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PVC Rosette Patern Ceiling Tiles By La Scala

Tin Ceilings

Photo by Jack Thompson

A plain white ceiling hardly rates a cursory glance. But cover it with richly patterned metal panels, and instantly it becomes an eye-catching feature.

Tin ceilings originated in the 1880s as an affordable way for people to dress up a room's fifth wall. Tin was not only an aesthetic upgrade, meant to emulate high-end decorative plaster, it also offered a measure of fire protection—a big concern at a time when home cooking, lighting, and heating were largely done with open flames. The 2-by-2- and 2-by-4-foot panels were originally stamped out of steel and called "steel ceilings." It wasn't until later, when the raw steel panels were plated in tin to help slow down rusting, that the colloquial term tin ceilings arose.

Today, most panels are made of 30-gauge tin-plated steel a mere 1/100 inch thick. Incredibly, many historic patterns are still sold some 70 years after tin's heyday came to an end. But now you have a wider choice of factory finishes and colors, and more DIY-friendly ways to install the panels.

Shown: 2-by-2-foot field panels in Butterfly Needlepoint pattern No. 2410, about $10 per panel; No. EC0400 Duchess cornice, about $2.50 per linear foot; and No. 2400 Hammered filler, about $2.50 per square foot, all aluminum in mill finish. Available from M-Boss

Anatomy of a Tin Ceiling

Photo by Jack Thompson

A metal ceiling is actually a system of closely matched components.

Field Panels: Cover the center of the ceiling.

Filler: Creates a low-profile border around field panels.

Cornice: Marks the transition from ceiling to wall.

Vitals

Photo by Kolin Smith

How much do they cost? Simple, unfinished stamped-steel panels start at about $2 per square foot. Ornate ones with hand-painted finishes or panels made from copper can go for up to $17 per square foot.

DIY or hire a pro? If you have the patience and time to do a careful job, the panels are not difficult to install. But if speed is a priority, call a finish carpenter.

What are your finish options? Panels come unfinished or with factory-applied paint or clear polyurethane, or are plated in metals, such as brass.

Where to use them? Besides covering ceilings, tin panels can also be used for wainscoting, backsplashes, cabinet-door recesses, fireplace surrounds, even mirror frames.

How Much to Buy

Use this formula to estimate how many panels (most are 2 by 2 feet) you'll need for your room. Work directly with a supplier for an exact figure based on your particular design and layout.

Material: Steel

Photo by Mark Weiss

The original and still most widely used material. Typically plated with tin, it has to be coated with paint or polyurethane to prevent rust. It can also be plated with other metals, such as brass or copper, which may not require a top coat. Starts at $2 per square foot.

Shown: No. 314 in tin plate, about $2.60 per square foot; available from Classic Ceilings

Material: Aluminum

Photo by Mark Weiss

It's about half the weight of steel, making it the lightest metal option. Like steel, it needs a coating of polyurethane, paint, or anodizing to prevent corrosion. Starts at about $1.75 per square foot.

Shown: Drop-in Metallaire Large Floral Circle with anodized brass finish, about $9.50 per square foot; available from Armstrong

Material: Stainless Steel

Photo by Mark Weiss

Needs no coating to maintain its luster. Good for kitchen backsplashes and porch or bathroom ceilings. Secures with stainless cone-head nails.Starts at $3 per square foot.

Shown: No. 207, about $9 per square foot; available from Classic Ceilings

Material: Copper

Photo by Mark Weiss

Naturally develops a patina if left unfinished. To keep it shiny, coat with polyurethane. Good for backsplashes, exterior uses, and in humid bathrooms. Use only with copper nails. Starts at $5.80 per square foot.

Shown: Savannah Square No. 509, about $8 per square foot; available from Standard Tinsmith Supply

Alternatives to Metal

Photo by Mark Weiss

Mineral Fiber: Made of recycled newspapers, mineral wool, and starch, these embossed 1-by-1-foot tongue-and-groove tiles go up with staples shot into furring strips, or with adhesive if the ceiling is smooth enough. Can be painted to resemble metal. Better than metal at absorbing sound; not recommended for wet areas, such as bathrooms. Less than $2 per square foot.

Mineral fiber shown: TinTile No. 1240, TinLook ceiling tiles, about $1.60 per square foot; available from Armstrong

PVC: At just a couple of ounces per square foot, these 2-by-2-foot molded-plastic panels weigh next to nothing. Glue them up or place them in a drop-ceiling grid. They're impervious to moisture and can be painted. Not suitable for high-heat areas, such as a backsplash behind a stove. Starting at about $1 per square foot.

PVC shown: No. 210 in antique copper, about $2.25 per square foot; available from Decorative Ceiling Tiles

Style: Greek Revival

Photo by Mark Weiss

Pattern: No. 2710, with an egg-and-dart border, has a coffered relief that works only with a drop-ceiling grid.

Finish: Tin plate

Price: about $5.50 per square foot; available from W. F. Norman Corporation

Eastlake

Photo by Mark Weiss

Pattern: The wreath detail on No. 6-02 repeats every 6 inches, making it ideal for narrow backsplashes.

Finish: Distressed paint

Price: about $10 per square foot; available from Tin Ceilings by the Tin Man

Colonial

Photo by Mark Weiss

Pattern: The drop-in Metallaire Wreath has a laurel leaf motif fit for a range of Early Classical Revival–style homes.

Finish: Anodized copper

Price: about $9.50 per square foot; available from Armstrong

Baroque

Photo by Mark Weiss

Pattern: Best for large expanses, No. 50 reveals an ornate medallion when four panels intersect.

