Don't Forget the Fifth Wall! Ceiling Design Ideas to Inspire

Every room has one, so why not dress it up?
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Do me a favor and look up at your ceiling. Thanks. Now let me politely ask, “Why the hell did you just leave your drywall ceiling blank but paint your drywalled walls a color?" No, I’m not yelling; I just don’t really understand. White drywall ceilings are fantastic under very specific circumstances: A: They’re part of an all-white-aesthetic. B: The ceilings are coffered or clad with beadboard or tongue-and-groove wood painted white. C: You’re broke and can’t afford another gallon of $26 paint.

Wood Plank Ceiling After

Wood Plank Ceiling After

Photo by: Marian Parsons

Marian Parsons

Sure, this is totally subjective. However, as someone who gets paid to improve people’s homes, I can attest firsthand that it’s an easy way to give a room new identity, play up its assets or tone down its shortcomings. Here are a few ceiling design ideas for different DIY skill sets. Hey, you spend hours picking paint colors, taping off trim, then rolling eggshell enamel on your walls; it’s only fair you pay some attention to their upstairs neighbor. Right?

Ceiling Tiles  

Lantern Pendants Light Hanging From Tin-Tiled Ceiling

Lantern Pendants Light Hanging From Tin-Tiled Ceiling

Thick white architectural beams are accented with silver, patterned tin tiles in this white kitchen. Over the kitchen island, large glass lantern pendants form the perfect balance between traditional and transitional.

Photo by: Nar Fine Carpentry, Inc. ©PhotographerLink

Nar Fine Carpentry, Inc., PhotographerLink

Armstrong Residential Ceilings offers a huge assortment of ceiling tiles for spaces with unfortunate but necessary drop-ceilings. In basements, or as I like to call them, “terrace levels,” drop-ceilings allow instant access to leaky pipes or damaged wiring. Sure, the grids can be torn out, and drywall can go up; however, that’s a major headache. And if you can’t do it yourself, it’s also a major cost. Simply swap out unsightly foam tiles for raised panel tiles which can be left in their matte white finish to help bounce light around, or they can be customized with paint. This is a great project for people with beginner DIY skills. Often, the only tool needed is a utility knife to cut the end pieces to size. Once installed, simply spray the ceiling and walls in the same shade for a major improvement.  


Beadboard Ceiling 02:10

An uneven plaster ceiling is lowered slightly and covered with beadboard.

Beadboard is an affordable way to go directly over unsightly popcorn or stippled ceilings. You can add a layer of architectural interest to boring, new construction, drywall ceilings with Armstrong Residential Ceilings “WoodHaven Beadboard." What’s so great about using this product is that it’s engineered specifically for ceilings, and it comes in thin planks which are much easier to install than basic beadboard, which comes in 8X4 sheets. Since this involves cuts with a chopsaw, I’d recommend this ceiling style for homeowners with medium DIY skills.

Wooden Planks

Green and Brown Rustic Bedroom With Wood Beam Ceiling

Green and Brown Rustic Bedroom With Wood Beam Ceiling

An elegant wood beam ceiling sets the rustic tone in this green and brown bedroom. A fun twist on the bedside lamp? Graceful metal chandeliers!

Photo by: Eric


Woodhaven plank systems are my go-to products for complete ceiling overhauls. You’ll need advanced DIY skills to complete them yourself: be able to make cuts with a chop saw, measure meticulously for proper line-up, and attach furring strips to the studs with a nail gun. Once installed, they give the look of a custom, stained wood ceiling.  

Painted Stripes  

Dramatic Striped Ceiling

Dramatic Striped Ceiling

The ceiling is a room's fifth wall. Give this often-overlooked area a big dose of personality with an easier-than-it-looks graphic paint treatment.

