As the “fifth wall” of a room, ceilings offer the opportunity to make a bold statement or add understated interest to a space. For advice on how to best incorporate a decorative ceiling into a room’s design, we turned to Richmond, Virginia-based designer Amanda Nisbet, who has employed a variety of creative techniques into her work. From knowing when to add a pop of color to selecting the right paint finish, here is her expert advice.
Have fun—but don’t forget about function. There are several reasons to paint your ceiling. One of Nisbet’s favorites is to add whimsy to a room while making a big statement. That said, this approach doesn’t work for every space, so be sure to take the function of the room into account before doing something dramatic. For instance, if you’re designing a nursery, you’d want to forego bold color for something quieter, like a pale blue.
Bring in color for balance. While it may seem counterintuitive, a room with a lot of color or pattern actually benefits from the balance of a colorful ceiling, Nisbet says. “I decorated a girl’s room with a hand-stenciled custom ikat design, and the room didn’t look complete until we painted the ceiling in a matching tone,” she recalls. “That pink ceiling gave the room the oomph it needed.”
Consider wallpaper. Of course, paint isn’t the only option when it comes to dressing up your ceiling. Wallpaper comes in endless beautiful patterns and palettes—including solid grasscloth, which Nisbet says is an excellent choice for a neutral space. “Texture is so important in a room, and this is a great way to add it.”
Add contrast. According to Nisbet, introducing a contrasting color on the ceiling is a great way to add in a playful element. For example, in a boy’s room, she used a traditional blue-and-white palette, then went with a bright orange on the ceiling. “It’s a decorative detail that has a big impact,” she says. Worried that you’ll tire of such a bold choice at some point in the future? Relax. “At the end of the day, it’s just a coat of paint,” Nisbet is quick to remind.
Take location into account. Certain rooms lend themselves to certain ceiling treatments, Nisbet notes. For example, while you don’t necessarily want to go bold with color in an area you use all the time, but you can still get creative. “You can paint your living room walls a flat white and go for a lacquered, high-gloss ceiling,” Nisbet says. Meanwhile, your laundry room or powder room are great spaces to get a little playful and go for a bold color—or even painted stripes.
Try tone on tone. If want to paint your ceilings but stay in the same colorway, Nisbet advises choosing a shade for the ceiling that’s barely discernible from the wall color. “This is a great option that’s better than decorator’s white,” she says. “The biggest rule is not to do the walls and ceiling in the same finish.” For example, if your walls are dark green high gloss, choose a lighter shade of green in a flat finish for your ceiling.