Ryan's Eye: Ceilings: The Forgotten Surface
By Will Ryan
In this article I will discuss ceilings, the forgotten surface. When we describe or envision a space, we process all sorts of information; we think about the walls, windows, floors, furniture, to name but a few things, but we rarely bring to mind the ceilings. This is normal as unless there is a glaring feature or stain they are thought of as fairly unimportant. However, if we start really thinking about them and actually observing them, we find there are many ceilings of various styles and composition.
The first ceiling I will discuss is the most common and that is the regular painted ceiling. In typical residential situations they are generally either painted white or a light colour and should be a flat or matt finish. Having said that, an exciting effect is to paint the ceiling in a high gloss paint. This is particularly charming at night when the ceilings reflect the lighting of candles and ambient lighting. It also gives the impression that the ceiling is higher than it is.
Many newer houses and condos have the sprayed textured ceilings. This is often to minimize any uneveness and is a cheaper solution than smooth ceilings. Older houses sometime have the swirled plaster ceilings that were in vogue in the 50’s. If condo or new build - homeowner would like a smooth ceiling. If the construction is still ongoing a smooth ceiling can be specified but it is considered an upgrade. If, however, you have an unwanted applied texture there are three ways of addressing this. First is to contract this out to a professional company. The second option is to have another ceiling installed over the existing. Although this seems like a radical approach, it has two advantages. For Condo owners, it allows you to install shallow, recessed lights in the new ceiling which you cannot have with the existing concrete ceilings. It also reduces noise transfer from above. The third option is to tackle it yourself. This requires a completely empty room, with no carpeting. Fill a garden weed sprayer with warm water and detergent then spray the surface of the ceiling, allow for it to soak in. The water reduces the dust. With an ice scraper simply scrape off the texture until the ceiling is smooth. It will require further finishing before it is painted. With the swirled finish, you will have to knock off the projections before you spray so the water can better soak in.
In some older farmhouses and cottages the ceilings are wooden. This is a practical and charming look and I’m finding that it is gaining in popularity. It gives a more modest and simpler appearance to a space. An idea that is popular for walls and ceilings, particularly in contemporary spaces, is to have plain softwood boarding high pressure water sprayed. This takes out the softer wood and leaves the graining slightly proud, then it is either stained or left natural.
Also found in period buildings are the stamped metal ceilings. These are still available and come in many designs. These can have metal cornices, a high or low embossed pattern, small to large repeats and also come with border details. They are often in 2’ square sheets. They are very practical and can be painted or not. For a long period they were out of favour, but they are also showing up more and more in very contemporary situations. In the metal category are gold leafed ceilings. When done with real gold leaf, these were really only used in palace situations, but now there are handsome paints and papers that give the same appearance. Again, this treatment looks particularly sumptuous when reflecting candles and lighting.
As mentioned in the previous paragraph, there are wallpapers that can look well on ceilings. Papering ceilings is usually done if the walls curve into the ceiling space. The paper is then simply run up the wall and on to the ceiling. Obviously this will not work with directional patterned wallpaper, but looks charming and well thought out when done with random patterned paper. If you are faced with a room that has this feature and you want wallpaper but not run up in to the ceiling then you can install a chair rail at a mid-point in the wall with the wallpaper on the lower portion and paint above the rail and on to the ceiling. Often a type of wallpaper called anaglypta is used. This is a relatively strong paper with an embossed design which can be painted. It, as with the metal ceiling tiles, comes in many designs from period to contemporary.
In many Arts and Craft, or Tudor style houses, the ceiling is beamed. Again, beamed ceilings are popping up in many contemporary spaces. Often these are painted dark in contrast to the ceiling colour, although they add a more modern, lighter touch when painted the same colour as the ceiling. Really the only issue with beamed ceilings is the lighting. If the beams are fake, which are not an issue, you must not have pot lighting inserted into the beam or it is a real give away that it is fake.
Finally there is the suspended metal grid ceiling with the ceiling tiles within. I cannot say too much about this type of ceiling other than the fact that there isn’t really much you can do with it. I did see one painted with high gloss pale grey paint with the walls painted high gloss red. The effect was very dramatic and lifted the curse of that style of ceiling, but it is not to everyone’s taste. I would advise anyone with this to try to have it removed and replaced with a more inviting plain ceiling.
Painted murals that run up walls onto ceilings are great fun as are clouds and stars that are sometimes used in children’s rooms.
I hope this article has been helpful for anyone who is facing a ceiling dilemma right now, because although ceilings are the forgotten surface, they are still an integral part of your space.