Market Report: Over Your Head

Walls get all the credit. Hailed as a home’s canvas, they’re adorned with equally artistic designs, from paint to paper to fabric. For years, designers have even been calling the ceiling “the fifth wall.” Don’t you believe it, though.

A ceiling can be the single most dramatic thing in a room, setting a tone that’s calm and meditative or boldly creative. They can be updated with color, texture and almost any material from wood to metal, or recall a more traditional look with ornate moldings or exposed beams. “Ceilings set the stage,” says A. Thayer Smith III, owner of a restoration and custom ornamental plaster business in Downingtown. “They are the backdrop to a room.”

If there’s not much going on with your ceiling (cracks and cobwebs don’t count), it may be time to take a fresh look at some alternatives. Fifth wall, indeed.

High Art
Trompe l’oeil painting takes ceilings to another level. These realistic murals can appear almost three-dimensional, in designs such as billowy clouds on a blue backdrop, or vines that appear to drip from the ceiling. “They’re a great way to make an impact,” says Barbara Gisel, owner of an interior design firm in Haverford. “We did a breakfast room where the ceiling was painted to look like a trellis. The whole room felt just like a garden.” Trompe l’oeil work is best for ceilings nine feet and higher, because visually, they make a ceiling appear lower than it is.

Once primarily used to repair old plaster ceilings, decorative ceiling
products from Armstrong Building Products in Lancaster are now becoming the focus of many rooms. “For so many years, homes were kind of plain Jane,” says Ann Miller, design manager for Armstrong. “But now people want to make a personal statement that adds interest to a room.”

Armstrong’s WoodHaven line is a wood plank laminated with vinyl film that comes in oak, knotty pine, cherry and beech. “The plank format is tongue-and-groove, so you don’t have exposed seams,” says Miller. “They help bring the warmth of natural materials to a room.” And as a bonus, the WoodHaven line damps down loud noise to keep rooms quiet and cozy.

Armstrong also offers a thick wallpaper-like material that gives the appearance of a tin ceiling. The product is factory-finished in a white primer, but can be painted any color. “We’ve done an antique pewter look with a pewter-metallic paint and antiqued it with black paint,” says Miller. “It really looked like antique pewter. It was beautiful.”

Above and Beyond
Adding pizzazz to a ceiling doesn’t have to require a major undertaking. Popcorn spray, with a coarse, bumpy appearance resembling its name, creates a uniformly textured look while hiding imperfections, such as cracks and seams. “We apply this to every type of ceiling, high and low,” says Steve Carr, a sales representative at Dave Carr Textured Ceilings in Brooklawn, New Jersey. While most homeowners opt for basic white, Carr has seen colors such as beige used.

Architectural moldings and ceiling medallions are other ways to get a textured look overhead. Ceiling medallions, Smith says, usually are made out of plaster, foam or stamped paper and are made to surround a chandelier. “Medallions help balance the chandelier to the room below,” says Smith. “The higher the ceiling, the larger the medallion should be.”

When it comes to moldings, the biggest mistake Smith spots in homes are moldings that are too small for the room. “The most gorgeous rooms call for a little bit larger cornice, or crown molding,” he says. He offers a simple rule of thumb: “If it is a 9-foot ceiling, I prefer 9-inch moldings,” he says. “If the ceiling is 8 feet high, go for 8-inch moldings, and so on.” Moldings can be painted any color of the rainbow, or even brushed with faux gold leaf. Smith prefers moldings that match the color of the rest of the room to add subtle visual interest.

Similar in appearance to a textured plaster, ceiling treatments created by Artistic Designed Ceilings in Halifax go beyond decoration to make an artistic statement. Owner John Dorman creates circular, oval and rectangular designs, along with borders that frame the ceiling and match the central design. “We’ve done ceilings for every room in the house, ranging in height from 7 1/2 feet to 21-foot-high cathedral ceilings,” he says. Although white is the most popular color, Dorman also has tinted ceilings in soft shades such as rose and yellow. “We have people who see our ceilings and say, ‘Wow, our grandparents had plaster ceilings like this,’” he says. “It is almost like a rediscovered art.”