White Ceilings?

dakota01September 7, 2012

Ok, I'm still looking for a paint color and still trying to figure out why my FR is sooo gloomy and depressing. Just had another consult w/a different painter and she felt the room was depressing too. She thinks maybe since my ceilings are a cream color and my walls are a light grey (which I hate) and my floors are dark hardwood, that when light does come in - there is nothing to reflect it. It just gets absorbed and as the daylight diminishes my ceiling starts to look grey and or dirty. All my trim is also cream - so I don't have anything the "pops".

Under what circumstances would you go w/a white ceiling? What does it do to a room and the wall color? Are you better off doing white or when you finally pick a wall color, go 50% or more off the walls for the ceiling color?

THanks for any and all comments..

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I know that there are strong feelings on the subject for and against, but people have been painting their ceilings white for a very long time, and I think it's still a fine option.

    Bookmark   September 7, 2012 at 10:22PM
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I painted all my ceilings SW extra white ceiling paint (their #1 ceiling paint color). I like my my ceilings white! My previous new house, I did paint my ceilings an off white - the whole house was gloomy and dark.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2012 at 7:21AM
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Annie Deighnaugh

You certainly can go white if you want, if it serves a purpose. No one will discredit you for it. But think about adding edison's lights to the room...esp if you are going to be doing the ceiling, it would be better to put in recessed cans or accommodation for fixtures before painting....

    Bookmark   September 8, 2012 at 7:59AM
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Annie - I have many recessed lights in that room - but I rarely use them - as I prefer natural lighting that the room rarely gets as it's in the center of my house. I have windows, transoms and a large door, but the close houses next door don't allow much light to come in.
I had this "moment" this morning LOL, when the new faux painter came yesterday, she had a neat paint/plasster effect that has sparkles/glimmery effect. I wonder if putting that in a creamy white color would help my room? It wasn't a goddy finish at all, at least not on her sample board, it was a subtle glimmer but it would be too much on all my walls. Maybe the shimmer/sparkles would reflect any natural and artificial light back down into the room? Could something like that work?
I don't knoow what "purpose" white on the ceiling means to you? What are the purposes to use white rather than cream or a wall color?

    Bookmark   September 8, 2012 at 8:58AM
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I prefer white ceilings. Changing the ceiling to a lighter white might help you like the gray better as well. Take a look at this room by Sarah Richardson. Notice how she works light against dark. There is no reason why your room can't work. If you post pictures here you will get lots of help and great ideas. Good luck!

    Bookmark   September 8, 2012 at 9:09AM
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Sorry picture is so big!

    Bookmark   September 8, 2012 at 9:13AM
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"All my trim is also cream - so I don't have anything the "pops".
Under what circumstances would you go w/a white ceiling? "

I prefer white ceilings and crisp white trim too. I do like the stark contrast (pop) against the walls, and it just makes the ceiling and trim more defined to me even in low light.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2012 at 9:26AM
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Where we live, almost everyone paints their ceilings white.
I thought that was why BM calls their ceiling paint "Ceiling White"!
You should definitely give it a try it see how it brightens your room.

Only on GW or in design magazines have I seen anyone paint their ceilings
anything other than "ceiling white".
I'm thinking of experimenting with a slight off-white for my dining room ceiling
(Farrow & Ball Pointing has been strongly recommended on GW).
But I wouldn't want to go any more off white than that.

Best wishes for lightening your room.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2012 at 9:29AM
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I prefer white ceilings. But I suspect your issue isn't just the paint color, it's the lighting. Ceiling fixtures give off a lot of light, but should not be the sole light source for the room. You need a variety of lamps around the room as well. I love torchiere lamps because they shoot the light up to the ceiling and makes the room glow. I think every room should have one.

And there is nothing wrong with having a lamp lit in a room during the day. I currently have 5 lamps on timers in my house. That way I don't have to run around the house turning them on and off.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2012 at 9:33AM
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How high are your ceilings?
Mine are only 8 ft and right now I have white ceilings with sage green walls. I think due to the contrast between the ceiling and the walls the eye is immediately drawn to the ceiling line.
Also someone on this sight described a white ceiling as the top of a shoe box, which makes sense to me.
We are repainting the whole house in the next couple of weeks and will be going with the wall colour (revere pewter) at 50% to reduce the contrast.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2012 at 10:42AM
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In re "shoe box top," I am the guilty party.

I am not a fan of white ceilings unless they are a deliberate part of the scheme. I think that, particularly with creamy crown molding, they often look primed and unfinished. My oft-repeated advice for gray rooms is a barely perceptible peachy pink on the ceilings, which warms the scheme and makes it look finished and deliberate, even if you don't notice that there is color on the ceiling.

