Looking for a new way to upgrade a room? Consider its fifth wall: the ceiling. And if you’ve never thought about taking your design inspiration to new heights—or find it much too daunting—you’re not alone.
“The ceiling is an important, and often overlooked, element in a room,” says New York-based interior designer Sara Story. “Painting your ceiling a dramatic or subtle color in a contrasting sheen from the walls gives the space another dimension and adds an unexpected twist.” Whether you’re craving to transform a larger space into a cozy den or brighten up a smaller room, here’s how painting your ceiling can be the ultimate room changer.
ENHANCE A SMALL SPACE
To enlarge a smaller space, Hannah Yeo, Color and Design Expert at Benjamin Moore, recommends choosing a lighter hue above. “This creates an airy effect and can visually raise a ceiling,” says Yeo. “It’s a great way to make the room look larger and taller especially in a small room or a room with lower ceilings.” You can also choose a lighter shade that is a slight variation of your wall color. “The subtle contrast will bring depth and dimension without breaking the unity of existing colors.”
CREATE A COZY NICHE
Want to do the opposite and make a modest room more intimate? According to Yeo, smaller spaces can actually be the perfect place to explore darker colors. “A rich navy blue or a deep black can blur the boundaries of the room, making it look endless yet intimate.” For a dramatic finale, Yeo also recommends a semi-gloss or high-gloss finish.
USE COLOR TO LIGHTEN UP
If you have a darker space you want to lighten, your instinct may tell you to leave the ceiling white, but Kevin Sharkey, Martha Stewart Living's EVP and Executive Director of Design, would say otherwise. “That just makes it look gloomy and sad, because the white doesn’t translate as white in a space that has little light,” says Sharkey. Instead, opt for rich, saturated hues, which will hold their own in a dark space, like Farrow & Ball’s Vert de Terre and Hay. “These yellows can also warm up the space."
DON’T OVERTHINK IT
While opting for white overhead in a room of dark hues may not be the best choice, Yeo reminds homeowners that for some rooms, white ceilings are ideal. “Don’t feel forced to use a color on the ceiling,” she suggests. “Instead, focus on getting the right white. Select a white that shares similar undertones as your wall color for a seamless color flow.”
When it comes to finishes, Yeo says opting for higher gloss can also work well with bolder light fixtures: “A high gloss above a beautiful chandelier can make your dining room shine.” However, also keep in mind that high sheens have the tendency to bounce off more light so if there are imperfections you’d rather not draw attention to, you may be better off gloss-less.
If you want to highlight a room that already receives a lot of natural light, Story suggests opting for lacquer. “In larger spaces, I might lacquer a ceiling to emphasize how the light reflects off of the larger volume of the room."
CONSIDER ANY DETAIL
If your room’s walls are adorned with additional furnishings or artwork, painting the ceilings the same color as the walls also help keep the focus on your décor accents.
Meanwhile, if you have a room that features intricate moldings, tray ceilings, or other architectural features, Yeo says choosing a dark hue for the ceiling can help enhance these characteristics. “Use a contrasting color on the trim to make the beautiful details pop,” she says.