Why do so many of us settle for the same old white-paint approach to decorating ceilings? When it comes to walls we texture them and apply glazes, wallpapers, stenciling and paint in our favorite colors, and we adorn them with molding or wainscoting.
The options for floors includes funky retro linoleum to reclaimed plank flooring to tumbled marble tile.
These features personalize a home and make it more enjoyable.
But people who wouldn't dream of living with plain floors or walls often relegate their ceilings to that kind of second-class status, sporting nothing more than a light texture and a coat of white paint.
That's a shame, because a ceiling can be one of the most definitive elements in a space.
All the qualities that we associate with beautiful walls and floors can, to some extent, be part of a ceiling as well. In fact, in rooms where extensive design work is evident on walls, flooring and other surfaces, a plain ceiling isn't just a lost opportunity -- it's a glaring omission that will detract from an otherwise impressive package.
Ceilings that do get our rapt attention tend to be in magnificent public or ecclesiastical buildings, and maybe that's why we think of these features as professional stunts that we shouldn't try at home. If that's your concern, aim for simpler effects than those at the palace at Versailles.
Give it depth
All the surface needs is a little depth and variation, and often there's just one routine obstacle to overcome. Assuming your home has conventional flat drywall ceilings, it's likely you have solid anchoring points only along the joists, which run in one direction and are spaced at wide intervals, usually 16 inches on center.
This can limit the kind of fastening options you have for trim and other detailing, but it doesn't rule them all out.
For example, you can fashion a simple grid of square-edge, 1-by-2-inch molding strips with half-lap joints. This method involves notching each piece at intervals that match the joist spacing. In this case, the molding stock actually measures 3/4 inches thick by 1 1/2 inches wide; the notches should be full-width, half-depth ( 3/8 inches), and spaced 16 inches on center to match the joist spacing.
Fasten the first pieces perpendicular to the ceiling joists, notched face-down, using countersunk screws in each notch where it attaches. The second set of trim pieces installs with finishing nails, notched face-up and directly under each joist. That way they nest flush with the perpendicular trim pieces, creating a grid of squares. For a simpler project, paint the trim before you install it. Then just fill and touch up the nail holes.
If you don't want to be limited by the joist layout, you can screw sheets of 1/2-inch plywood to the ceiling. These have to be attached to joists, but they create a wide-open fastening area that will hold nails and screws much better than drywall.
Another easy treatment is to create a shallow perimeter soffit around the edge of the room, leaving a "raised" well in the center. You can use 2-by-4 framing lumber (oriented flat and attached to the ceiling joists with screws) to create the offset, then cover it with drywall, corner bead and joint compound.
This is a simple and inexpensive upgrade and has the paradoxical effect of making the ceiling appear higher, because the center area -- though still at its original height -- appears to rise from the lowered outer portion that surrounds it.
If you want to explore this topic further, architect Dennis Wedlick highlights other design options for ceilings in his book, "Good House Parts" (Taunton Press, 208 pages, $24.95), which showcases some beautiful examples of coffered ceilings and other treatments.
Bring it down
Despite the recent craze for soaring vaulted ceilings, most of the rooms in Wedlick's book feature modifications that reduce the ceiling height, at least where beams and other trim are installed. It might sound counterintuitive, but these ceilings often are more impressive than their lofty counterparts. They certainly create more comfortable rooms.
For the most part, when people stand up, their eyes are closer to the ceiling than the floor. When you remodel, don't forget to give them something nice to look at up there. They'll take notice, and those fancy walls and floors will just have to share the applause.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times