Designing Ceilings

Someone asked me the other day, how can we design our ceiling to freshen up the energy of the space? After all, no one really thinks much about the ceiling, apart from it being the surface to hide all your wiring and to mount your lights. But what if we were to look at ceilings differently? The first thing we need to acknowledge is that the ceiling is generally flat, and usually constructed out of plasterboard, so you get a white horizontal surface. So how can we design the ceiling to bring out different design concepts for the space? We can play with lights and use the ceiling as a surface to bounce off lights, we can create coffered features, or we can even integrate different elements for a composition design.

Recessed light strips can work out great, but don’t overdo it. Too many will be too many!


The first thing we will look at is how to light up the ceiling. Most spaces will usually use a recessed downlight as the primary source of light. The problem with this is that the light will reflect off the ground back up to the ceiling, so the colour of your ceiling will be determined by the colour of your floor. Therefore, we try to use timber for bedrooms to create a warm feel for the space. Don’t believe me? Try using a white or black tile flooring and you will find the bedroom to be rather monotone.

Recessed lighting coves on the ceiling create soft reflected light, and can be very effective at generating a lovely ambience.

By creating recessed lighting coves within the ceiling, we can use the ceiling to bounce off the light, thereby creating a soft reflected light source for the room. But be sure never to overdo the recessed coves, as the more coves you have, the more lighting strips you create, which can be distracting or overwhelming if used in excess.

The next item to consider is the colour temperature of the light. Avoid cold temperatures; always stick to the warm colours (2,700 to 3,000K) to create that warm, cozy feel for the room.


Coffered ceilings are generally easy to build, as you simply introduce an exposed beam or protruding feature in a rectilinear pattern to create the vaulted feel. This is an effective way of designing the ceiling when we have exposed beams but want to achieve the maximum ceiling height possible. And the combinations in the design are numerous. You can highlight the beam design in a white base tone while the recessed ceiling can be painted in a contrasting colour, or even with a mural or wallpaper backing to it.

Dark timber beams on pure white emit a strongly Victorian feel.

And depending on the type of materials you use, you can design the ceiling to fit your theme. For example, the use of raw timber beams gives a Nordic Scandinavian feel, while pure white reminds us of a Victorian design. Or you can use completely timber to get a rustic feel.

The raw timber beams here generate a warm Nordic Scandinarian feel.

While coffered ceilings offer many different design variations, always follow these guidelines. Avoid thin long beam; wide shallow beams work better. Add trimmings to the beams so you don’t end up with a rectilinear box. And most importantly, don’t position beams where you are likely to sit under – this is really bad feng shui.

The shapes on this ceiling are an attempt at design, but end up looking like an afterthought.


For those who wish to experiment further, you may play around with symbols or shapes and mount them onto the ceiling. This design can be considered an acquired taste, as while it can be fun to play around with, it gets dated very quickly. Generally, I like to keep the funk out of the ceiling design and to keep it simple.

The circular shape on the ceiling here pulls the space together, doubling up as a central light source, creating a striking architectural feature.

However, if the treatment of the shape is done tastefully, the feature may end up as a signature statement for the room. Take for example the two scenarios, where the first places a rectilinear feature onto the ceiling with back lighting. The first reaction is that there is nothing unique or amazing about the design, but rather, it becomes an afterthought. The second scenario looks at using a circle to pull the space together, but what strikes me is the use of a mirrored center and chandelier to create a central source of light with cove lighting along the circumference. Unlike the first scenario, the circle acts as a central feature that pulls the room together to create this striking architectural feature.


And finally, another method to explore is to combine two different materials to create a feature piece. As seen in this example, the use of timber strips is pulled across the wall up across the ceiling to create a continuous line. This allows the walls and ceiling to be contiguous acting as one seamless element. The use of timber helps to highlight a feature onto the ceiling which then acts as a base for the chandelier to hang. So, don’t restrict yourself to just one material but explore the different types of materials, and you may be surprised with the designs you can come up with.

The timber strips here are pulled across the wall and up onto the ceiling, ending as a base from which the lights are hung. Great ceiling design feature.

And so, when how we can design a ceiling to change the energy?

Seems like there are plenty of ways we can play around with the ceiling. My advice is to look at what styles you are comfortable with and look at the space to see what ceiling type and what design works best. But remember to be practical and keep the design simple. Over-design rarely means better when it comes to ceilings.

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