What colour do I paint my ceiling?

Walk into a paint store and prominent at the front will be huge displays of discounted flat ceiling white paint, so you may be asking why would I need to consider what colour to paint my ceiling?  This is valid as there is nothing terribly wrong with ceiling white paint but it isn't necessarily exactly the right choice for every room and every colour scheme.  In fact when someone asks me, what colour do I paint my ceiling?  I would rarely recommend it.  Let me show you how to treat your ceiling and cornice here.

The benefits of a manufacturer's ceiling paint

  • A good reason to choose the manufacturer's ceiling paint is that it will be ultra flat.  This is important as the higher the sheen level, the more you will see imperfections and it is generally in a ceiling that these are most evident, particularly if you have moved ceiling lights around.
  • In addition to being ultra flat a white ceiling paint may contain a touch of grey and I find that many of them have a cool blue tint which is meant to disappear once the paint dries.  This is important because the more grey you have in a white, the greater and easier the coverage.  Some ceiling white paints are marketed as only requiring one coat which is highly appealing when facing a DIY project.
  • When the paint is first applied it looks patchy but should dry to an even finish.
  • Many ceiling white paints also contain mould inhibitors and have quick drying times.
  • Ceiling paints are usually more viscous than wall paints which saves them from dripping down your arm and onto the floor!
What colour do I paint my ceiling?
Image Remodelaholic.com

The drawbacks of a manufacturer's ceiling paint

  • The slight tint of grey in the white ceiling paint or the cool/warm base may be completely at odds with your chosen wall white.
  • Manufacturer's white ceiling paints are all a little different but generally are quite bright, even if they have a touch of grey and again this may not suit your colour scheme.
  • All interior whites have an underlying colour which you can often only see when you place them next to a different white.  Therefore if you just use a ceiling white paint, you could completely throw your wall and trim colour.
  • Consider too kitchen joinery that goes all the way to the ceiling.  If this is a white then you need to ensure that the underlying tint in the joinery is the same as the ceiling.
  • Therefore ALWAYS get a ceiling paint tinted to a white that suits your colour scheme.
What colour do I paint my ceiling?
Image: HGTV

How do I decide which white to paint my ceiling?

There are a couple of ways to approach this question.

  • Use a quarter or half strength of the white that you are using on your walls.  This way you know that any undertone – blue, yellow, pink etc. will be the same. Shadows make colours appear darker on ceilings so if you just use the same white up the walls and over the ceiling your ceiling will appear darker.
  • Use the same white that you are using on your trim and internal doors.  It may be that you are using a very light white on the walls with a fresh white for the trim.  It's difficult to have a quarter strength of a white that already only contains a small degree of a tint so by using the trim white you are not introducing another colour into the scheme.  Remember with whites to keep it simple.
  • If you have a neutral on your walls, identify the underlying colour.  For example, is it a stone green neutral or a warm taupe brown?  Once you know the underlying colour you can choose a white for the ceiling with that same undertone.  Many paint charts will have a range of neutrals from darkest through to the lightest and it is usually this light version that works well for the ceiling.

Related: What colour do I paint my skirting boards & architraves?

Related: What colour do I paint my internal doors?

What colour should I paint my cornice?

The cornice should usually be painted with the same paint as the ceiling.  Architecturally the cornice belongs to the ceiling rather than the wall.  However this is not necessarily the case with a period property that you are faithfully restoring to its original condition, but that is a whole new subject!

What colour do I paint my ceiling?

What colour do I paint a raked ceiling?

  1. If you have painted your walls white then simply carry this white onto the raked ceiling.  I generally find that with all the different shadows created by a ceiling of this kind that there isn't much point adjusting the white further.
  2. If you have a colour or neutral on your walls then select your white as you would for your other ceilings.
What colour do I paint my ceiling?
Image: HGTV

If you have a raked ceiling it becomes a feature of the room so you don't have to just paint it white.  A dark colour or a natural timber can look stunning.

