Design + Decor, Design Trends

A Look at Lacquer and Why We Love It

Lacquer. As old as time, yet trending. Classic, yet fresh. Sophisticated, yet lively. This shiny, happy paint finish is a powerful and beyond beautiful way to bring movement to a space and make it a showstopper.

Dating back to ancient Chinese and Japanese civilizations, lacquer techniques caught the attention of Europeans in the late 16th century. Recognizing the uniqueness of this technique they began commissioning lacquered altars and vessels to be used in religious ceremonies. As trade routes opened, grand homes throughout Europe and America began using the lacquered decorative screens popular in Asian cultures. Their reflective quality made them both practical and beautiful at a time when rooms were mainly lit by candlelight.

FUN FACT! In 1785, George Washington had his Mount Vernon dining room painted green with a glaze to intensify the color and better reflect the candles in the room. In 1898, Irish furniture designer Eileen Gray began creating lacquered screens and high sheen furnishings as part of her Art Deco influence, and by the 1920s, the glossy style was becoming prominent in European and American design.

Today, the lustrous finish is having a resurgence in popularity. But not every glossy surface you see is lacquer. High gloss paint is often used instead.


Lacquer vs High Gloss Paint: What’s the Diff?

Lacquered walls, ceilings and furniture get their smooth, highly reflective finish from a blend of resins and solvents that dries quickly creating an extremely durable, hard, shellac-like surface similar to that of a baby grand piano. It is this highly reflective quality that gives lacquered surfaces a depth unlike any other paint finish, including high gloss. Lacquer is not always glossy, either. It can be a satin or matte finish, too.

High-gloss paint, on the other hand, is slower to dry and does not harden as lacquer does. It still imparts a luxurious finish but without the depth of true lacquer. Some of the glossy walls and ceilings you see in magazines are most likely high gloss paint, not lacquer.

And no matter which you choose, true lacquer or high gloss paint, the more coats you use, the shinier the finish. And, oh yeah, lacquer is a wee bit more expensive (like a lot), but it’s oh so wondrous and definitely worth the bucks if you have them.

FUN FACT! In the 1970s, iconic designer Albert Hadley painted the walls in Brooke Astor’s Park Avenue apartment with red lacquer that required 10 coats of paint to achieve the sheen he desired.

Whether true lacquer or high gloss paint, high shine surfaces are having a real design moment right now. Here are a few examples of rooms that wow with their glossy goodness.


Rooms cocooned in shimmer and shine are elegant, romantic, mysterious and definitely unique. Not just everyone has the courage to go so bold. But for those that do, the effect is nothing less that stunning and is a perfect choice for both traditional and contemporary spaces.

Jennifer Davis Design | Photo by Michael McCreary
Luxe Magazine



I love lacquer anywhere but I especially love it on the ceiling! Looking up and seeing the reflection of the room overhead is so beautiful and very elegant. (For more awesome ceiling ideas, click here).


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The Whole Shebang

If you’re really into shine, go for it, and paint your entire room, walls and ceiling in a high gloss or lacquer paint.

Marcus Design


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On Cabinetry and Millwork

Cabinets, bookcases and millwork are all great places to go glossy. Think bars, kitchens and powder rooms.

On Furniture

Not ready to completely commit? Try a high gloss finish on a table, chair, mirror, desk or chest.



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Just want a hint of gloss? This bar cabinet, which I just purchased for a client, opens up to a surprise glossy green inside.

Want the true traditional Asian antique lacquer look? Here you go.

Stunning Qing Chinese lacquer cabinet, fitted with two blind doors profusely decorated with landscape reserves

1st Dibs


19th Century, Asian Two-Fold Lacquered Screen

1st Dibs



North German or Dutch Baroque gilt bronze-mounted giltwood and lacquer cabinet on a stand



Fine Red Lacquer Cabinet with Gilt Motif

1st Dibs



Even just a touch of shine can go a long way to add sparkle to a room. Lacquered accessories are hot now. Here are just a few.

Decorative Boxes | Jonathan Adler


Jonathan Adler Backgammon Set | Nieman Marcus
Ice Bucket | The Lacquer Company


Serving Trays | The Container Store


Dove Box | Arteriors Home


Coral Lacquer Lamp | Meg Caswell
Ditto Cubes | Crate and Barrel


Of course, the ultimate “accessory” in a glossy red or black lacquer is always on key.

So, have you taken a shine to shine? Are you going la la for lacquer? Whether you choose to go old school with a true lacquer finish or opt for the high gloss paint route, you’ll end up with a room that glistens and shimmers and looks oh so beautiful. If you’re ready to ready to go glossy in your new home or remodel, give me a call at 314.395.114 or CLICK HERE to contact me. I’d love to help!

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