A crisp white ceiling is a classic look, but it’s not the only option for making a room look polished. Here are a few other design considerations to bring some personality to your ceiling.
The sky is the limit when it comes to the amount of creativity and beautiful layering you can put into creating a decorative statement on the ceiling. But before we discuss the many stylish or unusual treatments to consider, let’s start with a classic finish you’ve probably seen before.
Ceiling 1: Toronto Interior Design Group | Yanic Simard, original photo on Houzz
In my own design projects, I find many clients are excited to remove a popcorn ceiling treatment, and this is usually my preference as well. The results can be subtle, yet striking.
In some cases, the results can be dramatic. Removing a popcorn ceiling, and the entire drywall layer above, can often reveal architectural finishes, such as a cool concrete surface.
An exposed concrete ceiling gives a room a bit of industrial, architectural flair, adding drama and texture in a modern way. Of course, not every home has a concrete ceiling to reveal, so it’s important to speak with your designer or contractor before making any plans.
It’s also important to note that stripping a ceiling back to the concrete will leave no space for recessed ceiling lights. For this reason I usually include an area of dropped ceiling to allow potlights, define a gathering space or focal point and visually break up the look a bit.
Ceiling 2: Victoria Gerts, original photo on Houzz
From my experience, the most popular contemporary ceiling style is the simple flat drywall ceiling. If a room includes other sound-absorbing materials like rugs, curtains or a fabric headboard, you can skip the acoustic ceiling treatment without worrying about echoes.
As I mentioned before, it is not always easy to achieve a perfectly crisp drywall ceiling, but skilled tradespeople can install either a new drywall ceiling or scrape the texture paint from an existing ceiling to reveal a much more sleek, modern surface.
Trimming a ceiling with crown molding painted to match the ceiling hue is a great alternative way to hide subtle imperfections in the slope of the ceiling and achieve a bright, airy, classic look.
Ceiling 3: Jade N Timmerman Interiors, original photo on Houzz
A drywall ceiling doesn’t only come in one shade, so while we’re discussing this finish, let’s touch on some differing paint choices.
White. A white or just-off-white ceiling is popular because it’s a great way to make any room feel open and airy and let light bounce from any windows or light fixtures back into the room.
For a contemporary or modern home, plain white can work great, but for a more traditional home or a space with definite warm tones (like this room with a lot of welcoming beige), choose a subtle off-white that complements the tone of the walls.
For a fun, trendy take, cheat the ceiling line a bit by starting the ceiling paint 12 to 24 inches down the wall (or only painting the walls up to that point, whichever way you think of it). The result is a breezy modern effect without using any bold hues or new materials.
Gray. Using a darker hue on the ceiling than on the walls visually brings the ceiling down, which can make a room feel more intimate.
Using a neutral gray shade (or one with a hint of cool blue) achieves this effect without drawing too much attention, so the room still feels serene and sophisticated.
This makes gray a great choice for bedrooms, dens and nurseries, bringing a peaceful, cozy atmosphere.
Accent colors. For a room with a unique personality, adding an accent color to the ceiling infuses a lot of drama in an unexpected spot.
I won’t lie: As a DIY task, painting the ceiling is not nearly as easy as painting a wall, and even for professionals it usually requires the room be fully emptied first. So, it’s best to be absolutely sure that you love a hue before applying it to the “fifth wall.” The upside is that the ceiling is often a relatively small surface area, meaning that splash of color is a more controlled dose than painting the walls.
While a painted ceiling is immediately noticeable in a room with stark white walls, when a room has a lot of interesting and eclectic finishes on other surfaces, a rich hue can actually blend in better than a white ceiling. It’s a daring look for sure, but for those who love a lot of personality in their home, a colorful ceiling can be a very livable choice.
For the best of both worlds, a navy, deep teal or royal blue shade will feel dramatic but still appear neutral enough to not overwhelm you.
Matching ceilings and walls. Painting the ceiling to match the walls may sound overwhelming, but sometimes it can actually be the more subtle choice. When the ceiling and the walls (or even just a few walls) are the same hue, the lack of contrast makes the ceiling less of a dramatic feature and more of a singular background color. Of course, this applies best to softer hues like gentle pink, watery blue or heritage butter yellow.
Ceiling 4: Toronto Interior Design Group | Yanic Simard, original photo on Houzz
I personally match the ceiling to the walls quite often when using light neutral shades. While it may appear white on your screen, the walls, ceiling and molding in this project are all Benjamin Moore’s Classic Gray, a subtle, warm gray shade. In an older home, using an all-over hue is a great way to deemphasize imperfections such as sloped ceilings that don’t meet walls in a perfectly straight line.
Two-tone paint. Using a dark or dramatic paint color on the ceiling doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing decision. Like the opposite of an area rug, painting just part of a ceiling can help define a particular zone. Lining up the edge or edges with another element in the room will help it make visual sense.
Semigloss. The higher the degree of gloss in a paint, the more visual depth it will have and the lighter the perceived color will be. So, when choosing a darker shade especially, selecting a semigloss or more subtle satin finish can make a color seem less aggressive and more multidimensional and help keep the paint from absorbing all of the light in the room.
Matte. Matte and eggshell finishes represent the less-glossy end of the spectrum, and thus reflect less light. This will make a color seem more pure and vivid, and a bit darker. For those who don’t want to shy away from a rich statement, a matte finish gives a crisp contemporary look.
Gloss. Ultra-high-gloss paint is not easy to apply to a ceiling because it has a slower drying time and thus lots of opportunity to drip or become uneven. But it’s not impossible for expert professionals, and the results can be stunning, especially when paired with sparkling ceiling fixtures and beautiful natural light.
Alternately, a “stretched ceiling” uses a layer of high-tech material suspended just below the true ceiling to create a gloss effect (or other finishes) that paint alone cannot achieve.
Ceiling 5: Legacy Custom Homes Inc, original photo on Houzz
Wood planks are most often seen on the floor, but they look just as beautiful above.
While wood-paneled ceilings are often associated with cottages and farmhouses, they can work with a variety of styles of home. Panelling works well for transitional homes, especially in controlled doses like the small strip seen here, bringing texture and richness to the ceiling that a solid color can’t match.
Generally, thinner strips of wood, and species with more knots, will appear more cottage-inspired, while wider planks or sheets, often with a less-grainy finish, will carry a more modern appearance.
Both types work well in kitchens with airy white or off-white cabinetry, taking a classic “white kitchen” and giving it added warmth and a natural appeal.
Ceiling 6: Buchanan Construction, original photo on Houzz
While these panels are not necessarily made from tin, the pressed-tin look endures as a charming option for traditional kitchens, or contemporary or transitional kitchens that want to add some classic flair.
These panels can be visually quite dominant with their glam or antiqued finishes and busy patterning, so they work well in rooms with otherwise simple palettes, or as a small accent over an island or seating group.
To keep the look fresh and bright, try using classic tin panels with stainless steel appliances, so the primary metal tone repeats and the room feels cohesive.