Editor’s Miscellany: Looking Up

May 26, 2011

By Kyle Hoepner

An interesting ceiling. Easy when you have gorgeous, 200-year-old beams, or the space and budget to construct a coffered tray of gleaming oak, or can perhaps invite one of the Tiepolos in to toss off a quick fresco. But when it comes to lower, plainer–that is, planar–ceilings that can’t be rebuilt for one reason or other, the challenge may require some ingenuity.

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Aeneas Conducted to Immortality by Venus. Ceiling fresco for the guard room of the Villa Valmarana in Vicenza. Photo from backtoclassics.com

One school of thought is “paint the ceiling white, or a lighter shade of the wall color, and let it disappear.†This view has many adherents and has produced many gorgeous interiors. But there is a more activist camp–increasingly noticeable these days–that believes in making the ceiling sing for its supper, regarding it as what they like to call “the fifth wall.†(Question: Does anyone ever refer to a floor as “the sixth wallâ€?)

Treatments range from simple to complex, classic to crazy, but I’ve noticed three main modes of execution: paint, wallpaper, and other custom finishes.

A particularly subtle example involves simply playing with reflectivity. In this New York living room by Philip Gorrivan, the ceiling is done in high-gloss white while the rest of the room’s surfaces are matte–major impact achieved through minimal means.

Photo courtesy of Philip Gorrivan Design

Moving a notch up the drama continuum, look what a coat of red paint and a grid of rather retro ceiling fixtures do for this San Marino kitchen by Joe Nye.

Photo courtesy of Joe Nye, Inc.

Closer to home (for those of us in New England), designer Wendy Valliere deployed overhead wallpaper several times while reworking her own 1842 farmhouse in Stowe, Vermont. In her bath the effect is relatively demure; her bedroom (black-and-white flocked paper everywhere!) makes a stronger statement.

From the March/April 2011 issue of New England Home. Photos by Michael Partenio; click to see more of this house.

Two more wallpaper specimens, neither on the understated side, from the Brooklyn house of Delta Sky style director Jason Oliver Nixon and his interior designer partner, John Loecke.

From a May 1, 2011, story in New York magazine. Photos by Dean Kaufman; click to see more.

When it comes to more elaborate ceiling possibilities, here are a few ideas. What about plaster ornament, as in this living room by San Francisco designer Suzanne Tucker?

Photo courtesy of Tucker and Marks, Inc.

Or instead of complex millwork, interesting wood can be applied flat, like the pecky cypress in this kitchen by Atlanta’s Kay Douglass.

Photo by Simon Upton, courtesy of House Beautiful

Or consider the ceiling of Celerie Kemble‘s library at this year’s Kips Bay Decorator Show House: a gorgeous mosaic of gilded, back-painted glass panels by artist Miriam Ellner.

Photo by Marco Ricca, courtesy of Kemble Interiors

Photo by Nick Johnson, courtesy of Kemble Interiors

Or ruched fabric, anyone? (I couldn’t find a good photo for this, unfortunately.)

One final thought: You could also consider creating similar effects through lighting, as Andrée Putman did in this design for the Morgans Hotel in New York (included in the retrospective exhibition of her work this past winter at the Hôtel de Ville in Paris).

Photo by Nicolas Koenig, courtesy of Morgans Hotel Group


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