Should you paint dark ceilings with light walls? Experts weigh in on the pros and cons

Learn what effect painting dark ceilings with light walls will have on your space, and when and where design experts recommend it

A living room with olive green ceiling
(Image credit: Victory Colours)

Dark ceilings with light walls are a bold look that, dare we say it, has taken over from the accent wall as a way to bring some drama to any room. Yes, painting your ceiling dark can seem like a daring move, but as our experts suggest, it isn't necessarily so. A deep, moody hue can bring a layer of personality to a space, especially when juxtaposed with a light-toned wall. 

We spoke to our experts to weigh in on the pros and cons of a dark ceiling with light walls and they offered some great insights that could help convince you, one way or another, on this trending paint idea.  

Aditi Sharma Maheshwari
Aditi Sharma Maheshwari

Aditi is a homes writer and editor with several years of experience. Her articles, backed by expert insights, offer suggestions aimed at helping readers make the best home design choices. For this article, she spoke to top interior designers and industry experts to find out whether a dark ceiling should be painted.

Should you paint dark ceilings with light walls?

a living room with a teal ceiling

(Image credit: Michael Dansk)

The answer is yes and no, depending on the size, scale, and style of the room. Largely, dark ceilings work wonderfully well in double or triple-height rooms or ones that have a traditional, period look. Dark ceilings are also great if you want to highlight a wonderful cornice work on the ceiling, a whimsical arch, or a statement crown molding feature. 

'Dark ceilings can be bold statements, especially with contrasting white walls,' says Jennifer Morris, founder of JMorris Design. 'It can add unexpected drama to an area in the room that is often underrated.

'Painting the fifth wall can also play up the proportions of space. Carefully consider the scale of the room and ceiling height,' says Jennifer.

On the other hand, a smaller room like a studio apartment, or a low, narrow living room can make the space seem smaller and claustrophobic. Also, sometimes a black or deep grey ceiling can make a space feel cold and imposing. 

Suffield Green from Farrow & Ball
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Suffield Green from Farrow & Ball

This neo-Georgian green is a richly pigmented tone, ideal for both walls, ceilings, and even joinery. The color has inherent warmth and can create a snug atmosphere.

What are the pros and cons of a dark ceiling with light walls?

A dark blue ceiling in a bathroom

(Image credit: Crosswater)

When it comes to painted ceiling ideas, there's enough proof out there to see how it can be beautiful. But in some cases it can also hamper your home's look and vibe. Based on what you intend for the room, choose to paint the dark ceiling... or not.

'Dark ceilings can be transformative in a room,' says Emma Deterding, founder, and creative director at Kelling Designs. 'They bring down the height and make a room moodier and much more atmospheric, whilst also adding a cozy and dramatic feel. It's a really brave design choice and is something that's not for the faint-hearted.'

Dark paint for a high ceiling is a great way to make a bigger room feel more intimate. 'Along with dark accessories, a dark-hued ceiling can create the illusion of a closed ceiling, offering a cozy, warm, and inviting feel to any space,' says Chelsea Clark, head of brand at Lust Home

'Also, a dark ceiling is a great way to add contrast to a room and make accessories pop,' says Chelsea. 'Whether you’re looking to bring out the vibrancy of hues scattered in the room, add depth to gold accessories, or define an area of an open space, a dark-colored ceiling can provide the contrast needed to accentuate your chosen color.'

While the pros seem strong, do keep these cons in mind.

'Dark ceiling with lighter walls, can make a space feel like the weight of the room is hanging over your head, making you feel trapped,' says Emma. 'I'd always advise to keep it tonal, and if you're going dark on the ceiling, then go dark throughout for a beautifully moody and romantic aesthetic.'

Dark colors tend to recede whereas lighter colors expand. In a small room, a dark-painted ceiling can create the feeling, as though the room is closing in. Plus, it can reduce the visual dimensions of the space, making it look smaller than it is. Dark and light tones create a stark contrast, sometimes making an interior seem like a circus. You want to be very careful while choosing the right color combinations.

Black 01 Matt from Lick
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Black 01 Matt from Lick

Black 01 has inky blue undertones and can amplify the height and volume of space, or even bring it down for a cocooning feel. This paint has a paper-like matt finish, without the unwanted shine. 

What colors should I use?

a stylish sage green bedroom with a painted ceiling

(Image credit: Ryan Mcdonald. Design: Jen Talbot Design)

When looking for the best ceiling colors to pair with your walls, a good place to start is to look at two tones of the same color. So, a deep, dark green contrasted with light green on the walls. This can help the ceiling feel at home in the room, and offer an on-trend monochromatic look. 

Other than similar paint colors, white is a color that goes with a navy blue, making the ceiling and wall combination look sleek and sophisticated; similarly, a mustard ceiling with light pink walls or a red ceiling with beige walls could work well. 

Consider paint effects, too 

a bedroom with a gloss painted ceiling

(Image credit: The Hoxton, Shepherd's Bush)

Have a small family room? A quaint powder room? Give this small space a jewel box-like look with dark ceiling paint that runs to the walls. Yes, color drenching or going monochromatic in a dark tone can give depth to the room and make it seem cozy and inviting. 

Other than that, you could try out interesting paint techniques like choosing dark glossy ceiling paint with light matt walls. Or painting the ceiling and the trims the same color, while keeping the walls light. Even a dark ceiling with black and white stripes on the walls could work.

'When it comes to choosing or creating a design scheme with a dark ceiling, there are no set rules, but I always think it's worth adding some interesting details, for instance, a different colored border or a line around the edge to add that extra flourish,' says Emma. 'I'd always advise opting for a lacquered ceiling as it'll help to bring a dark color to life on the ceiling and add that extra statement.'

'Along with the right accessories, pairing a dark ceiling with a light-colored wallpaper can help make a room feel much bigger,' says Chelsea.

Design Editor

Aditi Sharma Maheshwari is the Design Editor at Livingetc. She is an architecture and design journalist with over 10 years of experience. She's worked at some of the leading media houses in India such as Elle Decor, Houzz and Architectural Digest (Condé Nast). Till recently, she was a freelance writer for publications such as Architectural Digest US, House Beautiful, Stir World, Beautiful Homes India among others. In her spare time, she volunteers at animal shelters and other rescue organizations.