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Reinvent a Room by Painting the Ceiling With Color

Follow our tips for tapping the hidden-in-plain-sight potential of that fifth wall

Color Above

Photo by Costas Picadas/GAP Interiors

White and off-white have been the default choices for ceilings for so long that most homeowners never give them a second thought. That's starting to change. To paraphrase a number of color experts, when you view a ceiling as a permanently blank canvas, you overlook an opportunity. Whether potent or subtle, a dose of color can alter the geometry of a room, changing the feeling of the space as it tricks the eye.

Colorful ceilings aren't new, points out Nan Kornfeld, an architectural color specialist in San Francisco. "In Victorian homes, ceilings often varied from room to room," she says. Back then, colorful ceilings played off the saturated patterns on oriental carpets and ornate wood furniture. Today, they work equally well in everything from traditional interiors to airy, clean-lined spaces. Read on for six ways to let color on top bring out the best in any room.

Create an Accent Wall

If the ceiling is the fifth wall, why not allow it to serve as the room's most dramatic accent? Deep shades like Behr's Delicious Berry, shown here, add warmth and drama—and, as Behr color director Erika Woelfel notes, "a splash of color can make small rooms seem larger."

Make a Room More Polished

One of the fastest, easiest ways to give a space a sophisticated look is to unite the ceiling and walls with a single color set off by crisp white trim. "If the color on the wall seems too saturated, then look at it on the paint strip and go up one or two colors to find a lighter one for the ceiling," says Dee Schlotter, a color expert at PPG Pittsburgh Paints. "It will still provide a more finished look than the usual flat white." This bedroom gets its polish from PPG Pittsburgh Paints' Evening Glow.

Enliven Bland Neutrals

Photo by Jeff Green/Corner House Stock

A plain white room becomes something else again when capped by a zesty, unexpected shade. In this small kitchen, Valspar's vivid Sassy Green offsets the boxy effect while injecting a needed dose of energy. The result is an atmosphere that is friendlier and more welcoming.

Tip: To soften the sharp edges of a soffit, paint it the same color as the ceiling.

Lower The Ceiling

Photo by Rugg/Collinstock

Color can keep a high-ceilinged room from feeling unmoored.Barbara Richardson, a color expert who works with Glidden, favors shades that create an enveloping feel. Here, Glidden's Golden Bronze is balanced by pale neutrals and ample light. Dark accents pull the room together and also help keep it grounded.

Highlight a Special Ceiling

Photo by Costas Picadas/GAP Interiors

Coffering, beadboard, planks, and exposed beams naturally call attention to the ceiling, so why not reinforce the effect with a dose of color? Paint just the flat or recessed areas to create contrast that showcases the trim treatment. Or cover the whole ceiling in a uniform shade lively enough to command your attention, such as Olympic's Salem Blue, shown here. Clean white walls and punches of complementary orange add to the room's dynamic feel.

Tip: Fanciful pendants in a related shade further help to draw the eye upward.

Make a Space More Intimate

Photo by Brent Darby/IPC Images

When the ceiling and walls are painted one color, with no contrasting molding, the result is soft and seamless. Architectural color experts recommend trying out a warm shade, like the one shown here—Sherwin-Williams's Rave Red—in a dining room, where the ceiling naturally feels high because everyone is seated around the table. "We're seeing more people continuing color up the walls and onto the ceiling," says Jackie Jordan, a color expert at Sherwin-Williams. "It doesn't make the room seem small, only cozier."