The Tale of Two Painted Ceilings (and Tips and Tricks for Getting It Right)
Many of you long-time readers will recall that Henry’s nursery and toddler room (way back in our North Carolina house) had a green ceiling. But after years of loathing it, I finally had it painted back to bright white. Re-painting the ceiling was annoying, hard work, and expensive, so I swore I’d never try the trend again. To this day, I still consider that painted ceiling one of my biggest design mistakes. And then…I painted Sam’s ceiling in our current home blue. This time however, it works SOOO well; and his nursery transformation remains one of my favorite room makeovers ever. So how do the two differ? Why does it work this time around? What should I have done differently the first time? The colored ceiling trend is still going strong lately, so read on to find out my tips for getting a painted ceiling right so you can save yourself the paint, backache, and regret of getting it wrong!
Getting It Wrong
For those of you not familiar with the room, here is Henry’s bedroom two houses ago. When we first moved in, I was chomping at the bit to transform every inch of that house…and boy, I sure did! Before moving in, I pinned and pinned and pinned ideas and fell very hard for the look of a colored ceiling. I thought a kid’s space was the perfect place to try it, so with the help of our friends, we painted his ceiling lime green.
However, after about a year, I really started to hate the ceiling and wished daily it was white. Finally, 6 months before moving out, I had it painted back to bright white because I just couldn’t take it anymore!
So where did I go wrong?
My first mistake was that I didn’t test paint colors AT ALL. Not anywhere throughout the house, and certainly not on the ceiling. I simply walked into The Home Depot…picked a bunch of paint swatches that appealed to me. Hemmed and hawed over them (on the swatches, not on the wall), and ultimately picked the one I liked and matched the fabrics in the room the best. At that time, I was crushing hard on lime green, and the color we chose was certainly that. It had very strong yellow undertones which ultimately did not work with the warmer, beige colors on the wall; and it also cast a putrid, sickly look onto everything in the room (people included!). Testing the paint colors in the room and on the ceiling would have allowed me to better anticipate how yellow/green and sickly the room would eventually feel!
I genuinely think my second mistake was that I used green on the ceiling because of that sickly glow I mentioned above. There might be a green paint out there that doesn’t cast a green tint onto everything in the room, but my quick research for green ceilings doesn’t quite convince me. In fact, the only rooms with green ceilings I could find that actually work are these three:
…and notice that each of them is tempered with a heavy dose of white. So while green may work in some rooms and homes, I’m not convinced it’s the best and most flattering ceiling color. If you’re really pining for a green ceiling, research hard to find the right shade, hue and saturation that doesn’t contaminate the rest of the space!
If you look closely at the picture of Henry’s green ceiling, you’ll notice there is a sheen to the finish. That is because I used eggshell-finish paint on the ceiling. Did you know that you’re not supposed to use glossy finishes on the ceiling? I didn’t. #butIdonow! Unless you are taking on some brave and bold design, you are typically supposed to use FLAT paint on the ceiling to reduce glare and reflection around the room. While I certainly think I got both the color (green) and the specific shade wrong, I can’t help but wonder if it would have been more tolerable had I used flat paint that didn’t act like a huge lime green mirror on our ceiling!
Because I was so frustrated by my green ceiling, I did quite a bit of “research” to figure out how and why I got it wrong. And when I say “research,” I mean comparing similar images on Pinterest. I determined that not only do you need to get the color and finish right, but there needs to be some sort of trim or moulding to help “frame out” the color. The intersection of where my green ceiling and beige walls met always felt unpolished and awkward. But if you look at some other sample images below, each and every one of them has crown moulding to help break-up the ceiling from the wall and showcase the color on the ceiling. I personally think distinct separation between the ceiling and walls is necessarily if you’re going to highlight your ceiling with color.
Getting It Right
So now that I’ve shown and explained how I got it wrong, let’s take a look at Sam’s current nursery, where I feel the blue painted ceiling works very, very well.