Before I rattle on any more about painting ceilings, one thing you said jumped out at me. You say you prefer natural light, which your room doesn't get much of. If you are under-lighting your room, no amount of paint manipulation will fix it.

Color is the perception of light reflected back into your eyes. It's counterintuitive to say, but white walls in a room without sufficient natural light look dingy and sad. Likewise, a color that absorbs light can look moody and beautiful, but only if there are warm, adequate pools of light around the room everywhere you need them.

The potential failings of white ceilings are worst in rectangular rooms with 8 foot ceilings, which most of us have. That lovely Sarah Richardson entry is modest in size with fairly high ceilngs, it has only one gray wall which is broken by a great big doorway in bright white, it has light fixtures in two places that reflect light up to and back from the white ceiling, it has sconces on the side wall to add light on the paler wall, and it lets in a lot of natural light not only at the sides, but also at the top.

Which leads me to another general rule of thumb for lighting, which is that 80% of the natural light entering a room comes from the top 20% of the windows. The higher the ceiling and windows, the more natural light enters a room. That transom in the photo makes all the difference.

So before you do anything about color, I would make a study of the uses and application of lighting in a room like yours, without natural light, and correct your lighting first. Otherwise, you will not be able to judge what effect a color change will have.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2012 at 11:27AM
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Annie Deighnaugh

Excellent advice, B! As always!

The other thing you might think about is putting up a mirror or a grouping of smaller mirrors on the walls to reflect whatever light you do get into the space.

As far as a shimmery finish on the walls, it depends on the look you are going for. I've seen lots of satin finish wall papers but they tend to be very feminine and very bedroom, though not always. Some are nice, some can be really ticky tacky.

In terms of ceiling color serving a purpose, my point was that the ceiling color should be considered a part of the color scheme for the room and not a "forgotten wall". So if your purpose is to use stark white as a color in your scheme and go for a higher contrast, then a white ceiling will serve that purpose well. I wouldn't use stark white on the ceiling with off white trim unless that color combo was deliberate as well.

And how you paint your ceiling can affect how the space feels. For example, in both our master bath and study, the rooms are fairly small with fairly high ceilings, so I purposely put a dark color on the ceiling to help "bring them down". White would not have served my purpose in that application.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2012 at 12:03PM
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It's not just about paint color when a room doesn't pop, it can also be about the chosen finish you use. Flat paint is going to lay there and absorb the light, semi gloss or even eggshell is going to reflect light to some degree making it look like there is more light in the room.
So in addition to adding more light in that room you may want to take a look at the finishes you chosen. They may be working against you.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2012 at 2:54PM
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I usually use the same "white" that is on the crown molding or cornice, to avoid that "another white" issue. I have nothing against colored ceilings but it becomes very difficult not to have one ceiling color in open floorplans with no headers between rooms, or stairwells without starts and stops.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2012 at 2:58PM
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Since I have an old house I try to avoid stark white on the walls and ceilings at any cost.
When I first moved in I really liked China White, so that was used on the LR and Mus. Rm. ceilings.
In my kitchen no stark white (the sinks are linen white) so I used an Eddie Bauer color "Cloth" (very creamy) for the white trim and the ceiling, as they are both 100% adjacent to each other. The ceiling's in eggshell, the trim oil semi-gloss. I really like the effect.
I have old heart/yellow pine refinished floors and trim. They are on the orang-ish side. I noticed how when the sun hits the floor it reflected that color up onto the ceiling; that gave me a thought; why not a very faint orange tint for a ceiling color? so I did it in three upstairs rooms, and I liked that effect too.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2012 at 3:53PM
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I like white ceilings even though colored ones are trendy right now. I don't dislike colored ones if they aren't too dark, I rarely like dark ceilings.

White or off white ceilings are still the most popular and have been for many years for a reason, they look good!

    Bookmark   September 8, 2012 at 6:02PM
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I prefer white ceilings and white trim to make the wall color highlighted and to brighten up the room.

    Bookmark   September 9, 2012 at 12:07PM
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My part of my ceiling in the room is 9 ft the rest is vaulted. You really don't notice the vaulted section and it doesn't seem as dreary as the 9 ft section.
Since I have cream trim, I'm thinking that I need something whiter than I have, but still w/ just a hint of cream. I think the grey walls are casting muddy/dirty tones to the current ceiling.
Would a full spectrum paint help? What is a nice white/cream more white than cream that you guys use for ceilings?

    Bookmark   September 12, 2012 at 11:14PM
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I think crisp white with grey looks great. Since I like color most of my ceilings (high ceilings) are painted. Living and dining room are yellow. Took the kitchen color over the ceiling. downstairs bath, blue and 2 upstairs bedrooms are blue as well. Makes the house cozier. while I love to look at the white decor I could no way live in it.

    Bookmark   September 13, 2012 at 8:56AM
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