Ceilings: Painted & Papered

The “fifth wall” should not be overlooked, there’s so much potential there.  When you feel your room needs drama, balance or a touch of whimsy consider one of these special ceiling treatments.   One of my favorite visual effects is the tented ceiling – it’s the “special occasion” of ceiling treatments.  You need a very specific space for this to work successfully.

I joined my local YMCA last month and it does not look like this.  If it did I would go every day (well, every other day, but not weekends).  The tent effect is a lot of look, but so much fun.

Tented home gym.  Designer unknown

Whenever you have a high impact ceiling, it’s important to balance or anchor the floor design.  You can have a focal point, i.e. the ceiling, but make sure it’s not the only thing interesting in the room.  You want your eye to take in the whole room all at once not dart around to each finish and piece of furniture.

The sunporch in a 1920’s Colonial Revival home gets a glam pink and white makeover that is pure folly.  The floor tiles are original to the home.

Design by Ellen Ward Scarborough.  Tim Street Porter photo.  Annie Kelly “Rooms To Inspire In The Country

Orange and pink is a combo I adore – it does lean toward the juvenile, but it sure makes me smile.

Design by Haynes-Roberts

Solid color painted ceilings can take a room from great to gorgeous.   I usually do a very light color on the ceiling to add a little interest and contrast if crown moulding is present.  A soft yellow, blue, gray or pink are pretty.  The affect is meant as another layer of decoration tying the room together.  In a client’s living room below we painted the ceiling a light grayish green to complement the wall color.   The lighting in this photo isn’t the greatest – it’s an install in progress shot, but you get the idea.

Design by Belle Maison Inc.

When a room is as rich and dark chocolate as the stunning Gambrel design below, a bold color on the ceiling provides warmth and drama overhead.

Designer Steven Gambrel.

I would only consider painting ceilings red or warm colors if they were very high as in the room above.  The color red advances, thereby making the ceiling seem lower, something you definitely don’t want if your ceilings are below 10′.

I love watercolor interior paintings and marvel at the details achieved in such a small format.  Love the constellation motif in The Chinese Room in the Royal Palace in Berlin, c. 1850.   The ceiling definitely needed something to balance the busy walls.  Imagine if the ceiling was white, the room would feel incomplete.  Blue brings the sky inside.

Artist: Eduard Gaertner (1801-77)

If you enjoy watercolors, history and interiors you will adore An Album of Nineteenth-Century Interiors by Charlotte Gere.

This paper of pale pink and gold stars would look fantastic on the ceiling in a bedroom or dressing room.  Forgive the folds in the paper, it’s a sample.


Grand coffered ceilings with applied plaster decoration from stately homes provide design inspiration.   Today, we can achieve a similar look by using wallpaper, stencils, paint, and ingenuity.

A Salon in the Wittgenstein’s Berlin House, 1841  Artist: Friedrich Wilhelm Klose (1804-63)

And a modern take…

Sunny side up!  Diamond Baratta Design

Here is the reception hall ceiling at Nemours, the stately home built in 1910 by Alfred I. duPont in Delaware, Maryland.  The estate was fashioned after Marie Antoinette’s Petit Trianon.  It was said the gardens could be compared to those at Versailles.

Photo from AD

To learn more about Nemours estate and for tours click here.

A more budget friendly wallpaper option with a similar effect is the ceiling treatment below.

Geometric wallpaper and a three color stripe treatment on the wall take this kitchen to the next level.  Regan Carlile & Erica Evensen design.

A few creative ways to treat a paneled ceiling with paint. Country, seaside or mountain retreats are usually places you’ll see paneled ceilings.

Diamond Baratta Design

Robin Bell created this outdoor oasis for clients by painting bead board applied to the ceiling in a moroccan tile motif.

Robin Bell-_17-easyandageless-0508-xlg

A girl’s bedroom in blue and white takes the color scheme to the ceiling.

Color block ceiling treatment by designer Penny Drue Baird

Never boring, designer Martyn Lawrence Bullard kept the walls white, but treated the ceiling, floor, and curtains with plenty of pizzazz.   The stenciled ceiling emulates a luxurious Fortuny fabric design.  The chevron drapery panels add edge.

Designer Martyn Lawrence Bullard

A grasscloth covered ceiling provides texture while the applied trim adds dimension and architectural detail to this apartment decoration a la Parisian.

Design by Penny Drue Baird
Detail of ceiling

White ceilings have their place and some interiors definitely call for it.  Just consider the possibilities.

  1. The tented ceiling was outstanding, so much atmosphere, who wouldn’t want to exercise. Would a trapeze fit in there? Pink sun porch another one of my favorites, along with the Kitchen design by Diamond Baratta. Interesting tidbit regarding high ceilings and color. Martyn L. Bullard’s room was just stunning.

  2. Next time you come to Madrid you have to visist the Palacio de Linares … all of the floors designs mirror the ceiling decor (or vice versa). You’d enjoy it.

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