When I first designed the room, I had the wallpaper on the ceiling (to mimic a starry sky) and the paint on the walls. But as I played with it more, I realized that the overall design really did look better with the blue on the ceiling and stars on the wall. But since I “swore off” colored ceilings, I was hesitant to try again. When I came to the conclusion that the ceiling was the better place for the blue paint, I set about to remedy all the mistakes I made the first time around and the results have been so much sweeter!
So what worked this time around?
Test the paint! Although I shared in this post that the final blue color we used was a bit of a gamble, that gamble came after I had tested 4 samples that were very, very wrong (yet I was sure they would all work in the store!) I started just as I did before…I used my room design and fabrics to help narrow down choices at the hardware store. This time though, I brought a sample of each and painted some patches on both the upper wall AND the ceiling. Before the paint had even dried, I could tell I had gotten the colors all wrong – they were all way “too baby” blue and way too saturated. I’ve shared that picking paint colors is not one of my greatest strengths, so I ultimately chose to rely on the blue on our paint card that we’re using for our entire house. Since our current wall color is also represented on the card, I had some confidence it would work. I did choose to cut the color down with 50% white so it wasn’t so intense on the ceiling, which turned out to be a very well-paying gamble. Lesson learned: test your paint ON the surfaces you will be applying it and consider cutting the saturation by at least half!
Pick ceiling-friendly colors! I honestly don’t think I will ever again paint a ceiling green, but I was a little more willing to give it a go with blue because I’ve seen it done well over and over again. Here were just some of the rooms that gave me that gentle nudge to try it again.
In general, I think blues, pinks, and neutrals (greys, beiges, and even black!) work well on ceilings; and I would stick to softer, lighter, more pastel hues (except for black, obviously). Although I was able to find some rooms with bright, saturated ceilings that looked really great in photographs, I’m not convinced they didn’t cast a strong color “glow” on the rest of the room in real life. Testing the paint in your room will certainly help you decide what color and saturation is best with your floors, walls, and available light, but I just caution that you be very aware of how pervasive the color on the ceiling can be throughout the room and on the people in it!
Use FLAT paint. Period.
I don’t want to say “only try painted ceilings when you have some trim to help set it off,” but based on my own experience and “research,” I’ve done…I really, really recommend painting your ceiling ONLY if your room has crown moulding or some sort of other trim that helps set off and showcase the ceiling color. The moulding in Sam’s room is about 24″ from the ceiling. Truth be told, the trim actually looked really random with the original wall color and worked SO much better once the ceiling and top of the wall were painted a consistent color (even BEFORE the installation of the wallpaper).
You can certainly give a painted ceiling a go without trim, but adding trim or painting to the trim that is already there, will give the painted ceiling a more distinct and complete look.
Pair a colored ceiling with neutral walls and flooring. I think another reason why the blue ceiling worked so well in this room (and the other rooms I showcased here) is that it contrasted so beautifully with the bright white walls and neutral carpet on the floor. If you want/have colored walls and/or a bright, multi-colored rug on the floor, color on the ceiling might not be the best choice. As designers would say: “your eye needs a place to rest.” If you add color on the ceiling, be sure to keep other large elements in the room a little more neutral. This not only keeps the room from being too overwhelming and busy, but also allows your colored ceiling to really shine!
One of the best parts of moving so frequently is that I get to make some really fun (and bold!) design choices and learn from them. There have been things I’ve done that I can’t wait to do again in our next or forever home; but there are also things that I’ve “been there, done that, don’t need to try it again.” Having so many different homes to decorate and un-decorate truly allows me to examine why things work in one space and not the other, and also gives me (many!) new opportunities to get it right. I hope you enjoyed this “tour” of various painted ceilings and you find my tips and tricks helpful! I’d love to hear if you like the painted ceiling trend, have tried it in your home, and what you’ve found the be a “safe” combination when adding color to your ceilings?!?
Thanks for your patience as I slow roll back into the blogging groove after the holidays! Project reveals will (finally!) start coming your way this Friday! See you then!