Interior Design Trends 2011: Painting, Molding, and Treating Ceilings as the Fifth Wall

When it comes to home interior design, ceilings are finally getting the treatments they deserve

When it comes to top interior design trends of 2011, things are looking up: Ceilings — now referred to as the fifth wall — are the latest focus for creating a complete, pulled-together look for homes. No longer ignored or left as a blank white canvas, ceilings are being incorporated in room design in a number of ways. Paint (in a variety of shades, patterns, and textures), crown moldings, medallions, tin tiles, even domes are all being used on ceilings as the finishing touch in a well-designed space. Although the concept isn’t exactly new — take Italy’s Sistine Chapel, for one dramatic example — the right look can add to the feeling of warmth, airiness, and overall character of a room.

“It’s been a longstanding design philosophy of mine to never leave a wall or ceiling white, unless I’m trying to achieve an ultramodern, contemporary, and monochromatic interior,” says Darron Andress, a designer at FW Interior Design in Wappingers Falls. Andress, who’s been with the company for 11 years, suggests that “most homeowners are so overwhelmed by choosing colors for the walls that they completely forget that the ceiling is indeed the ‘fifth wall,’ and requires attention to complete the look.”

It might seem intimidating to think of using bold colors or patterns overhead, but there are subtle, tasteful ways it can be done — as long as a few key principles are kept in mind. “There is no rule that the ceiling and wall should match, but the two should have a relationship to each other,” Andress explains. “The color or material you use on your ceiling should stay within the same hue or tonal value.” And when choosing moldings, plasters, or other textures, it’s best to make sure the material used pairs well with the other design elements within the space. What constitutes attractive design is, of course, subject to personal preference; a living room with a cozy cabin feel, however, would probably not blend well with a cool metallic ceiling. On the other hand, wooden fixtures — or a textured, faux paint job — might do wonders.

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painted domed ceiling in a library studyHeads up: A painted dome adds both warmth and drama to a large, multi-window library

It’s easy to imagine a soft, blue-sky motif on the ceiling of a child’s room; or a solid, neutral tone providing warmth to a den or family room. But Andress always suggests incorporating fifth-wall ornamentation in two locations within a house: the formal dining room and the master bedroom. “The dining room is the one room in the home that often can withstand a bit of design drama, and adding paint or a wall covering can often achieve that goal,” he says. “The master bedroom is the first and last thing most of us see every day; we wake up there and fall asleep there. If there’s one room in the home that can really affect our mood and lives, it’s the master bedroom.” Whether you prefer a serene feel in the bedroom or a vibrant, lively effect where you dine, one particular treatment for ceilings can provide the look: “A very hot trend clients are asking for these days is wall coverings,” Andress says. “Bold and large patterns, grass papers, and metal substrates are finding their way into residential applications.”

painted ceilingThe deep brown used on this dining room ceiling helps tie together the colors of the hardwood floor, Oriental carpet, and wall treatments

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And while certain materials can get a bit pricey, even those who are designing on a dime can find simple, wallet-friendly solutions that create a dramatic difference. Simply selecting a refreshing new hue is a great way to start. “In most cases, for less than $30, a splash of color with a gallon of paint and a roller can be your best bet,” says Andress. “Separating the line of demarcation between the wall and ceiling with crown molding is another wonderful solution by adding an architectural element.”

Homes with tray, vaulted, and cathedral ceilings can still maintain a sense of height and grandeur by deviating away from the plain white look, but high ceilings or large square footage aren’t necessary to make a beautiful impact. “If your ceiling is flat, a budget-sensitive way to add dimension is with the use of picture frame molding,” Andress explains. “Apply the molding in a grid pattern, or simply outline the shape of the ceiling. Painting the ceiling different colors on the outside and the inside of the molding adds an additional sense of style and drama.”

FW Interior Design
2781 W. Main St., Wappingers Falls. 845-632-3735;

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» Go to our Hudson Valley Home & Garden Guide

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