a more formal setting but is also ideal for kitchens and bathrooms due to its enhanced durability.


This is the most dramatic of all finishes and is best reserved for statement walls and furniture, as well as smaller surfaces such as windowsills and room trims. High-shine gloss is quite modern, so if you are after something more subtle, semi-gloss offers high durability with a more demure finish.

blue, colour, paint, a day by the sea, a dip in the lake, matt emulsion, fired earth
Wall painted in A Day by the Sea; figurine painted in A Dip in the Lake, both £35.50 for 2.5ltrs of matt emulsion, Fired Earth

Water or oil based?

Whether you opt for oil- or water-based paints is largely a matter of preference.

Water-based solutions are:

  • Easier to use and clean up, as the paint washes off brushes and rollers with water
  • They are also quick-drying, requiring as little as an hour to dry between coats
  • They do not yellow over time

Owners of period properties, however, may wish to emulate the oil finishes used in the house’s original paintwork.

Oil paints are:

  • More durable and can provide better coverage as the paint tends to “level” on the brush better
  • They need to be left overnight to dry however
  • White spirit is needed for cleaning
  • The concern with oil paints is that they have higher VOCs, so if you are keen to try them, perhaps limit use to statement pieces

Read more: How to prepare and paint interior walls