Tray Ceilings in Bedrooms

Add architectural interest to your bedroom with a tray ceiling.


Sage green walls provide a relaxing back drop to this bedroom. Plush fabrics were used for the custom bedding ensemble. The fabric panels hanging on the bed frame create a romantic cocoon. Designer tip: Paint the wall color up on to a portion of the recessed ceiling to give the illusion of more height.

By: Gina Hannah
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A tray ceiling will add architectural interest to your bedroom and turn an ordinary room into an elegant retreat. The woodwork involved in building a tray ceiling will also add value to your home.

Stencil a Fun Pattern on Your Ceiling

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The Scoop on Stenciling

Stencils give you the drama of wallpaper with the freedom of paint to work in any room, without the risk of peeling and mold.

Oriental Flair

We picked this Moroccan tile stencil from Cutting Edge Stencils and chose a gray and blue color palette.

Materials List

For this project you'll need a stencil; a stippling brush; 2-inch dense foam rollers; spray adhesive; painter's tape; a paint tray or plastic plate; a piece of cardboard or paper for sample board; paper towels; large zip-top bags; small plastic containers for paint; and latex paint.

Get Started: Prep, Stick and Paint

It’s a good idea to practice your stenciling technique on paper or a sample board, like a piece of cardboard, rather than moving straight to painting your ceiling. Getting your stencil technique down first will save you time and frustration in the long run. You can try out color combinations for your stencil pattern, too. After your stencil test run, map out the design by making pencil marks where each stencil pattern will be positioned.

Prepare the Surface

Clean walls to prep your surface for a clean-edged stencil. A solution of water and dishwashing liquid with a sponge works well to clean dust and dirt off your ceiling.

Stick Up the Stencil

When you’re stenciling a wall, you can use either painter’s tape or spray adhesive to secure and reposition your stencil as you paint the pattern. Stenciling a ceiling is trickier because you’re working against gravity. It’s best to use a spray adhesive for stenciling the ceiling or for intricate designs. Then add a few pieces of painter’s tape around the edge of the stencil to keep it firmly in place. You’ll want to start your stencil on a section of the ceiling that lets you paint an uninterrupted column of the pattern. Then you’ll have a perfect vertical pattern from which you can extend out from.

Paint the Edges

Always start with the edges. Pour some paint onto a plate or paint tray. You don't need a lot of paint (maybe two to three tablespoons of paint to start), and you'll want your stippling brush to be almost dry as you paint. Use a dabbing motion with your stippling brush to start painting in from the edges of your design. You'll use the stencil brush for filling in any gaps where the ceiling meets the trim.

Fill In With Paint

Grab a two-inch foam roller and mini paint tray. Pour a little paint onto your paint tray and load up the foam roller with paint. Keep moving the roller over the paint a few times until it absorbs most of the paint, and then blot any excess paint with a paper towel. When you start applying the roller to the ceiling, you should see no visible paint on the roller surface — it should look almost dry. Use painter's tape on the narrow edges of the stencil to prevent paint rollovers. Let the paint dry, and then apply a second coat. Quick tip: When you're working with a stencil, it’s always best to have less paint on your roller or brush rather than too much.

Tape, Paint, Repeat

Reposition your stencil, lining it up with the painted pattern. Continue on with the pattern. Let the stencil dry overnight. This stencil comes with an additional top-edge stencil — the upper part of the design cut as a smaller separate stencil. This helps make it easy to fill the gaps by your ceiling line after the main section is stenciled.

Bag Your Roller

Painting a stencil on a ceiling is definitely more challenging than painting a wall. When you need to take a painting break, put your roller cover in a zip-top bag and store it in the refrigerator. Check to be sure there’s no excess air in the bag. Then you'll be able to pick up where you left off — no dried-up paint on the roller — without needing to clean your roller cover.

A tray ceiling, also called an inverted or recessed ceiling, features a center section that is several inches (or several feet) higher than the areas around the perimeter of the room. This design allows for the use of colors painted on the trim that can turn a bland ceiling into a focal point. Many homeowners install hidden tube lighting along the perimeter of the tray, which is especially nice if the lights are on dimmers so they can be lowered for a romantic look.

Tray ceilings work best in large rooms with high ceilings, where they can keep a room from appearing cavernous by creating visual depth in the room. The higher center of the ceiling also provides an opportunity to create a focal point by hanging a beautiful chandelier, pendant light or ceiling fan. The center section is also a great place to paint a ceiling mural. Scenes with clouds or stars are popular, but you can paint any scene that appeals to you.

If you want a touch of glamour, install mirrored tiles in the center to create a glittering effect as the mirrors reflect light from the room. For a more country or beachside look, install beadboard in the top of the tray ceiling and paint it a soft white, grey or blue—or stain the wood in a warm, natural shade.

Painting the center of the ceiling a darker shade will create a look of height, causing that part of the ceiling to recede visually. Paint with a metallic sheen creates depth and warmth, and it can work well if you're going with a Mediterranean style of decorating.

In designing your tray ceiling, you can follow the shape of your room or create a different shape to give the room even more visual interest. If your ceiling is very high—ten to twelve feet—you might be able to install a double tray ceiling, creating a stunning architectural focal point overhead. If your style allows, you can go heavy on the trim and paint or stain it in colors that complement your walls and furnishings. For a simpler, more modern look, forego the trim and create a focal point with lighting, either along the perimeter or with a hanging fixture.

You can hire a professional contractor to build your tray ceiling, or you can do it yourself. Before you decide, consider the scope of your project, the look and materials you want, as well as your budget.

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