Looking Up

By Chandra Orr

January 7, 2011 6 min read

Looking for a way to finish off that room? Look up. Whether painted, wallpapered or stenciled, a finished ceiling gives any room a fresh look for not a lot of money.

"A ceiling that completes and makes the space sing makes a big statement," says John Kelsey, co-founder of Wilson Kelsey Design, an award-winning residential and commercial interior design firm. "I recently completed a very modern galley kitchen. During construction, we kept looking at the flat ceiling and feeling as if it wasn't quite right. We mocked up an arched ceiling, and the kitchen came alive. The space went from ordinary to extraordinary."

Take your own room from ordinary to extraordinary with a new hue. A simple coat of paint is perhaps the quickest, most dramatic fix for do-it-yourselfers on a budget.

"The quickest DIY fix is to use paint -- and add a touch of pearlescence to the paint. This will make the ceiling glow," Kelsey says.

Look for interior latex with a pearl finish or pearlescent gloss that can be applied as a second coat. It's less intense than a high-gloss finish, but the extra shimmer makes paint pop.

When choosing colors, consider the overall vibe of the room. Lighter and brighter shades make rooms feel open and airy, whereas warmer, darker hues create a cozy, intimate space.

"Choose your paint in the context of the effect or feeling you're trying to achieve in the room," Kelsey explains. "A lighter color will tend to 'lift' the ceiling, making the room feel larger, while a darker color will tend to 'lower' the ceiling, making it feel smaller."

*Accent With Architecture

If the idea of color on the ceiling makes you cringe, opt for a few architectural details paired with crown molding for extra drama.

"If the room is traditional, consider a ceiling medallion or rosette, particularly if there is a chandelier in the room," Kelsey says. "Another effective trick is to paint a border that extends onto the ceiling, matching the color of the crown molding."

For more rustic rooms, wood beams are an attractive -- yet often pricey -- option. Numerous companies offer less expensive synthetic beams, but crafty homeowners can create their own faux beams with materials found at the local lumberyard.

"If you have your heart set on beams but can't afford the cost, a series of simple flat boards edged in decorative trim can be a very cost-effective alternative," Kelsey says.

*Add Texture

Like walls, ceilings often benefit from a boost of texture, and it's easy to get the look you want with wallpaper.

"Many people forget about decorating the ceiling. Highlight this typically forgotten area with wallpaper that coordinates with the rest of the furnishings in the room," says Paula Berberian, creative services manager for Brewster Home Fashions, a leading manufacturer and distributor of wallpaper and wall art. "Wallpaper on a ceiling adds color, depth, design and dimension. Whether you add a pleasing print to create a cottage feel, a metallic wallpaper to add shimmer or a paintable wallpaper for texture and dimension, it will have everyone who enters the room looking up."

Anaglypta wallpapers -- sometimes called "paintables" -- are the most versatile. The three-dimensional papers come in a wide variety of designs, from patterns that mimic tin ceilings to textured scrollwork and contemporary facades.

"What's great about these products is that they are truly paintable," Berberian explains. "You can leave them white or paint them with any color of your choosing. They also hide surface imperfections like cracks, are affordable and are easy to hang."

*Go Custom

Hand-painted ornamental ceilings and overhead murals also make a big statement.

"The 'wow' factor is best-achieved with hand-painted artistry," says Michael Boudreault, decorative finish specialist and mural painter.

Get the look yourself with self-adhesive vinyl stencils from companies such as the Modello Design Group (http://www.ModelloDesigns.com). Its Decorative Masking Patterns can be used with paint, stain, glaze, plaster and other mediums for a range of textures and styles, and using the company's vast ornamental library, homeowners can create one-of-a-kind designs for that custom look.

"Pick a color that is one or two shades lighter than your wall," Boudreault says. "Colors always appear darker on the ceiling because of the way most lights are situated, so it's best to go lighter than you think. Hand-painted ceilings should always complement or show off an interesting space, not overpower it."

*Think Ahead

There's one caveat to ceiling upgrades: If you plan on selling soon, keep it simple. Though a finished ceiling can add appeal, buyers may not have the same taste in d?cor, so subtle is better. Opt for a look with broad and long-lasting appeal, lest your expensive upgrade be ripped out by the next owner.

"Custom treatments are very personal, and most treatments do not appraise into the value of the home unless they are unique to the architecture of the ceiling and the home as a whole," Boudreault says.

"It is still very much a buyer's market," Kelsey says. "A home whose ceilings are in good repair and freshly painted may not necessarily have a higher resale value, but it will enhance the impression that the home is in move-in condition and may help shorten the time on the market."

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