How to Install a Ceiling Medallion

Add a touch of fancy to any living space

ceiling medallion

If you would like to add a touch of the baroque to your home without going all broke, consider putting up a ceiling medallion. A decorative disk centered overhead can turn a plain expanse of drywall into an architectural focal point. And luckily, what was once made from heavy, fragile plaster is now available in molded polyurethane—lightweight, more forgiving, and much easier on the wallet. As This Old House senior technical editor Mark Powers shows on the following pages, installing a medallion means little more than a morning on a ladder with a tube of construction adhesive. Add a nice chandelier to the equation and your abode will start to feel downright fancy. (Just resist the urge to start dancing a minuet.)


Steps // How to Install a Ceiling Medallion
1 ×

Ceiling Medallion Overview

 
Step One // How to Install a Ceiling Medallion

Ceiling Medallion Overview

Ceiling Medallion Overview
Illustration by Gregory Nemec

The right ceiling medallion is as much about size as it is about style. After you've picked out a piece that won't look too ornate or too simple next to your room's other moldings—or the light fixture that will hang from it—buy it in a size that is in proportion to the room. A good rule of thumb is to divide the square footage of your room by 7 to get a rough diameter for your medallion.

But there are other factors to take into account. A medallion should be about the same diameter as the light fixture that will hang under it, but it can be smaller than a fan. A room with high ceilings can support a larger medallion because it will look well proportioned from farther away. Test different sizes by taping cardboard cutouts to your ceiling and standing back to see how each looks.

Most medallions on the market are polyurethane foam, even those labeled "plaster." (You have to read the fine print to discover that they are not, in fact, real plaster.) Foam medallions go up quickly and simply, with adhesive caulk and some finish screws. But beware: If you do have a real plaster medallion, this installation will not work because the plaster is too heavy for the adhesive caulk.

Traditionally, medallions pair with a chandelier. Their original purpose was to protect the ceiling from candle burns. To install one with a light fixture, the medallion must have a hole in the middle to allow access to the electrical wiring in the ceiling. The hole should be large enough to let you get at the entire junction box but small enough that the decorative plate, or canopy, of the light fixture will hide it. Some medallions come with the hole, but if yours doesn't already have one you can cut one with a drywall saw. You may also have to get a longer threaded nipple, the bolt from which the fixture hangs, to clear the thickness of the medallion. Then, once the medallion itself is prepped and the electrical hookup is ready to go, installing it is a simple matter of sticking it to the ceiling and connecting the light.

 
2 ×

Clean the ceiling

 
Step Two // How to Install a Ceiling Medallion

Clean the ceiling

clean the ceiling with an abrasive sponge
Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Turn off power to the light fixture at the breaker box and remove the old fixture.

Using dishwashing soap and a sponge, clean the ceiling around the fixture location to remove dust, dirt, and debris. If necessary, scrape away chipped paint or caulk from the old fixture with a putty knife.

TIP: Always treat electrical wires as if they are live, and keep the ends protected with wire nuts as you work.

 
3 ×

Mark the medallion for cutting

 
Step Three // How to Install a Ceiling Medallion

Mark the medallion for cutting

mark the ceiling medallion for cutting with a pencil
Photo by Wendell T. Webber

If your medallion does not already have a center hole, or if the hole is not big enough to allow access to the junction box in the ceiling, cut a new one. Center the fixture's decorative cover plate, or canopy, on the face of the medallion. Lightly draw four reference marks around the edge of the canopy.

 
4 ×

Mark the medallion for cutting

 
Step Four // How to Install a Ceiling Medallion

Mark the medallion for cutting

ceiling, medallion, compass, scribe
Photo by WEndell T. Webber

Set the canopy aside. Using a compass, draw a circle about ½ inch inside the reference marks.

TOH TIP: Keep a pure rubber "dry sponge" or an artist's eraser handy to clean up scuff marks on the medallion or the ceiling.

 
5 ×

Cut the center hole

 
Step Five // How to Install a Ceiling Medallion

Cut the center hole

cut the ceiling medallion center hole
Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Using a drill/driver with a 3/8-inch paddle bit, drill a hole inside the circle. Insert the blade of a drywall saw into the hole and carefully cut along the marked circle.

Using a piece of medium-grit sandpaper, smooth the inside edge of the circular cutout.

 
6 ×

Dry fit the assembly

 
Step Six // How to Install a Ceiling Medallion

Dry fit the assembly

dry fit the ceiling medallion assembly
Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Hold the medallion in place so that it's centered over the electrical box. Be sure that you can access the wires and the screw holes for the box's hanging hardware through the hole. Enlarge the hole with sandpaper if necessary.

 
7 ×

Test assembly before painting

 
Step Seven // How to Install a Ceiling Medallion

Test assembly before painting

test the ceiling medallion assembly before painting
Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Check that the threaded bolt (the nipple), which connects the fixture to the hanging plate attached to the junction box (the mounting bar), is long enough to reach from the junction box to the fixture with the medallion in place. Temporarily screw the nipple into the mounting bar. Then hold the medallion against the ceiling while screwing the fixture's canopy to the nipple, making sure you can tighten it on securely.

Remove the medallion and paint it to match the ceiling or the trim in the room. Let it dry.

 
8 ×

Install the medallion

 
Step Eight // How to Install a Ceiling Medallion

Install the medallion

install the ceiling medallion
Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Turn the medallion facedown and, using a caulk gun, apply a bead of adhesive caulk over the entire back. Stick the medallion in place on the ceiling, centering it over the junction box.

While the adhesive is wet, screw the canopy to the nipple and tighten it enough to act as a clamp to hold the medallion to the ceiling. Adjust the medallion as necessary to be sure the canopy is perfectly centered. Using a drill/driver, drive two trim-head screws through the medallion and into the ceiling to hold it in place while the adhesive sets. For medallions larger than 30 inches, use more screws. Drive the screws in a discreet location in the medallion's pattern, and let them sink a little below the surface to hide them. Remove the canopy.

Fill the screw holes with a dab of caulk, and caulk around the edge of the medallion if there are any obvious voids between it and the ceiling. When the caulk is dry, touch up the screw holes with paint. Also touch up the ceiling if necessary.

 
9 ×

Install the light fixture

 
Step Nine // How to Install a Ceiling Medallion

Install the light fixture

wiring, ceiling, medallion, junction box
Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Unscrew the mounting bar and nipple from the junction box. Tighten nuts onto the nipple on either side of the mounting bar to secure it. Feed the fixture's wires through the nipple and out the mounting bar. Screw the nipple/mounting bar assembly to the light fixture.

Using wire strippers, remove ½ inch of insulation from the fixture's wires. Lift the fixture in place, and have a helper hold it. Screw the mounting bar to the junction box. Thread the wires over the top of the mounting bar and back down out of the ceiling.

Wrap the bare copper from the junction box around the mounting bar's grounding screw and tighten it. Then twist its end together with the fixture's ground wire, green or bare, and secure it with a wire nut. Determine which of the fixture's wires connects to the neutral wire; look for a wire with silver strands or one whose insulation is white, ridged, or has writing on it. Then twist it onto the ceiling's white wire and secure it with a wire nut. Connect the other (colored or smooth) wire to the black wire coming from the ceiling.

Push the canopy into place, and tighten the collar nut underneath it to secure it against the medallion. Restore power to the fixture.

 
 
 

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