Appealing Ceilings: Designing this Oft-Overlooked Space in Your Home

Each week, Mansion Global tackles a topic with an elite group of designers from around the world who work on luxury properties. This week, we explored statement ceilings.

The ceiling is an oft-forgotten canvas. 

“A statement ceiling will draw the eye up, which is one of the best-known designer tricks for creating a space that visually engages,” said Mandy Gregory of Hunter Carson Design in Manhattan Beach, California. “It creates a feeling of a truly finished and polished space when ‘the fifth wall’ is given bespoke consideration.” 

For all the inspiration overhead, follow these tips from the design pros. 

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Consider the Architecture

“Statement ceilings are great for an open-plan home where it’s important to delineate space without walls. A ceiling can effectively ‘niche’ a specific space to the eye while offering uninterrupted sightlines. They’re also ideal in small rooms to expand the sense of space. Taking patterned wallpaper to the ceiling in a small bedroom, for example, instantly elevates and expands the feeling of the room. 

“Another approach is to use patterned wood. This is a subtle way to highlight the ceiling without detracting from other design elements. Reclaimed woods set in a chevron pattern or beams bring depth and richness to a space. 

“Keep in mind, the ceiling is going to take a lot of visual attention. So, if you want the view to be the star of a space, don’t use lots of color or busy patterns in other parts of the room. If it’s a room where there is no view, a patterned ceiling can be the star of the space. But keep the rest of the room mostly pattern-free and neutral. 

“Very tall ceilings will need larger patterns. If you’re doing inlaid wood, for instance, make sure the wood has a width and weight that won’t get lost. In rooms with lower ceilings, lighter colors and patterns are preferred. We love to extend the ceiling pattern onto a roller shade for a truly bespoke feel. A lot of wallpapers come with a matching textile.” 

A chevron wood ceiling adds texture above in a room designed by Mandy Gregory.

Kyle J Jenkins

— Mandy Gregory of Hunter Carson Design in Manhattan Beach

Make a Statement

“Some of my favorite options for statement ceilings include fabric, wallpaper, paint, tile and wood. Adding details like beams and coffers can also mask imperfections and architectural challenges.  

“Determine where your high-traffic areas are, such as a family room, for example, so a detailed ceiling will be truly appreciated. I love to do a statement ceiling in an entry foyer. While often overlooked, it’s the first glimpse into your home.

“The height of the ceiling is important, too. If the ceilings are very low, adding drama may be too much. On the other hand, depending on the application you use, like metallic paint, for example, you can create the illusion of depth and draw the eye up. 

“Don’t be afraid to be bold. I have done it all—including cutting up beautiful wall coverings to arrange in a geometric pattern on ceilings.”  

Wallcoverings create a unique design element overhead in a bedroom designed by Phillip Thomas.

Michael Mundy

— Phillip Thomas founder and principal of Phillip Thomas Inc. in New York City

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Let It Set the Tone

“A well-designed ceiling immediately makes a room feel luxurious. For a recent kitchen project, I continued limewash paint onto the ceiling and added decorative dark beams to make the room feel cozy and grounded.  

“Exposed beams and joists painted ivory can keep the energy in the room lofty and light filled.  

Stepped crown molding that echoes the aesthetic of a space makes it feel elevated but still approachable and casual. 

“Another way to add interest without too much construction or cost is by adding a medallion around the main light fixture. This helps ground the fixture and infuse more personality into the room.” 

A bedroom designed by Naomi Gibson looks bespoke thanks to a beamed ceiling.

Michael P.H. Clifford

— Naomi Gibson of Gibson House design in Los Angeles

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Think About the Room Itself

“Painting the ceiling, walls and baseboards the same color is a beautiful way to create a bold, monochromatic statement. Plaster is one of my favorite ceiling treatments. It’s a great way to soften the room without being too loud. 

“Beams are a great way to warm up a large space or a room with high, vaulted ceilings. Added to a lower ceiling, they can close the space. We also love coffered ceilings, which can bring out the original character of the home.”   

— Sapna Aggarwal of Bungalowe design in Los Angeles

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Create Balance

“Whatever you do has to be in balance with the overall architecture and design. If you have a low ceiling (less than eight feet) and want it to feel more expansive, opt for a mirrored finish with high-gloss paint or lacquer. The reflectivity magnifies the light and gives the illusion of a larger space with higher ceilings. Gold and silver leafing can also do this trick.

“Treating your walls and ceiling the same makes the space cohesive, whether it’s all one paint color, wallpaper or hand-painted decoration. This way, you are not focused on where things end or begin.”

Watercolor ceilings created by Caroline Lizarraga continue the artistry of the walls.

Nicole Fuller

— San Francisco-based decorative artist Caroline Lizarraga 

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Think About the Overall Goal 

“Are you aiming to break up a large area and define seating zones? Will it be a quiet space where you want the design to take on a more benign role?  

“In larger rooms, I often use the ceiling to help demarcate different areas within the overall space. You can wallpaper one part and use architectural details in others. In spaces with low ceilings, iridescent ceiling paint and intentional lighting create verticality for the eye.  

“You can’t have every surface competing for visual attention. If you’re drawing attention to the ceiling, the floors should be quieter, perhaps with a solid textural rug.”  

A beautiful pattern creates interest above in a room designed by Robin Gannon.

Michael J. Lee

— Lexington, Massachusetts-based designer Robin Gannon

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