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Do ceilings have to be white?

8 min read

Published 28 Feb 2021


A design for a living room with the ceiling wallpapered.

When I have colour consultations with clients, we spend lots of time thinking about colours for the walls, and then choose complementary or similar colours for the woodwork. Next, I often suggest choosing a colour for the ceiling. Lots of clients are surprised by this approach as they think that ceilings have to be painted white. Some are a little scared by the thought of doing anything else, and whilst it’s okay to feel nervous about stepping out of your comfort zone, I think it’s good to explore the possibilities for decorating this surface. Look at your ceiling as another opportunity to add style, personality and interest, as it could be the thing that takes your home from ‘nicely decorated’ to ‘wow’.

There are many reasons to think about other treatments for this surface. We’re happy to spend time making sure that our flooring choices co-ordinate with our decor, but most of the time a floor is covered by furniture or rugs. In contrast, our ceilings are often flat with no features other than the ceiling rose or light fitting in the middle. A large expanse of white that isn’t broken up by any other items can draw more attention to itself, so we’re really just drawing attention to the least interesting part of the room.

A photo of a grey painted bedroom with a white ceiling.
So why do we default to white? We believe that white painted ceilings will enhance the feeling of light and space, which is something that we all think we would like more of. We believe it’s a safe choice and we think it will make our ceilings ‘disappear’, so the room will feel larger. We also do it because we’re used to it - aren’t ceilings supposed to be painted white? Isn’t that the way we’ve always done it?

When we look back through history, ceilings haven’t always been white. Think of every stately home you’ve ever visited. The ceilings are often richly decorated and are a focal point of the room. We crane our necks looking up to see the visual delights above us - whether that be a scene depicted from the bible, or the ornate flowers, shapes and animals painted by the Victorians. These amazing pieces of art really add to our enjoyment of viewing the rooms, and it would be a real shame if the ceilings weren’t as ornate as the walls and furniture in these houses.

A photo of the decorated ceiling at Insole Court

A photo of the decorated ceiling at Dyffryn Gardens
Insole Court, Cardiff Dyffryn House, Vale of Glamorgan

William Morris, (the well loved 19th Century textile designer, poet and novelist) is known for using stencilling and wallpapers on the ceilings in the homes he decorated. He and his friends often painted the ceilings by hand, and the striking patterns sometimes look remarkably modern. This extra layer of decoration is inspiring and makes the rooms feel complete. You can see some of the beautiful ceilings in William Morris’s Red House on this blog.

Even when the ceilings in historic buildings were painted white they were often filled with delicate plasterwork. These fine plasterwork details add texture, grandeur and an element of surprise.

A photo of a plasterwork ceiling at Aston Hall, Birmingham Another fine plasterwork ceiling at Aston Hall, Birmingham
Aston Hall, Birmingham Hever Castle, Kent

So why did we decide that a plain white surface is the only way a ceiling can be dressed? One theory is that in the early days of electric ceiling lighting, the fixtures and bulbs weren’t very powerful. A way to brighten things was to paint the ceiling white so it reflected the light back into the room. But modern lighting and bulbs have come a long way since then, and we often have various types and heights of light sources in our homes, so we no longer need a white ceiling to help out. So, if we’re not going to paint our ceilings white anymore, what should we do with them?

Say you opt for stronger colours on the walls, if you have chosen an exciting colour scheme for your room, and the ceiling is plain white, it will become more noticeable. A white ceiling will stand out all the more and detract from the other carefully chosen elements in your room. If you have strong colour on the walls and a white ceiling, the eye is drawn to the ceiling first and the place where the wall colour stops and the ceiling colour starts. This really stands out, because in effect you’ve highlighted the contrast between the two colours. I’d suggest either painting the ceiling the same colour as the walls, or going for a co-ordinating colour from the rest of your scheme. Lots of people worry that using a darker colour on the walls and ceiling will make a space feel closed in, but it has the opposite effect - it can make a room feel larger because the edges are less defined. 

