Heads-up Ceiling Stylings

September 09, 2013

decorative ceilingsA big part of decorating has always been about what we can throw on the walls. But lately, ceilings are competing for decorative attention. It’s a trend that’s recurring at showhouses all over the country and playing out on the pages of shelter magazines.

With applied moldings; wallcoverings, including grass cloth, wood veneers, mother-of-pearl and beads as well as patterns; and, of course, paint, designers are fixing their attention upward. Although traditional white paint is safe, is that any way to treat the fifth wall?

“A ceiling is like a blank canvas,” says Shannon Kaye, host of “Fresh Coat” on the DIY network and author of a book of the same name. “It’s just waiting for you to add some color and excitement.

“Ceilings have been an afterthought for so long,” says Terri Crittenden of the Susan Fredman Design Group. “It’s so refreshing to now look up and see thoughtful designs continued above. It’s another surface to explore, one that allows for more whimsy, more daring details and more fun because it is generally unexpected.”

A malachite box triggered the trompe l’oeuil oeil treatment on the ceiling of a room designed by Shelly Johnstone Paschke for an Illinois showhouse this past spring. The fact that it didn’t match the moss-green lacquered walls was perfect.

“I don’t love matchy-matchy anything,” says the designer. “Bringing in (another shade) makes it a little more interesting.”

Equally daring was a ceiling at the showhouse at Adamsleigh in Greensboro, N.C., for which designer Megan Winters had double 6-inch black borders painted on the white ceiling, mimicking the awning stripes on the Cowtan & Tout fabric for bedding and drapery.

Soft metallic washes are a popular choice, either painted or papered. Designers love the way silver, gold or copper reflect light. Lacquered looks perform in similar fashion, but also can add unexpected color. One caveat, though, says Andrea Magno, manager of color and design for Benjamin Moore, is that “high shine is going to show every imperfection.” So you have to be careful that the surface is in pretty good shape.

Creating drama often provokes unconventional pairings. The Susan Fredman Design Group fashioned a rich envelope of cobalt blue, with black cabinets and a striking veined geode on one wall of a kitchen designed for the Lake Forest Showhouse. The ceiling is a glossy amethyst “like the sky at dusk,” to echo a deeper shade in the rug.

Choosing pastel hues like robin’s egg blue or paler versions of a wall color for the ceiling is becoming more popular, even taking an ombre approach that grades color from dark through light from wall to crown molding to ceiling, Magno says.

Stenciling to offset a great chandelier or set off corners is another effective device, a little more manageable than tackling a whole ceiling.

Patterned ceilings may not be for the faint of heart, but, subtly handled, they can add depth and charm as well as a touch of fashion. For a small powder room, designer Kendelle Cornette dressed walls with an ebullient floral pattern, then set it off with crown molding decorated with shiny silver nailheads and — the crowning touch — a small pale gray ocelot print overhead.

For those who like a bit of texture, faux tin is one option. Like Victorian patterned metal ceilings, Tin Look by Armstrong offers a paintable facsimile that can take on a metallic look (with paint or a glaze) if you choose.

“We view the fifth wall as a place to dive into lighting, pattern, texture and dimension,” Crittenden says, “typically in smaller rooms where it’s perhaps less intimidating. But we expect to see a lot more in larger living spaces, especially bedrooms. Waking up to a gorgeous ceiling treatment is the best way to start the day.”

“You can go high contrast or not,” Magno says, “depending on how brave you are. Consider the architecture and bones of a room. Then go for it!”

This post was originally published in the Chicago Tribune on September 4, 2103.

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