Painting walls is the classic “get out of a rut” update—it’s one of the easiest ways to change up the feel of your home without pulling out the power tools. But we have to ask: When’s the last time you painted your ceiling? Referred to as the forgotten fifth wall by Avery Sefcik of Avery Frank Designs, the ceiling is a majorly chic focal point waiting to happen. All you need is a glossy finish or unexpected pop of color and…boom, your drab room instantly transforms into a dramatic space.
Still, it’s important to note that going full glam isn’t always what a room needs. It’s easy to ignore your ceiling’s current paint job altogether, but sometimes even a fresh coat of white is enough to spruce up a space.
There are a number of factors to consider when selecting the best ceiling paints, not the least is if you require color at all: An off-white or greige might be all you need. But then there’s also the condition of the surface (textured or smooth), the main light source in a room (i.e., how will a pendant lamp reflect or cast color), and any nearby trim that can either create some contrast or offer a seamless transition. No matter the palette you’re working with or if you’re starting from scratch, check out how these designers curated their favorite ceiling shades.
A Few Things to Keep in Mind
Finish: The best finish for ceilings all depends on the impact you’re after. For something more reserved that’s going to blend in and let other elements shine, an ultra-flat or matte finish is the most common choice, notes designer Mark Lavender. But Kirsten Krason, cofounder of House of Jade Interiors, says that if you want to bring attention to the upper level of a room—say it’s extra tall—then it’s nice to add a subtle shine, even if only in eggshell. For a true statement, Sefcik argues there’s nothing better than a lacquerlike gloss. “A gloss finish really ramps up a room’s panache,” he says, adding that his favorite application is in a foyer. “Even splurging on just a lacquer ceiling in a darker dining room will offer so much light play and elegance at night, with your chandelier reflecting beautifully.”
Ceiling material: “The material doesn’t usually impact us unless there is a popcorn ceiling involved, and then we always recommend sanding the popcorn texture off, then applying a skim coat,” explains Lavender. He adds that the ceiling’s condition can also impact the finish selection. For instance, if a low ceiling is in too poor a condition for a new layer of drywall, he’ll use an ultra-flat finish in an attempt to mask any imperfections. But when working with a completely smooth surface, Lavender will play with the idea of gloss.
Application: To avoid making any mistakes, Lavender always likes to leave the act of painting up to the professionals. He shares that they almost always reach for a roller but may finesse with a brush, especially when it comes to glossier choices. Like wall applications, try to stick to applying paint in one direction to minimize the appearance of brushstrokes. On the flip side, Lauren Lerner of Living With Lolo relies on a sprayer to avoid that exact issue from occurring. This is less likely to leave behind any lines or streaks, she says.
Our Top Picks
For Depth and Glamour: Benjamin Moore Bird’s Egg
“For rich, unique colors, I love Benjamin Moore, particularly its blues. Every blue you could need, from a perfect Robin’s Egg to Sea Teal,” shares Sefcik, who’s currently been pairing glossy paints with paper textures. “The faint glint of paper next to a lush lacquer, particularly at night, is sublime!” It’s best suited for smaller spaces that lack natural light, such as a windowless or dark dining room, since it will add that much-needed sensation of depth.
For a Bold Statement: Sherwin-Williams Iron Ore
Could you resist journeying through this arched doorway to the darkly colored walls and ceilings of its adjoining small space? The clients asked a lot of this room: It needed to be bold but also cozy and calm to vibe with the rest of the home, so Krason applied the same finish to both the ceiling and walls. “We also played with dark tones and layered in wood, upholstery, greenery, and metallic finishes with the dark vertical shiplap,” she explains. “We took the paint from floor to ceiling to add drama and character to the space and make the room feel more intimate.”
For a Subtle Accent: Sherwin-Williams Dorian Gray
This warm neutral is the perfect solution for when you want to add a hint of intrigue, but not something that will draw the eye strongly. Not too cool or too dark, it’s a midtone gray that offers balance. “We went with this color, as it was two shades darker than the wall color,” says Lerner. “It is the easiest way to pick a ceiling accent that will look great.” She adds that a flat finish is best for hiding any drywall texture. In fact, Lerner never strays from this classic finish choice.
For a Seamless Transition: Benjamin Moore Black Forest Green
Paint color choices are often inspired by the surrounding decor, and this bathroom by Lavender is no exception. ‘We wanted to enhance the dark and mysterious vibe of the painting, so we chose this dark and mysterious green paint in a satin finish. We offset this with the more light and airy wall covering for the panel insets,” notes Lavender. “We wanted that nice sheen on the walls, and we were intent on creating a cocoon experience in this bathroom, so we used the same paint and finish on the walls and the ceiling.”
For a Simple White: Sherwin-Williams Snowbound
It doesn’t get much simpler than this: Snowbound is a crisp off-white that makes for the perfect blank canvas. Krason’s tactic is to use the same white throughout the whole home. “If you try to pair two different whites together, generally the contrast will make one look too creamy or too cool,” she argues. “We keep all whites including walls, trim, cabinets, and ceilings the same white.”
Do you paint the ceiling first or last?
It’s up for debate, but most experts advise the ceiling is step number-one. At House of Jade Interiors, Krason says the team paints the ceiling first, then works their way down. Lavender shares that painters will sometimes tackle the trim before taking a roller to the ceiling, and then finish up with the walls. “They do this for ease of application reasons,” he says (i.e., if you paint your ceiling last, there’s a good chance you might splatter it all over the walls). “But I like to see the ceiling first, as it helps confirm that our wall paint choices are correct.”
How often should I paint my ceiling?
Experts say that this isn’t an easy number to quantify—painting can always feel like a massive undertaking, but homeowners are always far more apt to switch up the color of their walls rather than paint their ceiling. Of course, if things look like they’re starting to peel or discolor, you’re definitely overdue for a fresh coat.
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