With an embellished ceiling, things will be looking up

Cosmetic changes overhead can give rooms a new look

May 12, 2002|By Michael Walsh | By Michael Walsh,Universal Press Syndicate

Pitched, arched, domed, coffered, trussed or beamed, a shapely ceiling can be a refreshing -- and impressive -- alternative to a flat and featureless overhead surface. If you're planning a new home or a major remodel of an old one, incorporating an "articulated" ceiling can add high-altitude drama and substantial architectural interest.

But there are several cosmetic ceiling treatment options that require few if any structural changes. Even these seemingly minor improvements can exert a powerful visual influence on a room, and at a relatively low cost.

Putting up a deep crown molding around the room where the walls and ceiling meet, for example, can add instant elegance and classic architectural character to an unadorned and boxy room.

Aptly named, crown molding comes in more than 300 classic, shapely profiles and in either wood or rigid polystyrene. Most are 4 to 6 inches deep, but by stacking several shapes and widths you can build up a crown molding to any size you want.

Typically the largest and most elaborate crown moldings are reserved for a home's largest rooms. But installing a stacked, overscaled molding in a small room can have an enormous decorative impact and even make the space seem larger.

Putting up a ceiling medallion to make the most of a chandelier or ceiling fan can be another fast fix that doesn't require any structural alterations to an existing ceiling. Resembling vintage ornamental plasterwork, ceiling medallions usually are made of rigid foam these days and come in dozens of styles and in diameters ranging from 5 to 32 inches.

Medallions are available through most home improvement stores or lumberyards. Installation requires nothing more complex than glue and maybe a couple of screws.

Only slightly more complicated, in terms of installation, are ready-made rigid foam minicoffers. These domelike elements are convex in shape, typically 4 to 6 feet in diameter, and are recessed into the center of a ceiling, often directly above a chandelier. A hole the same circumference of the coffer will have to be cut in the ceiling and the structural framing above will have to be cut and braced. A competent carpenter can do the job in less than a day.

If you prefer rustic over refined, consider putting up some "boxed" beams. These nonstructural elements approximate the look of solid-wood beams but are typically three-sided channels made of 1-by-6 or 1-by-8 boards that are attached to the ceiling.

Boxed beams can run parallel to each other, leaving wide paths of ceiling exposed, or they can be installed in a tic-tac-toe fashion to achieve the effect of a coffered ceiling. Like solid wood beams, boxed beams create an optical illusion that makes a space feel more intimate while at the same time boosting its stature. The bottoms of the beams visually lower the ceiling, but the eye perceives the spaces between the beams as higher than it would if the beams were not there.

Simply painting a ceiling a color different from the walls -- peach, pink, pale blue, butter yellow -- can dramatically alter the character of a room.

Using a high-gloss paint or transparent glaze can give a ceiling a translucent, reflective look that can make a low ceiling seem higher.

By contrast, bringing the ceiling color down on the walls 12 to 18 inches can help visually lower a too-high ceiling. If it's coziness you're after, don't rule out painting the ceiling a darker color -- sage green, gray, rust, even cranberry.

No matter how you pull it off, lavishing some attention on a ceiling can pay dividends by transforming a taken-for-granted surface into a decorative high point that can boost a featureless room's lagging spirits.

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