Things are finally looking up for ceilings. As we're staying put in our homes, the fifth wall is getting attention.
For decades, ceilings have been ignored blank canvases and missed opportunities. But that's never been the case in Sally Hilkene's Mission Hills, Kan., home.
The interior designer's music room already had ceiling details, but Hilkene darkened and distressed the corbels to really play them up. And then there's her dining room, inspired by an Italian monastery's version of the heavens, with hand-painted Latin terms for sunsets and her three sons' birthdates.
But the piece de resistance is the family room Hilkene added to the home. Wooden beams accentuate the cathedral ceiling. The focal point of the room is a salvaged 15th century Italian ceiling as wall art with eyebrow windows to let in light.
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"Don't we spend most of our lives sitting or lying down?" asks Hilkene, owner of Churchill clothing and home fashion stores in the Kansas City area. "So why shouldn't ceilings be interesting? They can tell our personal stories, our family histories and even our fantasies, taking us away and bringing us peace."
Hilkene's story is clearly about her love of Europe. With clients, she plays therapist to project their interests and dreams through design. And that isn't limited to the walls, furniture and decor. Using overhead space, one client's ceiling creates the feeling of sitting under a cherry blossom tree.
"Maybe my need to make the ceilings pretty comes from growing up in a four-poster tester bed with draperies, and I'd stare at the fabrics and folds above me," she said. "I use thick crown molding to play ceilings up. It doesn't have to be super expensive; you can put together two trim pieces."
Interior designer Becky Mosby of Edgevale Interiors also appreciates ceilings with charm and character. Her store's powder room ceiling is papered with a red Jaima Brown wallpaper, adding a rich layer to an already opulent room with gold-and-silver cabinetry and black draperies.
"It's comforting while still adding a pop of color," Mosby said. Still, she concedes that when you wallpaper or paint the ceiling in a dark color, you'll need more lighting. The tiny-but-tall bathroom contains four light fixtures.
Mosby, an architectural history buff, has worked on homes that were among some of Kansas City's first showpieces, including Janssen Place in Hyde Park. She loves the fish-scale plaster ceilings made by master craftsmen in the late 1800s.
Artist Devon Himes of Kansas City, who works with paint and plaster, creates interesting ceilings using old and new methods. One coffered ceiling in a Colorado project featured rosettes made of barn wood accented with lichen, silvering and baked-off paint. Another ceiling project featured a tortoise-shell pattern.
"People have been coming around from the plain white ceiling because they do really complete the space," Himes said. "But they're tricky. They reflect everything around them."
Modern furniture maker Jason Milford of S(Lab) in Kansas City wanted the interior character of his Midtown brick duplex, built in 1905, to live up to its interesting exterior, featuring a terracotta roof. He started with the ceilings.
In the dining room, Milford used Lincrusta, a British wall covering invented in 1877, heralded as the first washable wall covering. It appealed to Victorians who liked its durability and ornate effects. The name comes from Lin for linum (flax, from which linseed oil is made) and Crusta (relief).
Before choosing Lincrusta, Milford also considered Anaglypta, invented in the 1880s as a flexible alternative to Lincrusta. Anaglypta is made of wood pulp and cotton, and like Lincrusta, the textured pattern can be painted.
"The Anaglypta looked like dot-matrix printing compared to Lincrusta, which has a deeper pattern," Milford said.
Working with the deeply embossed Lincrusta was challenging. Each of the four rolls weighed 40 pounds. It also required more trimming and cutting than he expected.
"Next time, I'd definitely hire a professional wallpaper hanger," said Milford, who estimates he spent $800 in materials. "Still, people love it. When they see it, they say 'Oh, my.' "
Milford's bedroom ceiling uses wooden ship lap in random widths. The effect is modern and interesting. "I like the idea of living in a space," Milford said. "Not a box."
Pointers for prettier ceilings
* Start with good tools: a strong ladder, the right tape and ergonomic brushes.
* Popcorn ceilings? No problem. You don't have to scrape and skim coat them if your time and budget won't allow. A matte finish in a deep shade will minimize the textured effect.
* Don't use gloss paints unless your ceiling is in excellent condition. If it is, it's an excellent look.
* A lighter color than the walls makes them look taller. That includes tinted whites and cool blues and greens. Black and near black also create a more expansive effect. Warm colors make the room come down, like a hug.
* A trick for making a tall room feel cozier: Paint the ceiling a different color from the walls, and bring that ceiling color down 3 feet or so into the walls.
* Use a color that varies from the walls and trim. Martha Stewart Living for Home Depot takes away guesswork by suggesting ceiling and trim colors for its wall-color paint chips.