FOCUSING ON THE ‘FIFTH WALL’
How changing the ceiling can transform rooms in your home
Most people, when transforming a space in their homes, tend to overlook the ceiling, but designers refer to it as the fifth wall and view a white ceiling as a missed opportunity to add character to a room.
“I rarely leave a ceiling white,” said the woman for whom Mélyssa Robert Designer is named. “At the very least I’ll paint it the same colour as the walls, to make it look and feel higher, but I also like to use wood and wallpaper because it’s a great way to add ambience to a room and give it a unique finishing touch.”
Interior designer Laura Garner, a teacher at Herzing College and a DIY enthusiast, agreed that ceilings tend to get short shrift. “It’s something that’s so often overlooked when it comes to interior design,” Garner said. “It’s the fifth wall, but 95 per cent of the time you look up and see a plain white ceiling.”
As for the options, “the easiest and least expensive thing to do is paint,” Robert said.
“The stronger the colour, the stronger the impact — so depending on your taste and the rest of the decor, anything is possible.”
Garner said she’s seen a lot of kids’ rooms with ceilings striped in alternating colours; she suggests alternating matte and glossy paints in the same colour for another interesting effect.
“If you don’t want to go so extreme, a really soft colour on the ceiling — like soft pink — looks great paired with white walls. It’s subtle but makes the whole room glow,” she said.
If you aren’t ready for colour but want to add a little luxury to your space, Garner suggests painting the ceiling with a white high-gloss lacquer.
Faux finishes are popular in ceilings right now, Robert said, especially ones that resemble concrete. Alternatively, for owners of new condos with concrete floors, she suggests using wood on the ceiling, to add warmth and character.
Wood panelling and/or beams can be installed in a variety of patterns to achieve a coffered or box beam effect. A coffered ceiling is a grid of squares, rectangles or octagons that are applied to look like beams. Box beam ceilings have hollow beams that are useful for lighting, wiring and pipes.
“The rustic farmhouse look, which is not easy to achieve in a condo in Montreal, can be done really easily by distressing wooden beams, staining them and boxing them out on the ceiling, to give it dimension,” Garner said.
“It’s an easy and quick way to make something new look more architecturally interesting.”
(The ceiling is) something that’s so often overlooked when it comes to interior design. It’s the fifth wall, but 95 per cent of the time you look up and see a plain white ceiling. LAURA GARNER
Mélyssa Robert said that, historically, ceilings were always decorative, with either woodwork or box beams, “but now that anything is possible, it’s funny that most people just stick with plain white Gyproc, which is really boring.”
To create a historic feel in a new home or condo, Laura Garner suggests getting a ceiling medallion which is lightweight, and available for under $50, and installing it with either silicone or glue.
“Add some crown mouldings to the mix and you’ve got something really interesting,” she said.
If you want to get really creative, said Robert, try using things like mirrors, an artist’s canvas, an enlarged image (like that of a sky) or even a patchwork of objects like licence plates and posters to achieve a one-of-a-kind effect. To bring the outdoors in, Garner recommends hanging glass-bulb lights on strings across the ceiling — the same way you would an outdoor terrace — to give the room a summery, boho vibe.
Wallpaper on the ceiling is great for what you can’t achieve with a stencil, Garner said, if you want more detail or dimension.
“The only thing I would say is get someone else to install it for you, because it isn’t easy,” she noted. “It’s a little pricier than other options but it creates a great effect, especially in smaller spaces like powder rooms.”
In addition to flat ceilings, there are also vaulted (or cathedral) ceilings which can be used to make a
room look bigger, as well as tray ceilings that are recessed.
And Robert pointed to Extenzo stretch ceilings, fake ceilings made from a synthetic material, as yet another option for the fifth wall — a place where, as she put it, “literally anything is possible.”
A bedroom with neutral walls and furnishings benefits from the contrast of crisp white crown moulding and trim, as well as a decorative pattern that frames the ceiling light fixture and adds visual interest to the so-called fifth wall.
A white ceiling need not be boring, as this photo illustrates. Wood panelling, painted a high-gloss white, echoes the painted rustic hardwood flooring and provides not just a visual interest but also a sense of continuity.
Adding wood to the ceiling, as in the case of the knotty pine in this photo, will increase the warmth and character of a space — especially in an open-concept condo with concrete or marble floors.
The easiest, least expensive way to highlight the ceiling is with paint, and “the stronger the colour, the stronger the impact,” said designer Mélyssa Robert.
A panelled ceiling adds architectural interest to this galley kitchen.
A light pink ceiling in a room with white walls makes “the whole room glow,” said interior designer Laura Garner