A dark ceiling with lighter walls can give a room a feeling of infinity, like the ceiling opens up and goes on for miles. A dark ceiling paired with the same colour on the walls can make a room feel really cosy and cocooning. Look at one of my recent projects to see what I mean:

A photo of the Bancha Bedroom project showing the ceiling painted the same colour as the walls.
This is what the client said about painting the ceiling the same colour as the walls:

"I was a bit scared to do the ceiling in Bancha but it was the best thing we did. People say the room looks bigger now that everything has been “Bancha’d” - I think it’s because we went for one main bold colour pretty much everywhere. The room has the WOW factor and all our family and friends comment on how warm it feels."

Tina on the Bancha Bedroom. You can see more of this project here

Even if you choose paler colours for your walls, if you paint them any colour other than the exact same white as the ceiling, you will have made the junction between the walls and ceiling stand out because of the contrast between the white and the colours. If you really don’t want too much colour on your ceiling, I’d suggest painting it a few shades lighter than your chosen wall colour, which will give your room a sense of harmony.

You can also use wallpaper to decorate a ceiling. In this nursery project of mine, I chose to take the striped wallpaper up one wall and over on to the ceiling. This gave the baby something interesting to look at whilst lying in his cot, whilst the subtle stripe wasn’t so busy that it might stop him from sleeping.

A photo of the nursery shwoing the striped wallpaper going up one wall and continuing on to the ceiling.

In a design I’ve recently completed, I chose to enhance the grand proportions of this living room with a magical and richly coloured wallpaper. I wanted to play with the large surface of the ceiling, and use it as an opportunity to add another layer of pattern, whilst also drawing attention to the gorgeous original cornicing between the walls and the ceiling. I highlighted the cornice in a colour which tones with the wallpaper but is a contrast to the wall colour, making it a key part of the overall scheme. Cornicing is technically part of the ceiling but could be treated either way - it could be painted the same colour as the walls or the same colour as the ceiling, or of course a different colour altogether.

A computer generated image of the design for a living room.

The point is that these details can be played with and treated any way you like. People often think that they must paint one colour up to the picture rail, then add another colour lighter colour above the picture rail, then the ceiling colour would be white. This approach gives a fragmented  look - the visual lines of the room are too broken up and the proportions of the room aren’t enhanced. 

A photo showing a room painted in one colour up to the picture rail, with another colour above and a white ceiling.

If you do have a picture rail, one option is to take the colour of the ceiling and bring it down to the rail, which will visually lower the height of the ceiling and make the room feel cosy. You might want to do this in a room such as a bedroom, where you’d like to feel snug and safe. Here’s a project where I did this (still a work in progress):

A photo of a room where the ceiling colour is taken down to the picture rail height, and the walls are a different colour.

If you have any architectural details on the ceiling itself, you can play around with colours and finishes to make them a focal point. Here’s the plain white ceiling of a client’s room before, and my design for the room, which included painting the details in different colours.

A before picture of a room with all the ceiling details painted white.

A before picture of a living room I'm working on, with the ceiling details all painted white

A computer generated image of the design for the living room, with the ceiling details highlighted with paint.

the design highlights those beautiful details using contrasting paint colours

For this same client, I chose to use one colour for the walls and ceilings in the kitchen, as the extended room had lots of quirky angles. Painting them white would only have highlighted the many angles in the room, making it feel too busy. However, in the dining area of the same room, I wanted to encourage a more relaxed mood, as this would be the place where family dinners would be held. I decided to use the same colour as before, but the section above the dining area would be painted in a gloss finish, whilst the rest of the walls and ceiling would be matt. The gloss paint would reflect back to define this area, making it feel special, and would look great when dinner candles give a soft glow on the ceiling.

A computer generated image of my design for a kitchen, with the ceiling painted the same colour as the walls.

painting the ceiling the same colour as the walls helps soften the different angles

A computer generated image of the other part of kitchen, with the ceiling painted the same colour as the walls but in gloss.

the gloss finish over the dining area of the kitchen

So, there are lots of reasons not to play it safe with your ceilings. If you’ve gone to the trouble of designing a colour scheme for your room, not considering the ceiling is a missed opportunity. 

Experiment and have fun, and remember, it can always be painted over if you don’t like it.

