x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

House Doctor: Ceilings are full of missed decorative opporunities

Don't overlook the chance to add detailing, reflect light or create the appearance of a three-dimensional surface.

Many people don't realise that the ceilings in our homes are the largest uninterrupted interior surfaces.

Historically, ceilings were blank canvases that became works of art featuring elaborate mouldings, paintings, tile work and light fixtures. Ceilings were considered the primary decorative surface for architects and artists to work with. Flat with few openings and visible from every point in a room, the ceiling could be designed any way the heart desired.

But in residences built in the past 60 years, ceiling details consist of light fixtures, air conditioning vents and perhaps a smoke detector. Ceilings are missed opportunities to bring unique character and style into personal spaces, and there are many simple and inexpensive way to dress them up.

A couple of coats of coloured paint can create a variety of effects. Light blues have been used for generations to emulate the sky. Darker colours can bring high ceilings down to a cosier level. Bright colours can compensate for insufficient lighting, reflecting light from lamps back down into a room.

Soft, non-reflective, flat-finish paints are not very durable, so they are ideal for out-of-reach ceilings. Satin-finish paints have a slightly glossy appearance but generally don't create much glare from reflected light. Avoid higher gloss paints for ceilings because they can cause glare and typically show off imperfections. Every crack and bump from poor plasterwork, rough surfaces or prior damage will be accentuated.

From the Victorian era well into the 20th century, wallpaper was used on ceilings to provide character and the appearance of a three-dimensional surface. Multiple layers of wallpaper creating a background and border can be used to give the appearance of a stencilled ceiling and complicated detail.

Medallions or large, plaster or fibreglass disk-shaped mouldings can be installed on the ceiling to add a traditional detail or accentuate a beautiful light fixture. Additional mouldings can be installed to create the effect of a panelled ceiling, although this can be a complicated process and is much more permanent.

Finally, don't dismiss the importance of a beautiful light fixture, scaled appropriately for the room. Instead of the basic ceiling-mounted unit installed by the builder, find a unique fixture that complements the environment, and it will become a focal point against the backdrop of the ceiling. A special fixture can be installed and removed with minimal effort, then taken from home to home to be enjoyed for years.

Robert Reid is a professor of architecture, art and design at the American University of Sharjah.