5 Reasons Designers Say You Shouldn't Paint Your Ceiling White — And What to Do Instead

Ceilings are often thought of as white - no questions asked. But why? Our designers are giving us their reasons as to why a ceiling should be anything but, and we’re here for that.

(Image credit: Atelier Ochre)

The time has come and we’re finally moving on from stark white ceilings we all know so well.

Originally they were supposed to give the impression of a larger space, but it’s been the “rule” for so long now that we’re ready to make our interiors a lot more interesting, and leave those bright white ceilings in the past.

Nowadays, there are so many options and paint ideas out there to embrace the ceiling as a fifth wall, showcasing it in allsorts of ways allowing for different atmospheres and features to set the mood. Here's why designers are leaving the white ceiling behind, and what they're doing instead.

1. Off whites and lighter tones

Living room with beige plaster-effect walls and ceiling, light painted ceiling beams, green velvet sofa and open fireplace

(Image credit: Michael Clifford. Design by Studio Gutow)

Painting a ceiling bright white is a lost opportunity to play with color. Usually it’s to reflect and multiply the light, often in a small space, yet it can feel like it’s not in keeping with the rest of the room.

If this is the case, a lighter version of the wall color is a possible solution, or an off white with a subtle undertone may be perfect. Combining these will make for a neater finish and pull a cohesive scheme together.

'Even if you're keeping your room neutral, it's not ever a great idea to paint your walls so called "Brilliant" white,' says Hugh Metcalf, Livingetc's editor. 'And the same goes for your ceiling color, too. Even you decide you want a white ceiling with a different wall color in classic style, avoid the stark white and go for something with a warmth to it, bordering on taupe. This will, honestly, elevate the look so much, and make your color scheme feel so much more purposeful and well thought out.'

2. Color drench

a small study room with orange-yellow walls

(Image credit: sdelaemremont)

Have you heard of color drenching? It’s where you make the decision to paint walls and the ceiling the same color — and in fact often the doors, trim, molding, baseboards and more.

It may sound a a little dramatic but trust me, it’s quite the look - very striking indeed! Nancy Parrish, Founder of Nancy Parrish Interiors says, ‘Contrary to popular belief, painting your walls and ceiling in the same color can make a room feel bigger and more comfortable.’ It envelops you within the space, offering a cozy and calming effect. Whether it’s a dark green living room or a light pink kitchen, the ambiance will be set through its one color uniform instantly creating a lovely intimacy even in the smallest of rooms.

3. Architectural features

A dark and light green passagway

(Image credit: Frederick Tang Architecture/ Color Atelier)

Ceilings often have unique features, such as beams, trim, or even attic rooms with vaulted ceilings. Nancy suggests highlighting the details by painting them in different colors, making them stand out from the rest of the space. If not, color drench them for a subtle textural detailing, and stick with a single color or a combination of two depending on the desired effect.

'Looking at the ceiling in a more considered way can enhance the scale of the room in multiple ways, such as lowering the height or softening awkward angles in an attic space.' says Patrick O'Donnell, International Brand Ambassador of Farrow & Ball.

4. Contrast

a modern colorful hotel room

(Image credit: Mama Shelter hotel in Dijon, France)

A dramatic contrast between walls and ceiling is great way to play with color combinations while creating something truly unique.

‘Using contrasting colors on your ceiling can add depth and character to your room, especially in living rooms or bedrooms.’ says Nancy. You could even take it one step further by extending the ceiling color down the walls slightly, this can make a room look taller and more spacious.

5. Changing the atmosphere

A kids room with a red and white painted ceiling like an umbrella

(Image credit: Farrow & Ball)

We are seeing color play on the ceiling so much more these days, from bold wallpapers on the dining room ceiling to creating the illusion of a circus tent in a kids room, and we’re loving these quirky schemes. It certainly transforms a space when the ceiling is considered as a wall would be.

So, while white ceilings can be good, they're not always the best choice for every room. By considering these five ways to rethink your ceiling color and finish, you can transform your living spaces into stunning works of art that reflect your personal style, the space’s function and create an inviting atmosphere for you and your family to enjoy. Nancy encourages, ‘Don't be afraid to experiment and make your ceiling an impressive statement piece in your home!’

Portia Carroll

Portia Carroll is an interior stylist, writer, and design consultant. With a background in interior architecture and design, she has a plethora of creative experience in the industry working with high end interior brands to capture beautiful spaces and products and enhance their qualities.