Designers know that a well-decorated ceiling – one of the largest surfaces in a room – greatly enhances a space. Maybe we ignore it because we don't know what to do. Well, things are looking up!
From the late 1800s to the early 20th century, pressed-tin ceilings emerged as a top form of decorating. Pattern-adoring Victorians loved this practical alternative to exorbitantly priced plasterwork. Today, tin panels are popular again and available in alternate materials like copper or brass, or come ready to be painted in your choice of colour. Combine them with mouldings, medallions, decorative filler strips and cornices for an authentic finished look. Also available on the market are tin-look tiles and embossed wallpaper.
Wallpaper can be used to charming effect, especially in rooms with sloped ceilings. A lattice pattern, toile or stripes give a traditional feel, while a plethora of patterns makes it easy to hit whatever style note you're striving for. Working overhead can make matching patterns and seams tricky – not to mention being hard on the neck and arms – so consider hiring a professional paperhanger. Although wallpaper can hide minor imperfections in a ceiling's surface, ensure that cracks or stains aren't a sign of leaks or underlying structural problems.
Wood planks or beadboard panels can evoke a seaside-cottage feel, a century-farmhouse vibe or a sleek architectural look, depending on the application, style and finish. While it can be labour intensive to install (which can make it pricey), properly maintained wood can last the life of the house. Another option is woodlook- alike products (laminates and composites), which can be installed onto drywall or plaster.
True frescoes are painted on damp fresh plaster using special pigments, so unless you're channelling Michelangelo, don't try them at home. In fact, any painted effect on a ceiling is challenging, both physically and artistically. Because your “canvas” is visible from many vantage points, “the perspective becomes awkward,” says Toronto-based artist and designer Rebecca Last, who specializes in site-specific painting. Her advice: Pick one vantage point (like the entrance to the room) and work out the perspective from there. More subtle effects, like a mural of clouds in a child's room, can be effective and less expensive.
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Adding a skylight can brighten a dim room and create interesting rooflines. When installed low enough in a sloped ceiling, it can even offer a view. Consider adding sconces or embedding pot lights in the sides of the skylight opening so the window well won't look like a big black hole at night. Energy-efficient glazing, remote-control venting (skylights that open at the touch of a button) and advances in leak-proofing make skylights a bright choice.
Paint is the ultimate inexpensive DIY ceiling treatment. Today's biggest trend is colour. “Stark, plain white ceilings are out,” says Melani Rice, colour and technical advisor at Para Paints. Coloured ceilings, especially subtle variations of the wall colour, are in. The right hue can make a tiny room appear airier or a large space cozier. “To visually raise the ceiling, paint it white or a very light version of the wall colour”, suggests Rice. “To make a room feel cozier, use a dark colour”. For drama, try a high-sheen finish.
Mouldings and medallions
Since Greco-Roman times, they have been a mainstay in ceiling decoration. Crown mouldings (also called cornices) are a classic way to highlight the transitional area where walls meet ceiling. You can also highlight a chandelier with a ceiling medallion or build a coffered ceiling (recessed panels) with beams and decorative mouldings. To finish, paint the moulding white to make it pop, or define individual elements of elaborate mouldings with subtle shades of one colour.
Polyurethane and MDF
Polyurethane and MDF are the most common materials today – they're lighter and easier to work with than plaster or wood. Keep the architectural style of the house in mind when adding some mouldings (a classic style doesn't suit an Arts and Crafts house); also strive to keep all elements in proportion (for example, match the medallion size to the light fixture, which should be relative to the room's dimensions).
Tenting a ceiling with fabric is a fun way to theme a room while adding colour, pattern and texture. Try tightly pleated high-sheen fabric for a formal British country home feel, a bold mosaic pattern for oriental allure, or gauzy white cotton to evoke a breezy camp cabin. Tenting can be an inexpensive quickfix for a damaged or unattractive ceiling, but identify and rectify the cause of the damage before covering it up for the long term.
Beamed Roughhewn planks and beams, like those in old log cabins, lend immense character to a home. Add your own (there are realistic looking faux types now) to create a rustic look.
Loft While exposed ductwork, industrial- size beams and ceilings of stratospheric heights are part of the appeal of a loft, in smaller areas (kitchens and bathrooms, for instance) excessively high ones can look out of proportion. Lowering the ceiling or creating a mezzanine in these areas will improve the space.
Sloped A sloped ceiling, like in an attic room, looks best papered or painted the same as the walls.