The Oft Forgotten Ceiling

When I first moved to Manhattan after graduating from college, I shared a one-bedroom apartment with my best friend.  She got the bedroom, I got the living room.  Her room had the only air conditioner, direct access to the bathroom, and a door.  My room had ambiance.  The beautiful plaster ceiling tiles (a design detail I had never encountered during my West Coast childhood) and tall south-facing windows easily made up for my lack of privacy.  I eventually moved into a more modern apartment, but I never forgot the romantic beauty of that traditional tile ceiling.

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Photo Credit: The American Tin Ceiling Co.

A clean white ceiling may be just right for many spaces, but too often we leave our ceilings white by default.  It doesn’t occur to us that our ceiling design should be as carefully considered as the rest of the room.  Think about it: in any room, the ceiling is the largest expanse of uninterrupted space.  With the exception of the occasional wooden beam or hanging light fixture, the ceiling is usually left blank.  It at least deserves thoughtful color selection!

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Photo Credit: Benjamin Moore
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Photo Credit: Benjamin Moore
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Photo Credit: Benjamin Moore

One of the easiest ways to enhance the ceiling color of a room is to choose a paler (almost white) version of your wall color.  Picture the paint color cards you pick up in the hardware store.  Each card ranges from the darkest to lightest shade of one specific color.  As shown in the photos below, a bedroom painted in Benjamin Moore’s Blue Daisy (2062-40) would be enhanced by the milder blue of Harbor Fog (2062-70) on the ceiling, softening the contrast as your eye takes in the wall and ceiling together.  Add some white trim, and you have a truly polished room.  If the lightest shade on the paint chip card still seems too dark for your taste, consider mixing a tiny bit of your wall color into the can of white ceiling paint for the faintest hint of color.

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Blue Daisy 2062-40
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Harbor Fog 2062-70

Not only can your choice of ceiling color add interest to the room, but it can change how you experience the space.  Contrast makes a room feel smaller.  By painting the ceiling the exact same color as the walls, you blur the line between wall and ceiling.  The low ceiling is no longer brought to your attention, thus making the entire room feel more spacious.

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Photo Credit: Coastal Living Magazine
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Photo Credit: Domino Magazine

On the opposite end of the ceiling design spectrum is the high contrast ceiling.  Ceiling paint typically has a flat finish to hide imperfections and diffuse light, but a glossy ceiling can create a dramatic effect by bouncing and reflecting light much the same way a mirror does.  (Note: the ceiling must be perfectly smooth or every imperfection will show.)

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Photo Credit: Stephen Floyd Design

Or to truly make your room pop, wallpaper the ceiling.  The possibilities for creative color and pattern are endless.

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Photo Credit: Coastal Living Magazine
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Photo Credit: Better Homes and Gardens

And of course, let’s not forget those gorgeous ceiling tiles.  Although the tiles in my one-bedroom rental were genuinely old, the look can still be recreated today.  Check out the variety of ceiling tile options at stores like Lowes and Home Depot, or look online for local craftsmen who can help you install a tile ceiling in your own home.  Tiles range in material and quality, particularly among online retailers, so be sure to research your selection thoroughly before purchasing.

Each of these ceiling options – paint, wallpaper, and tile – could be examined in much greater detail.  For now, please allow this overview to get the creative ideas flowing.  Next time you lay in bed staring up at the ceiling, imagine what you would really like to see up there.

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