Don’t forget about the fifth wall

When I assist people in selecting colors for their walls, I remind them not to forget about the one area of the room that will not get foot traffic and is hidden in plain sight– their ceilings. A ceiling is sometimes called the fifth wall in a room because of its decorating impact on the space.

In Living Color

Paint or designs on ceilings are nothing new. In Victorian homes, ceilings were often very colorful and varied room by room. Expansive and ornate murals can be seen worldwide throughout history.

Years ago, I had the opportunity to work with clients who had amazing art-deco styled murals throughout their home, on the ceilings, up the wall and above their stairs. They had wonderful art on the walls, but the fifth wall was a major focal point. You may not have ceilings with murals, but you may want to explore the possibilities of letting your ceiling add to your décor.

Today, featuring ceilings is applicable for all types of architecture and styles. No matter what the style, there are universal factors that need to be taken into account. These include size of the room, decorating style, amount of natural light, architectural features and personal taste.

Color 101

As a reminder, cool colors are greens, blues, purples and everything in between. These colors tend to recede. Warm colors are reds, oranges and yellows. These colors appear to be closer. Consider this when selecting colors. Some colors to consider are sky blue, soft green, pale peach, butter yellow, warm tans or blush pink. I especially like blue because it reminds me of the sky.

When size does matter

Ceiling paint colors can visually alter the size of a room. Vaulted white ceilings tend to make a room appear cold and bare. Applying a paint color that’s at least two or three shades darker than the existing wall color helps to “shrink” the visual size of a room. Painting a large, well lit room in a neutral color such as light taupe or gray can create a space that is prefect for a punch of color or an accent wall on the ceiling.

When it comes to small rooms, most people fear that a dark paint color will be claustrophobic, but in fact, it can be cozier. Also, in pass-through areas such as hallways and foyers, you can create spaces that are visually inspiring.

Light source

What can be challenging is selecting a color for both your walls and ceilings and not having enough light. In many historic homes, there might have been sconces and an overhead light in dining rooms, but the room can get dark at night. Be sure to have layers of lighting such as can lights, up lights or torchiere floor lamps, sconces and the ambient lighting of table lamps. Dark ceiling and wall colors can work very well as long as there is abundant light. Lighting is one of the keys to selecting the right color for you. Of course, natural lighting is always a plus.

Before you ace out white

There are times when white is the best choice. However, if you have ever looked for a white, you know there are hundreds of whites from which to choose. Whites do have undertones, so there are cool and warm whites. The white you select doesn’t need to be a stark white. Whichever white you select, it will act as a neutral so your attention focuses on the walls and furnishings. A white ceiling offsets intense bold wall colors. It allows the walls to look crisp and sharp and the ceiling to look higher.

If the walls are pale (making the room look larger), a white ceiling opens up the space even more. When a room gets very little light, a white ceiling helps boost the illumination by reflecting the light that is available in the space.

Stopping/starting ceiling color

You can also make the walls and ceiling the same color, which makes it easier to stop and start the color. In a room with walls that angle sharply to the ceiling but offer more headspace than a traditional attic, extend the wall color onto the angled walls up to the flat part of the ceiling. This will keep the room from feeling cramped. In historic homes, you will often find picture railings about two thirds up the wall. You can also add a chair rail to work as a visual picture rail, or at hip height to act as a wainscotting, painting the lower half a darker hue than the top. The best way to determine where a color stops and starts is whenever one flat surface meets another.

An elegant look

There are many ways to give the room an elegant look. You can make the ceiling and crown molding the same color but with a different sheen. Or you can select a wall color and make the ceiling either darker or lighter than the wall color. This makes the crown molding stand out. However, if you want to feature the crown molding and other trim, you can paint them with a contrasting color. Highlighting the trim accents the architecture and calls attention to the shape of the space.

Exploring other scenarios

• When it comes to wallpaper, match the background of the wallpaper, especially if there is no white in the paper. Otherwise it will look like primer on the ceiling.
• Please do not ignore coffered or tray ceilings when painting the walls. It is such a great architectural feature. I love how painting a step down of the same color family creates depth. Also, introducing a contrasting color that is visually the same value and is used in other areas of the room creates interest. For example. If you had soft butter-colored walls and green furniture or décor, you could make the tray ceiling a soft green.
• Feature beams– what a great way to lead the eye upward. You can paint them brown or in a complementary color used elsewhere in the room.
• Attics can either be painted one color for all the walls and ceilings. Or to add drama, paint the ceilings one color and the walls a contrasting or darker color.
• I remember a client who had great plastered ceilings. In the dining room and entry, there was a basketweave pattern and also some beautiful ceiling medallions. To make features such as these stand out, paint them either darker or lighter than the color around them.
• More and more of my clients want to add interest to their ceilings by installing beadboard and beams for a beachy, casual look– and also tin ceilings to create a vintage, cozy feel.
One important thing
Whether you select white or a color for your ceiling, be sure to integrate the color in areas such as carpeting, furniture, woodwork, curtains and other decorative accessories in the same color. For continuity and harmony, the eye looks for a repeat of the same color.
Now that things are looking up, enjoy your space from all angles.

Shoshanah Siegel provides color consulting as well as space planning, remodeling, upgrading and staging through her firm Your Color Diva. She can be contacted at (562) 427-0440 or at shoshanah.siegel@gmail.com . Samples of her work can be found at houzz.com/pro/shoshanahsiegel/your-color-diva. Siegel has received two badges for “customer satisfaction” on Houzz.

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