This elaborate treatment works
because the entire room is to scale
Ceilings are often the most ignored element of a home. Too often, they are painted white and forgotten. Ceilings, however, are one of the only design elements that blend both architecture and decoration, possibly having the most impact of a home’s completed design. Ceiling style should be defined as part of the décor, but shouldn’t overpower a room. Treatment relies on the decorative and architectural style of the room and must tie in with the rest of the home. Don’t be afraid of experimenting and pushing the limits; you might be pleasantly surprised.

Ceiling design played a significant role throughout history. It was of particular interest to the Greeks because it was their custom to dine in a reclined position. Ceilings were highly decorated by the Egyptians as well. The Etruscans were the first to develop the arched interior space. Arched spaces dramatically changed architecturally during advances made in the Medieval period. Artistic developments of every conceivable type were illustrated from the Renaissance, to the Baroque, Rococo, Neoclassic, and on.

The most basic ceiling treatment is to tint it the color used on the walls. This is also a safe option if a ceiling is low and flat. Low, flat ceilings cannot take too much contrast. Too much color will feel like the room is closing in on you. Normal and tall ceilings can handle more variation and greater color impact. A room creates interest if the ceiling is the same value as the walls, or even a totally different hue. For drama, use gold or silver leaf. It’s not necessarily formal, and adds sparkle and depth especially if it reflects light from a gorgeous chandelier or candlelight.

Powder rooms and small bedrooms are perfect for making a statement. Wallpaper the entire room, walls and ceiling. The result is a most attractive jewel box effect. A more conservative look is to break up the overall design with a chair rail or wainscot. Use wood, paint, bead board or wood paneling below the railing, and wallpaper everything else. These small rooms will appear larger and will be a delightful surprise for guests!

Coffered ceilings are lengths of wood laid crosswise on the ceiling, creating architectural geometric compartments with an almost infinite amount of contours. Today, coffered ceilings generally form squares or rectangles. The wood can be painted one color or several colors depending upon how deep the compartments. The flat recessed panel (lacuna) and the soffit (the underside of the framing) can be solid or decoratively painted. The higher and larger the ceiling, the more ornate a design can be. Simple single layered coffering adds character and an illusion of height to low, flat ceilings. In these instances, there should not be too much color contrast.

Vaulted ceilings are simple to complex contours: semicircular, domed, barrel (tunnel), and ribbed. Differently segmented vault treatments are used in different rooms in transitional and traditional new construction to make rooms interesting. Many contemporary homes feature a pitched vault that begins on one side of a room of normal height, and is supported by the opposite wall that can reach up to two stories.

Beams can be used in any room. When adding beams, be attentive to the style of the room you plan to use them in as well as the scheme of rest of your home. Rough old, repurposed or natural beams make a room feel cozy and warm. Beams can be painted the same or contrasting color as the ceiling. Sloped ceilings with rough beams provide a barn-like character especially if the ceilings are wood as well.

Crown moldings are placed around the perimeter of a room, forming the boundary between the ceiling and wall. They are generally used throughout a home. There are many degrees of detailing and width, and are usually painted some shade of white. Ceiling height, room size, and style of décor will determine the style of molding. More elaborate styles are used for taller ceilings. This detail finishes a room’s look.

Tray ceilings add interest and height to the architecture of a room, and enhance its overall size. Tray ceilings lend themselves to a variety of structural and paint treatments described above.

Dormer ceilings are sloped. These slopes often make a room feel tight. To open the space, use the same color for the slopes and walls of the room. To create old world charm to a large room, add wood planks to the slopes, add a ridgepole, beams, and trusses. This look is especially effective if there’s a grand stone fireplace in the room.

Coved ceilings are a curved transition from wall to ceiling. They are more formal in nature, used most often in living and dining rooms. Lighting on dimmers, concealed within the cove adds drama and interest.

Decorative trims take ceilings take from ordinary to extraordinary! Stenciling can be linear, delicate, intricate or strong. Decorative ceilings that are painted to simulate clouds and sky erase the boundary between indoors and out, and are perfect for loggias, terraces, and garden rooms, children’s rooms, and anywhere else you want. A medallion, used in the center of a ceiling around a chandelier, is an easy to install structural and decorative element. It adds to a room’s more traditional look.

If you want to see some of the more exotic examples described above, you don’t have to knock on any doors. Many public spaces like hotels, restaurants, museums, libraries, and historic homes use these features. There are also many books and magazines that feature homes with some wonderful photos.

And please! Save the mirrored ceiling for your bedroom in Las Vegas!

We'll address lighting in future blogs, so please send us your questions, comments, and what you'd like to read about.

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