High Expectations with Accent Ceilings

Take your spaces to new heights with accent ceilings

Things are looking up. In the world of design, graphic patterns and colors once reserved for walls are aiming high and finding homes on accent ceilings with gorgeous results. The graphic wallpaper or metallic paint that didn’t quite work on your vertical surfaces might do better horizontally with some height.

accent ceilings

This wooden ceiling by Jules Wilson of Jules Wilson Design Studio balances the modern vibe in the rest of the home. (Photo: Brady Architectural Photography)

“Your ceiling shouldn’t be ignored anymore as part of a room’s design,” notes Sara McLean, color specialist for Dunn-Edwards. “Historically, most of the design and storytelling in structures was on the ceilings. In places like churches and castles, you used to have to look up to fully appreciate the space. Nowadays, everything has gone white, so it’s nice to come back to fully utilizing the ceiling in design.”

Heads Up

While most of us write our ceilings off as untouchable territory by default and paint them an unassuming neutral shade, design professionals revel in utilizing the space in a multitude of ways for practical and aesthetic reasons.

accent ceiling wallpaper

Kelly Hinchman of Studio H Design Group elevates this ceiling with metallic wallpaper.

“I think that emphasizing the ceiling can tell your eyes to do different things in the way that they perceive a room,” says Jules Wilson, principal designer at Jules Wilson Design Studio. “It can create activity and add a splash of interest, make spaces seem more three-dimensional and give rooms height.”

“You can draw the line of vision up and add verticality to a space by using dark colors on the ceiling and keeping your walls and trim fairly neutral,” Sara explains. “Or use a light color or white shade to simplify and unify a space by fading out harsh design elements like asymmetrical or slanted ceilings.”

An accent ceiling is a great way to delineate a space without using walls. “I love using it to ground an area,” says Kelly Hinchman, design principal at Studio H Design Group. “You can instantly lower dimensions by adding an emphasis on the ceiling. I especially enjoy using accent ceilings in dining areas to make a more intimate space without lowering the volume of the room.

“Accent ceilings can also harmonize finishes in a space. I have used various styles of finishes on ceilings—including copper wallcoverings, coffered beam designs and weathered oak planks,” Kelly continues. “In one project, we used weathered oak beams on the ceiling above the kitchen table and also on the face of the bar at the entry of the home. This linked the spaces together seamlessly. Also, in this same project we used a copper wallcovering to create a room division visually over the dining table in an open-floor-plan living area.”

The Fifth Wall

There are plenty of different ways to create a statement on your ceiling—with options ranging from cost-effective paint and durable wallpaper to architectural accents like beams and trim work.


Though applying a vibrant shade of paint above is not a revolutionary concept, the medium’s variations are endless.

“People are taking the lightest version of their wall color and putting it on their ceilings,” Sara shares. “Imagine a medium blue or green on the walls and then an off-white shade with a tint of that color on the ceiling. This is not as stark as a typical accent ceiling and is a different way to envelope a room in a specific color.

“Conversely, if you are looking for a more dramatic way to make a room all about one color, cover the entire space in a single shade—trim and walls—and carry it to the ceiling as well. Deeper, darker colors make the strongest impact and add warmth. This look works well for intimate spaces like libraries and media rooms.”

Add a touch of glamour in an entertaining space by choosing high-gloss, metallic or opalescent paint for the ceiling, Sara suggests. “Pair this look with a flat or velvet sheen for the walls and a beautiful lighting piece, and the whole room glows and has a very regal feel.”

Even if you have a ceiling that already has architectural accents, paint helps emphasize their impact on the space.

“[On a coffered ceiling], I would paint the beadboard one color—perhaps a soft blue—and the trim work a darker color and then the walls a third color using a darker shade of the trim color. This carries the theme throughout the room, adds dimension and is an affordable way to add height in homes with low ceilings,” Sara says.

accent ceilings

The architectural look of York Wallcoverings “Coffered Octagon” wallpaper adds subtle interest to this hallway ceiling.


Though wallpaper is more expensive than paint, it can make a more graphic statement.

“There aren’t any papers that are specifically made for the ceiling,” says Debra Lyons, owner of Lyons Wallpaper in Spring Valley.

“But pretty much any paper would work other than those made from grasscloth or cork, as the thickness of these materials makes them heavy and difficult to install at that angle. They also tend to collect dust easily.”

“Papers with a textured look that mimic different materials are very popular right now—brick, wood, aged metal, concrete, crushed velvet,” Debra explains.

“You could make your ceiling look like your favorite materials for far less than it would be to actually have the real thing in your home. Papers with bold geometric patterns or architectural elements such as crown molding and coffering would be fun too.”

Architectural Details

accent ceiling

Kelly Hinchman utilized weathered oak planks to create an intimate kitchen dining nook

“You’ll find that doing some simple applied molding—crown molding or similar—to create bounded areas of separation is a striking and inexpensive way to add interest,” Jules explains. “Applying trim work to a ceiling allows you to compartmentalize a large room and you can add extra interest by creating a pattern on the ceiling inside the compartment.” This could be done with a solid color or a pattern.

“Wooden beams on the ceiling really create warmth and richness and make a space feel cozy,” Jules says. “They create an intimate space by bringing the ceiling down. In larger homes they reduce the grand scale of the house to a more inviting level. When we put wood on ceilings we keep the walls light—unless we are doing a decadent space like a study.”

For a casual look, a tongue-and-groove ceiling and oak faux beams is an effortless solution, Kelly says. “I used them on a project to add interest to a large, somewhat low ceiling.” 

DIY to Try: Paint Party

If you’re looking to make a ceiling statement on a budget, roll on some paint. Sara McLean, color specialist for Dunn-Edwards, says painting an accent ceiling is well within most DIYers skill range, so go ahead, aim high. Here’s some expert advice:

Prepare the space. You’ll need a ladder; paint tray and liner; drop cloths to cover the floor, furniture and other areas; spackle and a putty knife for filling in small holes; caulking and a caulking gun to repair any cracks in corners and safety glasses to protect your eyes. Use a half-inch roller on an extension pole for smooth ceilings, she says.

Opt for sprayer equipment to paint popcorn or textured ceilings. And avoid high-gloss paints that highlight imperfections; flat paint hides flaws.

Protect adjacent walls with tape and trim the ceiling using an angular wall brush.

Categories: Home Design