Redecorating? Don’t overlook the ceiling


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Home design is looking up as companies manufacture products that make an impact on a room’s sixth wall: the ceiling.

From bright copper coffered to warm wooden timbers, ceilings should emulate and complement the design elements in a home, says Lori Rowley, marketing manager of Armstrong Residential Ceilings, based in Lancaster, Pa. “People spend so much time in a house sitting and lying down that homeowners are realizing they don’t have to stop decorating with just the walls and flooring,” she says. “A top-notch ceiling design can bring drama or help create a light mood in a room.”

Usually, ceiling standards are at least 8 feet in height, but can have vaulted details that reach 12 feet and up. In general, the lighter in color a ceiling is, the more open and airy a room will feel. By contrast, dark colored ceilings can make a room feel smaller and cozier.

In many homes, ceilings are blank canvases that can be decoratively painted or paneled, with a unified design aesthetic that is pleasing to the eye from top to bottom. Ceiling design is first dictated by the existing architecture, which can include a curved cove, vaulted cathedral or a recessed tray ceiling, which breaks up a flat ceiling with an inverted or recessed rectangle as a focal point.

For some, transforming an unappealing ceiling is as easy as choosing a complementary paint color to the walls, papering the ceiling with wallcovering or adding fine details, such as stenciling and crown moldings. But for other homeowners, dressing up a textured topper is a ceiling challenge.

“People want to get rid of their 1970s textured ceilings that were sprayed with particles, which resemble popcorn,” Rowley says. “You don’t have to scrape and paint a ceiling when you can cover it with decorative tiles.”

Armstrong has patented an “Easy Up” ceiling system, which is a suspension system for ceiling tiles that uses metal tracks secured into a home’s joists. Tiles or planks are then clipped onto these metal tracks and interlocked together and floated right beneath the existing ceiling.

But Rowley cautions that a ceiling should be structurally sound before installing decorative tiles over it. “Ceiling tiles shouldn’t be used as a ‘Band-Aid’ for ongoing water damage or falling plaster,” she says. “You can’t cover up a ceiling that’s coming down.”

The use of ceiling tiles is nothing new in America — tin varieties rose to popularity around the turn of the 20th century. Today’s use of ceiling tiles is topping out in below-grade applications as more homeowners use basements for media rooms, bars and “man caves.”

Here are some options for decorative ceilings:

• Tin ceiling. Traditionally, uniform shapes of thin tin were stamped with a design and snugly meshed together. For those who want their home to emulate Craftsman- or Tudor-style houses, Armstrong has the Metallaire decorative tile collection that features white, brass, warm copper-plated or reflective chrome-plated finishes. Up to $9.50 per square foot, these ceiling tiles can be used above a bar or kitchen island to create a “wow” effect.

• Coffered ceiling. This architectural finish is found in the stone coffers of ancient Greece. Characterized most often in square sunken panels, these ceiling tiles have a modern look that adds a sense of height to a room, says Rowley. Armstrong’s decorative “mineral fiber” tiles top out at $3 per square foot and can be painted.

• Wood panel ceiling. Wooden planks are precisely cut and installed side-by-side to adorn high flat or vaulted ceilings. Creating an elegant or cozy cottage feel, Armstrong’s engineered pre-stained wood planks have tongue-and-groove construction and cost around $3.30 per square foot.

When choosing a decorative effect for the ceiling, also take into account the style and placement of light fixtures. From recessed cans to grand chandeliers, you can illuminate the ceiling’s design by getting the light right. As a rule, the darker the ceiling, the more light you will need in the space.

In a home’s great room, where the kitchen, dining room and family room share a continuous ceiling, it may be overkill to tile or panel the entire space. Instead, Rowley suggests using decorative techniques above the table or kitchen island, set off by crown molding, to create a focal point that tops it all.

“Homeowners are becoming more aware of the design possibilities of ceilings because they are looking up,” Rowley says. “People want their personal style reflected on the sixth wall of a room because they want to live within a space, not in a box.”

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