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A colourful ceiling in a bathroom

Colour on a ceiling

Colour on the ceiling

When it comes to choosing a paint colour for your ceiling, most of us would opt for a shade of white. For years, white has been considered the safest option for our loftiest wall – and it’s true, most times it’s the perfect choice – but a white ceiling is not always the right ceiling. Just as colour on our walls can add drama or sophistication to a room, colour above us can transform a room’s look and feel.

“For most homes ceilings are not the feature, but if you have a high stud height, there’s no reason why you can’t bring some colour onto the ceiling,” says interior designer and colour consultant Debbie Abercrombie.

Applying a colour to the ceiling can dramatically alter your perception of the room’s space, making it appear larger, smaller, more formal or casual. A dark colour can visually lower the height of a room, while a light colour can give the impression that it’s taller.

“With a low stud height, say 2.4m, you really need to keep the ceiling light,” says Debbie. “But once you get to a stud height that’s 2.7m and higher you have more flexibility. If you have a higher stud height, the world is your oyster.”

Designers often use darker colours on high stud ceilings to evoke a sense of coziness or snug retreat. But a stand-alone room that can be shut off from adjoining rooms is a stronger candidate for dark hues than primary living spaces.

“In living spaces where you spend a lot of time, you don’t want to bring your ceilings down,” says Debbie. “But if it’s a separate room, somewhere for entertaining – a separate dining room or a home theatre – for example, it has a different purpose and you can close those rooms in.”

Powder rooms and hallways, which have a clear purpose, are great places to introduce fun colours.

“I have a client at the moment who has a very wicked sense of humour and we are putting a wallpaper with lips on the ceiling,” says Debbie. That’s in a bathroom, like a powder room for guests. So that’s not kids, who are going to be using it all the time; it’s a space that’s used for a purpose, and you’re in and out.”

Anaglypta is becoming increasingly popular on ceilings too. These uncoloured, embossed wallpapers bring texture to a room and can be painted over in your choice of Resene colour.

However, where a room has a focal point, ceilings are best kept plain and light.

“In a kitchen, for example, your benchtop or cook space is the focus, so if you try to put something on the ceiling, the eye doesn’t know where to focus,” says Debbie. “In a dining area your dining table is normally the focus, in your living room it might be the fireplace or your seating. So for certain rooms that have their own focal point, we generally don’t focus on the ceiling.”

Head to a child’s room though, and colours can be used to lighten or brighten the mood. Lighter colours are generally more restful, whereas dark colours can be a little gloomy. But darker colours aren’t necessarily a no-no in kids’ rooms.

“Sometimes it comes down to the personality of the child,” says Debbie. “You don’t want it to be too dark for them. But some children actually like that sense of security, so it can be a little bit darker. But you can lighten it by maybe putting clouds or stars on, or decals.”

Or try sparkly metallic paints as a fun way to spice up a room.

“I am working on a project at the moment where we are going to use some of the Resene Metallics on the ceiling. It is a project that is a little more theatrical than most so we can add a theatrical element to it. You can do that in the dining room, you can do it in a plasma room – rooms where you want to make a cosy atmosphere – and in children’s rooms. The metallic paints are reflective, so they won’t be too hard and dark to look at.”

Excess colour may not be to everyone’s taste, but using colour on the ceiling in a child’s room may be a happy medium for parents who prefer all the walls in their house to be painted the same colour.

Resene colour consultant Sarah Gregory says it’s a neat way to compromise. “Where parents want the same colour all the way through the house but the child wants colour in their bedroom, you can pop colour on the ceiling. It’s different, they’ve got their colour, but it doesn’t affect the overall look of the house.”

Sarah also says that dark colours on ceilings, while not commonly used in children’s bedrooms, are not unheard of.

“I’ve done a really dark jade for the ceiling - Resene Japanese Laurel - in a villa which had quite a high stud. A high stud can take a darker ceiling. At the Viaduct, I’ve also done a black ceiling in high gloss so that it reflected all the lights.”

Resene Japanese Laurel

But if that sounds too daring for you, there are other options. One trick often used by interior designers when painting a ceiling is to use the same colour as the walls, but a shade or two lighter. Since ceilings appear in shadow, using exactly the same shade as you used on the walls will make the ceiling appear darker.

“It’s the same if you put your hand in front of you and tilt it upside down, the light on your hand gets darker,” says Sarah. “So the same would happen with the colour on your wall – if you roll it over, all of a sudden you’ve got a darker ceiling. So if you used Resene Half Bison Hide on your walls, you’d use Resene Eighth Bison Hide on the ceiling so it would appear the same colour.”

Resene Half Bison Hide

Resene Eighth Bison Hide

Debbie agrees. “You might have Resene Lemon Grass on the walls but then you’d have Resene Eighth Lemon Grass on the ceilings. Or if I’m using Resene Thorndon Cream on the walls, I would use Resene Eighth Thorndon Cream on the ceilings. That’s why the Resene Whites & Neutrals palette is so nice to work with for your walls and your ceilings.”

Resene Lemon Grass

Resene Eighth Lemon Grass
Resene Thorndon Cream

Resene Eighth Thorndon Cream

Ceiling paint is typically flat or low sheen rather than glossy, as high gloss draws attention to imperfections. Resene Ceiling Paint waterborne flat, for example, is recommended for use on ceilings in living rooms, bedrooms and dining rooms. A more recent addition to Resene’s collection is Resene Earthsense Ceiling Paint, another excellent product for ceilings

Environmental Choice-approved, Resene Earthsense Ceiling Paint is formulated with a special renewable extender pigment, providing at least 20% by volume of renewable raw materials in the final paint film, and 65% in the wet paint with the inclusion of water.

For rooms that attract more moisture, such as kitchens and bathrooms, a waterborne enamel such as Resene SpaceCote Flat or Resene SpaceCote Flat Kitchen & Bathroom is perfect.

If painting mouldy ceilings, a product such as Resene Moss & Mould Killer is best used first.

“Bleach is OK if you just want to get rid of the colour of the mould,” says Sarah, “but you need to kill off the spores completely with a product like Resene Moss & Mould Killer before repainting.”

When you’re looking at your ceiling, remember don’t just confine yourself to white - a coloured ceiling may be just what you need to refresh the look of your room.


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Colours shown on this website are a representation only. Please refer to the actual paint or product sample. Resene colour charts, testpots and samples are available for ordering online.   See measurements/conversions for more details on how electronic colour values are achieved.