Asheville Interior Design Blog
Ceiling choices reflect more than light
Everybody has white ceilings. Are there other options, and how important are crown moldings? –Mary
Richard: Dear Mary, you’re asking about “the great forgotten expanse.”
Well, few even consider anything but white… remember the ceiling of the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel! But that reflected sacred themes, and in most settings—especially in homes today—ceilings traditionally reflect light. In interiors where the ceiling is not white, it’s usually because the architect/builder has chosen a natural material such as stained wood. But you’re generally correct, most ceilings are white or off white, and there’s a reason. Simply stated, “ceiling white” hides construction imperfections and helps brighten the room.
Jean: True, Richard, but that’s like saying windows are simply used to let in light.
I think it’s a given that you use white for practical reasons, such as to brighten a room. Some houses have textured ceilings (ugh) that can hide imperfections as well. You can add interest by choosing lighting that gives off a pattern, such as lamps, fans and chandeliers. (Choices in lighting fixtures also impact the level of reflection.) But ceilings don’t always have to be white– they can also be a soft tint of the wall color, a continuation of the wall color in a different sheen or a complementary color. And for even more drama, certain wallpapers can be used with great effect. Just remember that a colored ceiling will probably reflect that color, to different degrees, on the rest of the room.
Richard: Speaking of drama, what about that gilt ceiling we did with 10 coats of varnish? I thought the client and painter were going to have a heart attack until they saw the final result. Your lighting suggestions support my point. Just as the ceiling reflects natural light, it also reflects artificial light. But once again, painted white—OK, white or pastel colors, —tend to flatten out seams and flaws, especially on smooth drywall surfaces. If the ceiling has few irregularities and is only eight feet, you may try gloss white for a higher level of reflection.
Jean: I’m glad you mentioned height, because that’s where moldings can play a significant role. For eight foot ceilings you may not want crown moldings at all. Or at least narrow ones. But nine and ten foot ceilings look naked without them. A picture rail running parallel to a high ceiling about ten inches down offers an historic touch, but don’t use it with a crown. And, it’s your choice whether to paint the surface above the picture rail the color of the wall or the ceiling. My suggestion is to paint it the wall color if you want to emphasize height; paint it the ceiling color if you want a greater expanse.
Richard: OK, on the subject of an historic touch, let’s add that porch ceilings in the nineteenth century were traditionally painted sky blue, which supposedly discourages flying insects from nesting AND keeps away evil spirits.
Jean: Hey, mine’s blue! I suppose that’s why I’ve never seen you on my front porch?