Getting Creative with Ceiling Renovations

Allison Beatty

by Allison E. Beatty
OldHouseWeb Columnist

As kitchens and bathrooms tend to rule the house, the ceiling is commonly overlooked when it comes to planning renovations. By paying attention to this large untapped canvas you can dramatically change your interior design.

Many grand, old houses were built with soaring ceilings topped with intricate crown molding. While all that decoration is certainly an option for those with large budgets, there also are many inexpensive ways to adorn your ceiling.

Ceiling Height Guides Renovation

The height and style of your ceiling should shape the design. If you are fortunate enough to have 9 to 12-foot ceilings, then you'll have more design options. (But, don't discount the design possibilities with a lower ceiling).

Depending on the architecture of your house, you may want a dramatic dining room ceiling with swags and medallions that hail from the Georgian style. Georgian houses are characterized by their symmetrical placement of doors and windows, and their low-pitched roofs. Many Georgians were made from crisp red bricks and adorned with white painted shutters on the exterior.

When planning a Georgian renovation, showy ceiling details are a perfect fit. If your house already has crown molding, look for rope or swag details that blend with the molding. If you plan to add crown molding (by yourself or through a contractor), look for a grouping of ceiling elements that all fit together.

If you add tall crown molding with a thick profile, for example, then carry through that beefy presence to the ceiling. You may want to find a contractor to make a coordinating medallion to anchor the center of the ceiling and outline a decorative chandelier.

Using Beams

Beams and other wooden details also can dramatically change a ceiling profile. The presence of wood -- particularly dark stained -- naturally draws eyes upward. For consistency, use the same wood stain on window and door trim.

This type of renovation requires plenty of carpentry skills and patience. Unless you're a proficient woodworker, look for a contractor who specializes in finish carpentry.

Wallpaper and Texture

Wallpaper is another interesting material to consider. While it has been used heavily on walls for many years, designers and contractors also are recommending it for highlighting the ceiling. Wallpaper comes in a wide variety of patterns, from modern styles to old-fashioned designs that replicate Victorian floral patterns.

Wallpaper can be particularly effective on a ceiling that is not uniform, such as a vaulted ceiling. Try running wallpaper up the wall and onto the sloping side of the ceiling. Or, use it only on the ceiling to coordinate with paint and trim colors throughout the room.

Challenges with Low Ceilings

If your house has a few low ceilings, don't shy away from accenting them. Even a seven-foot basement ceiling can stand a little pizzazz. Just make sure that the details are designed to fit the scale of the room.

If you plan to paint the ceiling an interesting color, for example, stick to light-to-medium tones. Dark colors will make the room seem smaller and visually lower the ceiling even further.

Murals are ideal in a basement as they draw the eyes upward and add interest. Try adding some decorative lighting to focus attention on the area.

Don't Forget the Lighting

Lighting plays an important part in any renovation, but it is critical for accenting a ceiling. Without adequate light, your fabulous gardenscape or texture paint treatment would be lost in the shadows.

In a grand room setting, look for a dangling chandelier that fits the scale of the room and the ceiling decorations. In smaller, subtler rooms, try flush mounted fixtures, canned lights or rope lighting that fits inside a tray ceiling. Depending on the extent of the lighting, you may need the help of an electrical contractor.

Among the other unique ceiling renovation ideas are:

  • A painted wildflower motif on the ceiling of a breakfast room.
  • A European inspired textured paint treatment on the ceiling. (This works especially well on an old plaster ceiling with a few imperfections!) Coordinate with floor or wall tile for emphasis.
  • Beadboard panels on the ceiling. Paint or stain them, depending on your tastes.
  • Add upholstered acoustical panels for more dimension.
  • Recessed lights designed for sloped ceilings -- they are properly angled to fit a slope.
  • Lights with soft yellow or blue bulbs to add some intrigue.

Renovation Materials

While old houses typically come with heavy plaster and solid wood, there also are lighter, prefabricated products available. The latter will not give you quite the same Old World look, but they will be less costly and easier to work with. If your renovation includes staying true to old house materials, however, try to spring for the real thing.

As you plan your renovation, look beyond your four walls to that large space overhead. Warm paint, textured wallpaper, thick molding and medallions are just a few of the decorative touches that can turn ordinary ceilings into artistic masterpieces.

About the Author
By Allison E. Beatty


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