Welcome to my design blog, where you'll see posts about anything from the projects we are working on, to the latest fabric and wallpaper collections, and 'how to' guides for all things interiors related. I love colour and pattern, architecture and old buildings, and I especially love the moment when you see something so beautiful it makes you take a sharp intake of breath.

Happy reading!

We won!

28 Apr 2022

The Cardiff Life Awards 2022 winners badge
This month, we were pleased as punch to receive the Best Homes & Interiors award from the prestigious Cardiff Life Awards. Cardiff Life Magazine are well-known champions of our city, and the annual awards celebrate the best of Cardiff talent, so we are over the moon to be named 2022 winners!

Morris & Co. X Ben Pentreath

28 Mar 2022

A room styled with items for the new collection of fabrics and wallpapers.
The designs of William Morris have made a comeback over recent years, and now they have been given a striking makeover by interior designer Ben Pentreath. The Queen Square Collection has reimagined some of Morris's most famous fabrics and wallpapers in rich tones and vibrant colourways. You can see the collection here.

Matchy Matchy

28 Feb 2022

A photo of Woodchip & Magnolia's wallpaper matching the fabric on the sofa.
One of my favourite design houses, Woodchip & Magnolia, have gone all out for the all over pattern trend and produced wallpapers and fabrics in the same prints, which I love. You can see the whole stunning collection here.

New fabric collection from Prestigious Textiles

28 Jan 2022

A photo of fabrics and cushions from the new collection from Prestigious Textiles.
A new collection of sumptuous fabrics has just been released from Prestigious Textiles, called Monsoon. The collection includes tactile velvets, animal motifs, embroideries and beautiful sheers, so it's versatile enough to use anywhere in your home. If you'd like to know more about these fabrics, please get in touch.

New reeded glass pendants from Mullan Lighitng

28 Nov 2021

A photo of the Nahla glass reeded pendant
Lighting designers and manufacturers Mullan Lighting have a new range of reeded glass pendant lights available. These Mid Century inspired lights come in three shapes and four finishes, but the Nahla (the one pictured above) is my favourite. You can see the range here.

Little Greene and Bert & May join forces

28 Oct 2021

A photo of some green Bert & May tiles from the new collection, in a bathroom painted green.

Little Greene has announced a collaboration with tile brand Bert & May. The collection sees eight gorgeous Little Greene shades translated onto tiles, giving you even more opportunity to add colour, texture, and a mix of materials to every area of your home. I love this bathroom combination above, with the perfectly matched tiles and paint offset with touches of terracotta, mustard and oak. You can see the full collection here.

Dulux colour of the year - Bright Skies

29 Sep 2021

A promotional photo from Dulux showing the paint colour Bright Skies in a room setting.

So, Dulux have announced their colour of the year for next year, and here it is! Bright Skies is described as the 'breath of fresh air' that we all need after being indoors for so long. What do you think? I'm reserving judgement at the moment. It looks a little cold in the picture, but I don't think the beige sofa and the styling are doing it any favours here. Maybe colour drenched (painted on walls, ceilings, trims and doors) and with some warmer burgundies and terracotta, it could be lovely. You can buy the colour here.

A new home collection from Paloma Faith

28 Aug 2021

A photo of the vintage botanical black wallpaper from Paloma Home.
British singer songwriter Paloma Faith has recently launched her first collection for the home. It includes wallpapers, fabrics, cushions and bedding, and she describes the look as 'faded grandeur and retro maximalism'. The prints are everything I love - dramatic, colourful and fun, and you can see more of the collection here.

It's all about soft yellows

28 Jul 2021

A photo for Little Greene with room inspiration for using Carys yellow paint.
I was watching an Instagram live post from The Little Greene Paint Company last week, and they were discussing a comeback for yellow. Now, as you know, I don't think you have to follow the trends but yellow hasn't been fashionable for a long time, so this sunny, uplifting shade is often overlooked. A warm yellow like Little Green's Carys (above) is perfect for cheering us all up, and you can buy it here.

The cushion that gives back

28 Jun 2021

A photo of the green velvet cushion on a chair.
Introducing the cushion that gives back, from homewares company Oka. They have produced this cushion in partnership with The Trussell Trust who support two thirds of the UK's food banks, and 100% of the proceeds from sales of this lovely green velvet cushion will be donated by Oka to The Trussell Trust. It comes in a range of other colours too, and you can buy the cushion here.

