Time to put a ceiling on white ceilings


January 10, 1993|By Rita St. Clair | Rita St. Clair,Contributing Writer

Through the years, readers have sent me all sorts of questions about home design. As best I can recall, however, not once have I been specifically asked about the treatment of ceilings.

In figuring out why this surface gets such scant attention, your guess will probably be as good as mine. It may have something to do with the fact that ceiling heights seldom exceed 8 feet in homes built during the last 60 years. Maybe people unconsciously assume that these cramped vertical dimensions are best ignored altogether.

That line of thinking may also help explain why so many readers focus on the other planes in a room. Perhaps they believe that if the walls and floor are properly embellished, the ceiling will matter less. Sadly, though, it doesn't work that way.

A ceiling is always important to a room's design, even if we choose to pretend otherwise. As such, it often needs something more than a coat of off-white paint.

What is it about white ceilings, anyway? I have found that unless painters are specifically told otherwise, they will automatically do the ceiling in some shade of white, regardless of what colors are used elsewhere in the room. The walls can be forest-green or be decoratively papered in myriad colors, and still it is assumed that the ceiling must be white.

Now, it's not that I'm opposed to white ceilings. Actually, I regard white as the best option for standard-height ceilings when the walls are also white or some other lightly tinted color, or when wallpaper with a white background is used. My goal is not to be different at all costs, but rather to encourage exploring options before a standard solution is implemented.

Yes, there are situations in which a white ceiling is flat-out wrong for a room. That's almost invariably the case when the walls are done in a deep color such as forest green, burgundy or terra-cotta -- colors, by the way, that are fashionable today. Because it will reflect the color of the walls, a white ceiling will visually lower the room's height. To reduce an excessive degree of contrast between the horizontal and vertical surfaces, the ceiling can be tinted in whatever color has been applied to the walls. That can be achieved simply by introducing torchieres, or up-lighting, in the space. Adding at the top of the wall a decorative border or molding in a medium color will also help soften the sharp contrast.

Conversely, when a patterned wallpaper is used, painting the ceiling in a complementary color won't necessarily make the room look larger. For example, in the kitchen shown in the photo, the walls were covered in a mini-print from the Wall-Tex Country Open House collection. Its white background with a soft blue-and-yellow stripe-and-blossom design is complemented at the ceiling with a coordinated paper from the same collection. The blossom-patterned mini-print used on the ceiling was installed in a diagonal direction that helps to widen the space. Note, too, that a wallpaper border was affixed both below and above the wooden ceiling molding.

Such attention to details is hardly common in kitchens, or in other parts of the home, for that matter. But try imagining how this setting would look with a plain white ceiling. Some people might find it preferable, but I doubt that the room would look as finished as it does now.

Los Angeles Times Syndicate

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