Here’s a painted ceiling project for medium-skilled DIYers with steady hands. Add graphic impact to boring, white drywall with a taped-off, painted pattern. In this neutral boy’s room, I revved up the energy with a few bursts of pea green and brown. To create perfect stripes, I simply measured, taped off 14-inch alternating stripes, and then painted them using a roller. This cost less than $100 and took a weekend. Small price to pay to escape the hell of a neglected drywall ceiling, don’t you think?  

More Stylish Ceiling Ideas

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Integrate Your Ceiling Design

The key to integrating a ceiling into a room's overall design is understanding the space, Nashville, Tenn., interior designer Beth Haley says.

"When designing spaces, think of the entire room three-dimensionally. If left untreated or ignored, then the emphasis will be on the ceiling," she says. "It will become the big white elephant. The ceiling should be the icing on the cake."

Bring It Down to Your Level

Homebuyers love high ceilings for the sense of space and openness they lend to rooms, but one problem is how vaulted and cathedral ceilings seem to swallow everything else in the room, making the room tiny in comparison. Haley says the key to avoiding this design disaster is to emphasize the opulence and drama of the ceiling while maintaining a relationship with the room below. She suggests using architectural features to play up the room's height, while bringing the interest of the room to eye level.

Architecural Features Emphasize Space

"Divide the space with architectural features or add texture," Haley says. Some of her suggestions for making a high ceiling a win-win design situation include adding wooden beams, coffered ceilings, beadboard, cabling, artwork, faux finish, wallpaper, woven woods, upholstered acoustical panels or floating screens. "You first need to define the style and feeling you wish to accomplish, then select the appropriate feature," she says, adding that the real key is emphasizing the space while considering the viewpoint, literally and figuratively, of the occupants below.

Echoes in a Tall Room

One problem homeowners don't always think about in rooms with high ceilings is challenging acoustics, designer Susan Nilsson, owner of Ashville, N.C.-based Susan Nilsson design, says. In multi-purpose areas, like great rooms, that have high or two-story ceilings, not accounting for acoustics can make occupants feel like they're trying to converse or watch television in an empty auditorium. One way homeowners can account for this problem is bringing the sound down to them. "Don't allow lighting or sound to be directed down from the ceiling," Susan says. If you use a high-ceiling room for entertainment, wire it for surround sound and install speakers into walls.

Let the Light Shine Down (and Up)

Jeffrey Heath, general manager of the lighting division at Connecticut-based home retailer Klaff's, says the key to lighting a room with a high ceiling is to mix and match. "In any room, especially rooms with high ceilings, you need to get light from a variety of sources," he says.

Haley says lighting is just as elemental to a room as walls and floors. "Lighting should always be considered in the initial design process. As an afterthought, it can be expensive and a hassle," she says, adding that for ceilings with architectural interest, lighting is really what can make or break a room. "Lighting can also be used to lift your eye from the floor to the ceiling, creating drama to that great architectural ceiling."

Don't Be Low About Ceilings

Most designers will tell you that the easiest way to change the whole look and effect of a room is by using carefully chosen paint colors. When it comes to ceilings, they sing the same tune. Haley recommends going with darker colors in large, soaring rooms for a cozier feel, but says any paint scheme you choose will work as long as it's part of an overall design scheme. "Thought-out paint schemes, whether warm, cool, dark or light colors, are going to define a space and give it purpose," she says. "Color gives depth and allows you to push and pull elements to create the overall feeling and style you want to achieve."

From: Dave Stimmel

Make It All Work Together

Low or strangely angled ceilings can make a room seem small, dark and generally unwelcoming. "Paint the ceiling a lighter color to create the illusion of height," Mary Rice, vice president of marketing for BEHR Paints says. She adds the sheen of your paint also matters when dealing with low-slung ceilings. "Painting low ceilings with semi-gloss paint will make them seem higher, as well."

Lighting is an important player in the design scheme when trying to give a greater sense of vertical space. "You can create the illusion of natural light and higher ceilings by designing your own sky lights," Haley says. "Install lighting hidden by a cove trim or soffit. The will give the appearance that the rooms lifts, or has natural light."

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