A beautiful new tile collection inspired by the National Trust

28 May 2021

A photo of one of the new tiles in a kitchen roomset with pink walls and black bar stools.
Just launched, Ca Pietra a new tile collection in collaboration with the National Trust. Every tile has been inspired by one of the historic properties, gardens or coastlines looked after by the Trust, and a minimum of £10,000 from sales of the tiles will be given to the National Trust to help them continue their important work. You can see the collection here.

Yummy new switch & socket colours

28 Apr 2021

A photo of two of the new light switches from Dowsing & Reynolds
Did you ever think that your light switches were good enough to eat? I'm guessing the answer is no, until now. You can now buy switches and sockets in these gorgeous colours from the new Dowsing & Reynolds Cafe Culture collection. They come in luscious shades like Cinnamon, Caramel Latte and Whipped Cream, so you can tone, coordinate or contrast with your wall colours and make every part of your interior scheme look delicious. You can buy the gorgeousness from here.

A sustainable fabric choice

29 Mar 2021

A photo of the some of the new Eco range of fabrics.
A beautiful new sustainable fabric range from Clarke and Clarke has just been launched. It's made entirely from recycled materials so you can refresh your home with a clear conscience. You can have a look at the fabric here. Get in touch with me if you'd like to buy any of this fabric.

Sought & Styled - Preloved items given new life

28 Feb 2021

The sought and styled logo on a green background
This month I want to highlight a business run by a very talented lady I met a few years ago (remember when we could meet people?) Not only is she a creative interior designer, she also runs an online shop where she reuses and repurposes anything from soft furnishings to larger furniture items. Everything sold is bespoke and unique, and is effortlessly waste conscious because it's being used again. You can visit her shop here.

Do kitchen worktops bore you?

27 Jan 2021

A photo of a Blackpop design on a kitchen worktop.
Thanks to a genius idea from kings of pattern Blackpop, you can now have one of their colourful designs on your kitchen worktop. They will put any of their funky fabric or wallpaper designs onto waterproof MDF to make you a unique worktop, or they can even make a design just for you. Chopping will never look the same again! You can buy the worktops from their website here.

A Fresh Take - Cardiff Life feature

18 Dec 2020

The cover of the December 2020 issue of Cardiff Life magazine.
This month's issue of Cardiff Life Magazine is out today, and features an interiors special, because one thing this past year has made us do is take a new look at our homes and how we'd like to live in them. To see what I and other local interiors experts have to say on the subject, including a round up of the trends for 2021, have a flick through the digital mag here.

An enchanting inaugural wallpaper collection from Tom Baker

26 Nov 2020

A tropical teal wallpaper plasters the wall above a wainscoting panelling and a navy fabric covered bench. The wallpaper is adorned with tropical wildlife and atmospheric jungle scenery including parrots and  jaguars.
This opulent and atmospheric wallpaper from Tom Baker immerses you in a world of tropical flora, fauna and exotic animals. With soft cool tones and hints of pink floral detailing, this is the perfect wallpaper to add a relaxing and exciting edge to your home. Find this enchanting collection here.

A new shady collaboration between Matthew Williamson and Pooky

20 Oct 2020

A picture of designer Matthew Williamson, standing next to a blue dresser with a wide array of candles and candlesticks on the top. Behind him in a ornate floral wallpaper with a sunburst mirror
The humble lampshade is often overlooked, but with the new collaboration between Pooky and Matthew Williamson they won't be for much longer! Matthew Williamson has applied his talent to design a new range of Pooky lampshades. Whatever your taste, colour scheme or budget you will find the perfect lampshade for your home in this new collection which is now available. This spectacular new collection can be found here.

Felt covered curtain poles

17 Sep 2020

Walcot House felt cover curtain poles

Now you can add some texture to your window dressing with these Walcot House felt covered poles. The pure wool coverings come with a option for bronze or steel fittings and wide spans up to six metres. The curtain track is cleverly hidden within the wooden curtain pole and there's a choice of nearly 50 colours and textures. You can find out more here.