Finish: Tin plate

Price: about $8 per square foot; available from Brian Greer's Tin Ceilings, Walls and Unique Metal Work

Queen Anne

Photo by Ted Morrison

Pattern: No. 2's circle-and-leaf motif repeats every 12 inches.

Finish: Patinated copper plate with polyurethane

Price: about $10.50 per square foot; available from American Tin Ceiling

Art Deco

Photo by Mark Weiss

Pattern: No. 280 has a faceted, jewellike design reminiscent of the spire on the iconic Chrysler Building.

Finish: Tin plate

Price: about $5.50 per square foot; available from W. F. Norman Corporation

Craftsman

Photo by Mark Weiss

Pattern: The boxy design of the drop-in Metallaire Medium Panel would be right at home in a bungalow.

Finish: White paint

Price: about $4.50 per square foot; available from Armstrong

Tudor

Photo by Mark Weiss

Pattern: The diamonds, lobes, and crests of No. 500 have a rich Elizabethan look.

Finish: Antiqued copper plate

Price: about $15 per square foot; available from Classic Ceilings

Enhancements: Cornice

Photo by Mark Weiss

These curved 4-foot lengths offer a more dramatic look than wood crown molding. Choose a pattern that echoes details in the field panels. Widths range from 1½ to 24 inches. On ceilings less than 9 feet high, keep the width to 6 inches or less.

Shown: No. 906 in tin-plated steel, 6½ inches, about $3.15 per linear foot; available from Standard Tinsmith Supply

Enhancements: Molding

Photo by Mark Weiss

Covers and highlights the joint between the filler strip and the field panels.

Shown: Egg-and-Dart, 4⅓ by 48 inches in copper-painted steel, about $6.50 per linear foot; available from Armstrong

Enhancements: Medallion

Photo by Mark Weiss

Add a focal point to the center of a ceiling with a high-relief medallion. To hang a light fixture from it, cut out the center and run the wires through.

Shown: No. 162 in tin-plated steel, 2 by 2 feet, about $5.50 per square foot; available from W. F. Norman Corporation

Enhancements: Filler

Photo by Mark Weiss

These 2-by-4-foot sections have low-relief patterns to minimize gaps where the fillers or field panels meet the cornice.

Shown: No. 101I in tin-plated steel, about $8 per square foot; available from Brian Greer's Tin Ceilings, Walls and Unique Metal Work

Where to Use Them: Ceiling

Photo by courtesy of Armstrong

The higher and larger it is, the bigger the pattern you can use. Rooms smaller than 12 by 12 feet look best with a 6- or 12-inch repeat.

Shown: Drop-ceiling Metallaire Hammered Border in aluminum with anodized copper finish, about $9.50 per square foot; available from Armstrong

Where to Use Them: Backsplash

Photo by Nathan Kirkman

Six-inch patterns fit nicely in the 18-inch swath between upper and lower cabinets. Materials such as stainless steel or copper, or a factory finish such as powder-coat paint, stand up to water and heat.

Shown: No. 200 and No. 201 in tin-plated steel, about $4 per square foot; available from W. F. Norman Corporation

Where to Use Them: Walls

Photo by Mark Samu

Metal makes a bold statement no wallpaper can match. Select a low-relief pattern and install the panels over ¼-inch plywood. When mounted beneath a chair rail, tin creates a distinctive wainscot.

Shown: No. 210 in painted steel, about $3.70 per square foot; available from Classic Ceilings

Where to Use Them: Planter

Photo by Kristine Larsen

Vintage tin is ideal for small projects where you don't need much matching material. And it's already rusty, so you don't have to worry about using it outdoors. For this planter, the metal wraps around a box made of pressure-treated plywood.

Starts at about $5 per square foot at salvage yards.

Get step-by-step instructions on how to build the planter shown here.

Where to Use Them: Frame

Photo by coutesy Olde Good Things

Molded around a wood frame, tin adds an antique touch to a mirror or artwork. Make your own frame or let salvage shop Olde Good Things do all the work.

Tin-framed mirrors start at about $110; available from Olde Good Things

Three Ways to DIY

Photo by Kolin Smith

1. Nail up. With this traditional installation method, shown at left, panels are fastened to either ⅜-inch plywood or a gridwork of 1x3 furring strips, screwed to the ceiling joists. You can hammer in cone-head nails or shoot in 18-gauge brads with a pneumatic nailer. Dimples on the panels indicate where to drive the fasteners.

2. Tongue-and-groove. Screw the panel's flanges directly to drywall or plaster, then slide the adjacent panels' tongues into the grooves. Available only from American Tin Ceiling's SnapLock line; available from American Tin Ceiling.

3. Drop-in. A metal grid, suspended from the ceiling by wires, supports the edges of each panel; no fasteners required. This method subtracts at least 3 inches from the ceiling height, but it accommodates deep, coffered panels and can cover unsightly ducts, pipes, and soffits. Grid and hanger wires are not included in panel prices.

TOH Pro Tip: "For a pleasing layout, and to avoid awkward cuts at the ends, always work from the center of the ceiling out. Snap two chalk lines: one that bisects the ceiling's length and one that bisects its width. Use the point where the lines intersect as your starting spot." —Tom Silva, TOH general contractor

DIY Finishes

Photo by Nathan Kirkman

Raw steel and tin-plated panels must be coated with paint or polyurethane soon after they're installed, to prevent rust. First, clean the surface with denatured alcohol. Then, if painting, brush, roll, or spray on an oil-based, rust-inhibiting primer followed by at least one coat of oil or latex paint. If you want to play up the metal's silvery appearance, apply two coats of an oil-based poly instead. For humid bathrooms, make sure to coat the back of the panels before installing them.

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