What colour do I paint my ceiling?
Image: Home Bunch

What colour do I paint a box ceiling?

Box ceilings are interesting as they have so many different shadow lines.  As colours become darker on a horizontal surface, the main part of the ceiling looks slightly darker.  There are two ways to treat a box ceiling:

  1. Paint the middle ceiling parts just a tone darker.  So for example use a full strength rather than a quarter strength.  This picks out the detail and gives you a more formal, classic look.
  2. Paint the entire ceiling in one white and just take advantage of the natural shadow lines as in the image below.
What colour do I paint my ceiling?
Image: Howtodecorate.com

A box ceiling may have timber planked inserts.  By keeping these in timber, the ceiling becomes the focal point to the scheme.  If you painted them white you would still have a contrasting effect but it wouldn't be the strong feature in the house that it currently is.

What colour do I paint my ceiling?
Image: Vintage South Developments

You don't have to paint your ceiling white

Most of us do paint our ceilings white, or as I recommend, a white to go with your wall colour.  However in certain cases and for particular styles, a much darker tone or different colour can be used.

In a room with very high ceilings, the addition of a matt black colour is stunning and I think really adds to the feel of the room below.  As the ceilings are high, the room is still light and airy but with added drama.

What colour should I paint my ceiling
Image: Homebunch.com

Fans of Abigail Ahern will know that she loves dark colour palettes and will paint the ceiling the same as the walls. The effect of painting the ceiling white gives an airy feel to the room and ensures that it feels large and spacious, which is usually the feeling that we want to create.  By painting your ceiling a darker colour, it clearly has the effect of lowering the ceiling to create a very cosy, cocoon like space.

You don't often see this treatment in interior schemes but it is a useful trick for commercial premises, particularly cafes and restaurants that you want to feel more intimate.

What colour do I paint my ceiling?
Image: Design Sponge

I have written about how to manipulate a space with colour here:

Related: Manipulating a space with colour – lesson no. 5

Related: How to work with a dark colour palette

Timber lined ceilings

Think very carefully before painting a timber ceiling as it is very difficult to get the beauty of the timber back.  This gorgeous kitchen design from Nicole Davis demonstrates the point perfectly – you wouldn't want to paint this.  It does also show you how a darker treatment lowers the ceiling.  The room would have a completely different feel with a white ceiling.  It would be more airy but would have lost a lot of its character.

What colour do I paint my ceiling?
Image: Nicole Davis Design

I hope this has inspired you and also given you some useful background information for when you are considering the question – what colour do I paint my ceiling?  That's if you decide to paint it at all!  I have lots of information in my FREE Resource Library so if you are planning a re-paint, renovation of a whole new build, you should check in here.

What colour do I paint my ceiling?

4 thoughts on “What colour do I paint my ceiling?

  1. Avatar
    Caren says:

    Love your quarter strength ideas. In the US they usually do not do this but did ask at our big box store for 25% “ Peaceful Blue” to make a traditional “ Haint Blue” porch ceiling. They did it!
    Thanks so much.

    • Samantha Bacon
      Samantha Bacon says:

      Thanks for the update Caren – I’m changing the way the Americans do something….now that’s an achievement for me x

  2. Avatar
    Steven says:

    I’d like to question the assumption that dark ceiling make a room feel smaller, or more cave-like. In the example picture you showed the ceiling actually disappears, the room doesn’t seem lower at all. Is this just me?

    • Samantha Bacon
      Samantha Bacon says:

      Hi Steven In the image with the white walls and black ceiling, the height of the ceiling is high and generous and I think if this was in white, the same as the walls, the ceiling would appear higher. I think that it is just that the room is very generous to begin with. Lighter tones will certainly recede but you’re right in saying that the dark paint helps the ceiling to disappear – like the night sky. However I think if you were actually in the room that the dark tone would make it appear smaller. This can be a very handy trick if you feel a space is too large which is why cafes and restaurants have dark ceilings to make them feel more intimate and welcoming.

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