Please vote for my blog

11 Aug 2020

A picture of the Amara Blog Awards vote for me sticker.
I'm really thrilled to have been nominated for an Amara Interiors Blog Award this year! If you enjoy reading my blog and would like to vote for me, I'm nominated in the Best Interior Designer Blog category, and you can vote for me here.

Upcoming interiors trends from Love Rugs

10 Jul 2020

A photo of the Love Rugs website featuring the article.
Love Rugs, the people who know about all things rugs have just published a feature on the upcoming interiors trends for 2020. They asked six of the UK's top interior designers (including me!) to tell them what the upcoming trends are, and in particular the changes we will be making to their homes. The article can be read here, and if you'd like to have a look at the huge range of rugs they offer, click here.

A new fabric collection from Linwood Fabrics

15 Jun 2020

A photo of the new Kami collection from Linwood fabrics.
I love Linwood fabrics - they have a fab way of mixing colour and pattern into something really special, producing fabrics and wallpapers that make me want to coo. This new collection, available at the end of June, is just as gorgeous. It's called Kami, with the pattern inspired by a 19th Century document. The collection is a range of printed velvets, so perfect for upholstery and accessories like cushions.

An easy way to update your kitchen

16 Apr 2020

A photo of the new birch handles from Superfront.
If you are looking to update your existing Ikea kitchen rather than replace it, Stockholm based company Superfront are here to help. They sell a range of fronts, handles, legs and tops to fit not just the Faktum kitchen range but also the Besta, Metod and Pax ranges - so you can customise anything from your sideboard to your wardrobe. These super cute round handles are part of their new birch collection, and the whole range can be found here

Move over boring taps - colour is the new black

13 Mar 2020

A photo of the new coloured taps from the Dowsing & Reynolds Miami colour pop collection.
Colour has been taking over our kitchens and bathrooms for a while now (yay!), and has slowly been creeping into sanitaryware and fittings. These perfectly coloured mint green and pastel pink taps from the new Miami Colour Pop Collection from amazing homeware brand Dowsing & Reynolds are spot on and would look gorgeous in any kitchen or bathroom to add a shot of colour without overwhelming with sugary sweetness. You can learn more about this new collection here.

Who knew a door stop could look this good?

19 Feb 2020

a photo  of the new doorstop from Buster and Punch, with their logo and branding.
Door stops are one of those little annoying things that we all need, but are not the prettiest to look at. Now London based Buster & Punch have turned their attention to the problem and transformed the humble door stop into something cool and covetable. They might cost more than your average one from a DIY store, but as you're going to see it every day, why not look at something beautiful? here.

Wallpaper made of cork?

29 Oct 2019

A photo of the wallpaper made from cork, By Monkey Puzzle Tree
Sustainability and concern for our environment are key in the interiors world right now (as they should be). So when I saw that Monkey Puzzle Tree (a brand I admire for their sense of style and creativity) had produced this wallpaper made of cork, I was blown away. Cork is great for so many reasons - it can be harvested every nine years without harming the tree, is grown without the need for pesticides or fertilisers, has excellent sound and heat insulation properties, and is naturally antimicrobial and antifungal. This wallpaper has an A+ rating for emissions so it creates a healthy environment wherever it is hung. Add to this that the design was produced in collaboration with the talented Drew Millward who lives in my home county of West Yorkshire, and that it's called 'Hit The North', I was bound to fall in love with it. You can buy the wallpaper here.

I'm in Cardiff Life magazine - again!

17 Sep 2019

The front cover of Cardiff Life Magazine issue no.208, Autumn 2019

Now that the summer is officially over and our thoughts turn to cosying up our homes for winter, I'm here to help. If you're in need of some inspiration, you can read all about the interiors trends for Autumn and how to work them into your home in this month's Cardiff Life magazine. Hear what I and other interiors experts have to say on pages 18-22. You can read the digital version of the magazine here.

I've been nominated for an Amara Interiors blog award!

