How To Paint A Ceiling With A Designers Eye

Paint A CeilingWhat’s the most neglected wall in your house?

Think about it. An average room has five walls. Can you name the fifth?

Aha! Most of us can’t. That’s why it gets neglected.

The fifth wall is the ceiling, of course!

Most of us don’t think much about our ceilings. When we decide to paint our rooms, admit it, a color (sometimes two) is chosen for the walls, then we automatically purchase white paint for the trim and ceiling. The poor, boring ceiling, always dismissed with a perfunctory slap of white paint.

When I suggest to my clients that they invite their ceilings to the party, I get glassy stares of total bewilderment. Ceilings have to be white. Don’t they?

The problem lies in the next question: If not white, WHAT? After all, Mom and Dad always painted the ceiling white. And so did Aunt Gladys and Uncle Al, and Nana and Gramps.

But I ask you, WHY? Who said ceilings must be white?

Lie back and stare at your ceiling for a few minutes. Notice that this “fifth wall” is perpendicular to the other walls; the 90-degree angle throws it into shadow. Even the white has a gray cast due to the angle. This is an important factor in choosing a paint color for this “wall”.

Thus, Tip #1: When choosing a color for the ceiling, stick a patch of it up on the ceiling and observe it in this “shadow” position. From there you can adjust it accordingly.

While white is, in some cases, a good choice for your ceiling, most often it just looks like an “omit”. People generally don’t question the custom because it’s such a common practice. But once you start experimenting with color on your ceilings you’ll be changed forever.

Color for your ceiling can be as subtle as a gentle tint or a bold, in-your-face statement. It all depends on the room, and the effect you want to achieve.

The key is not to go overboard with bright ceilings in every room in the house. The idea is to entice, amuse, and surprise in some rooms, and hold back in others.

Here’s an example to illustrate my point:

Let’s say your home leans toward “young traditional”. Your first floor Powder Room is a tiny space, not very interesting, with a toilet, a pedestal sink, and an ornately framed mirror. There are wide crown moldings, chair rail, and a black and white ceramic tiled floor. This room is presently painted pale beige with white moldings and ceiling.

Your favorite color is red, but while it delights you, it also scares you to death because red makes a bold statement. Besides, you say, the Powder Room is too small for bright color. The beige and white are supposed to make it look larger. Right?

Nonsense. What they make it look is boring.

Here’s our chance to have some fun. You tell me you love gardening, and roses are your passion. Let’s go for a floral wallpaper in there. We then choose a traditional floral with reds, greens, on a white ground. There are some blues and yellows in there, too, in a minor position. We paint the trim and crown moldings in Benjamin Moore’s gorgeous Linen White. Now we have to choose a color for the ceiling. No way are we going to cop out and do a white ceiling in here. Here’s our chance to launch this boat. We paint the ceiling red, in a satin finish. We add brass or crystal sconces on either side of the mirror, thick, luxurious, white hand towels, and fragrant hand soap. The Powder Room is now a destination.

Beige and white, indeed!

Do you know why the verandas in old Victorians traditionally have blue ceilings? It’s such a pretty look. I’ve always loved them. Aesthetically they are very pleasing, but there’s a practical reason as well. The blue ceiling tricks bees and hornets into thinking the ceiling is sky, so they won’t build their hives and nests under them. Apparently the trick has worked well, and the tradition has survived for over a hundred years. Without this practical discovery, veranda ceilings might have been merely painted white… what a waste that would have been!

Experiment in your home with color on your ceilings. If you are designing a Nursery, why not hang a wallpaper with a charming motif on a white background, and paint the ceiling pink (or blue, or yellow) instead of the other way around? Your little one will have something nice to look at while lying in his or her crib. While you’re at it, have an artist paint some delightful motifs on that ceiling! Note: your Nursery colors are never limited to the cliché pink, blue or yellow. You know that. Color is good for your baby’s brain activity, so you can get as creative as you want with it.

Generally, applying color to any ceiling draws the eye up and integrates the room. How about a navy blue lacquer ceiling? Or a gold gilt ceiling?

Suppose, on the other hand, that you like white ceilings, and it’s just not your thing to leap into color up there. Fine. But here’s a tip which will greatly improve your room: Just mix a little of the wall color into the white that you plan to use for the ceiling, to create a “tint”. It could be one part wall color to 3 or 4 parts white paint. Use this tint on the ceiling instead of straight white. This will integrate the ceiling into your room more effectively so it won’t look “alien” and lonely. Use a soft white for the trim.