6 Sep 2019

The Amara interiors blog awards voting banner 2019.
Exciting news! My little blog (Design Insider) has been nominated for an Amara Interiors Blog award! I'm so chuffed to be included at all, and not expecting to win, but if you enjoy reading my blog posts then please vote for me. I'm nominated for the Best Interior Designer blog category. Voting is open until the 11th of September and you can vote for me here.

My kitchen project featured on the Artifact Lighting blog!

1 Aug 2019

A view if the contemporary copper kitchen featuring the copper pendant lights from Artifact Lighting.

When I designed the contemporary copper kitchen, I wanted to use some copper elements to add warmth and also to tone in with the pink walls and pale grey units. I found these pendant lights from a company called Artifact Lighting, and they are perfect because they add to the 'warm glow' I wanted to acheive. They also have a vintage look which contrasts nicely with the sleek look of the kitchen units. When the kitchen was finished I sent some pictures to Artifact Lighting, and they liked the kitchen so much they featured it on the blog page of their website.

You can read the blog page here

House of Hackney's first outdoor fabric

26 Jun 2019

A photo of the new House of Hackney Palmeral print for outdoor use.

One of my favourite interiors brands, House of Hackney, who are known for their daring and quirky prints, have just released a new fabric which is suitable for our door use. They took one of their designs, Palmeral, and reimagined it in a fresh colour palette of off white and green. This colour fast and water resistant fabric can be used for anything from outdoor cushions to furnishing yachts (if you are lucky enough to have one!)

My thoughts on the colour Living Coral in Cardiff Life Magazine

31 May 2019

A photo which accompanies the Cardiff Life article about Living Coral
Hear what I and my fellow designers have got to say about Pantone's colour of the year, Living Coral, and how to use it, in this month's Cardiff Life magazine. The article is on pages 84-86, and you can read it here. Do you think you could use it in your home?

Sustainability in furniture design

7 May 2019

A photo of the new Componibili Bio.
Sustainability is something that is becoming more and more important in interior design - not just where we buy items from and how far they've travelled to get to us, but also the materials that they are made from. Kartell, one of Italy's best known design brands, have just released the world's first piece of furniture made from a bioplastic called Bio-On. It's a fully sustainable version of one of their best selling items - the Componibili modular unit, and it comes in four delicious pastel shades. They may be 100% sustainable, but they are also super cute and bang on trend with this seasons colours. You can buy them here

The latest trend in shutters

24 Feb 2019

A photo of California Shutters new range in ash wood.

Forget painted shutters - the new style direction for window shutters is bare wood. These full height shutters made from sustainably sourced ash are the newest product from California Shutters, and are set to be big this year.

My new favourite tile!

7 Feb 2019

A picture of the Lampas Marint pattern tile from Topps Tiles

I was searching for some tiles for a client's splashback recently and came across these beauties from Topps Tiles. There's long been a trend for patterned tiles, with lots of geometric shapes and bold colours going on, but I've begun to see more and more tiles with a pattern in the surface of the tile itself. These ones are a lovely example, and the deep blue colour is just stunning. To get a closer look at them, follow the link below.

Lampas Pattern Marine tile

Pantone announce their colour of the year 2019

11 Dec 2018

a shot of a coral reef with the description Color of the Year 2019

Leading colour experts Pantone have annouced the shade which they think will be the colour of the year for next year - Coral pink. It might look very bright and scary, but it's actually quite easy to use. I wouldn't suggest painting a whole room in it, as that might be a bit overwhelming, but I would use it in small doses, such as on cushions or in artwork, to liven up a shceme. Pantone say that the colour is meant to 'embrace us with warmth and nourishment and provide comfort and bouyancy in our continually shifting envirnoment', which basically means it's a happy, uplifting colour, and might just cheer us all up!

My work featured on Homify

8 Oct 2018

a view of the dressed bed, pink walls and blackout lined curtainsMy work has been featured in an article on Homify - one of the leading online ideas platforms for all things interiors. My project is in an article on how to avoid common mistakes when designing a bedroom. The article mentions how important it is to block out light for a good nights sleep - something I addressed by adding blackout lining to the curtains and adding an extra layer of window dressing with the wooden Venetian blinds. To see the article, please use the link below.

Homfy article - Are you guilty of these 8 bedroom design mistakes?