5 reasons why you should never paint a ceiling white, reveals a leading paint and color expert

Andy Greenall Head of Design at Paint & Paper Library, says that a simple rethink of your ceilings' colors can work wonders

Three colorful rooms with contrasting ceiling treatments
(Image credit: Paint & Paper Library)

If you have always stuck to white for ceilings, thinking it would make your rooms brighter, lighter and larger-looking? Well, now a paint and color expert is asking us to rethink that approach and be, perhaps much braver with our ceiling paint ideas

'Ceilings are often the largest single expanse of color we see in a room, yet they are often the last area considered in a design scheme, and regularly painted white out of habit,' says Andy Greenall Head of Design, Paint & Paper Library

'Simply changing your ceiling color will have a profound effect on how the space will make you feel, as well as being the perfect opportunity to create a design statement,'  he continues. 

Below, Andy demonstrates five easy ways rethinking colors and paint finishes for ceilings can have a transformative effect. The results? You will discover not just how to make a house look cozy, but, conversely, how to make a small house look bigger, too.

1. White ceilings don't always make rooms feel bigger

White and black floor and fireplace, pink walls

(Image credit: Paint and Paper Library )

Let's start with the most surprising fact of ceiling mistakes to avoid: 'White ceilings used alongside bolder hues, don’t create the illusion of space, in fact they create a contrast that draws your eye upwards to the ceiling line, if you have low ceilings, a contrasting white should be avoided,' says Andy.

Instead, Andy urges us to rethink our ceiling ideas entirely.

'You can however create the illusion of space by taking your wall color onto the ceiling, extending the walls upwards. Use the same color on woodwork and skirting to create a color drenching effect which will deliver an impactful, yet enveloping and cocooning feel.'

2. White paint makes architectural details invisible

White shutters, green ceiling

(Image credit: Paint and paper library)

Let's consider all the different types of detailing you can find if you lift your gaze: beamed ceiling ideas, ceiling trim, ceiling paneling ideas. Not forgetting vaulted ceilings and maybe even decorative plasterwork you can commission. So why not highlight them with paint tricks, rather than make them blend away?

'Architectural features are a fantastic host for making a statement with color, many period properties benefit from wonderful coving and cornicing details that should be celebrated and highlighted with color,' says Andy. 

'If you inherently want to maintain a neutral color scheme on walls and trim, consider bringing a deeper statement color to the ceiling. Alternatively consider painting the trim, wall and cornicing in the same color, with a lighter tonal shade on the ceiling to create a feeling of height and add design interest.

3. Create exciting contrast

White room, plants on shelves

(Image credit: Paint and Paper Library )

Whether you're looking for interesting living room ceiling ideas or treatments for bedroom ceilings, contrast could just be the solution. 

'Perhaps the most impactful approach is to juxtapose contrasting colors. There are endless options to be creative with ceilings, highlighting an architectural detail or creating a design feature with a stripe or block of contrasting color. This technique can work to create a color block canopy over a bed or zone a space within a living area.'

4. Bleed the ceiling color downwards

Purple living room, purple sofa and armchair

(Image credit: Paint and paper library)

Looking for tricks to make a living room ceiling look higher? Or perhaps you want to find ways to make your bedroom ceiling look higher? Andy Greenall has this message: 

'Don’t stop at the ceiling line, if you have a picture rail, extend the color down the wall to the picture rail. If you don’t have an existing picture rail to work to, create the illusion of one with contrasting colors on the walls and ceiling, stopping the ceiling color at picture rail height to create the illusion of architectural features.'

5. Consider the sheen level

Black bath, wicker rug

(Image credit: Paint and Paper Library )

It's not just color but paint finishes that have an effect, with more reflective paint sheen levels creating more opportunities for light to bounce around.

'It’s not just the ceiling color that will have an effect on how the space will feel, a matte finish will give a velvety soft, chalky finish that won’t reflect much light, whilst a high sheen finish will bounce light around the room and create a dramatic almost lacquer like effect,' advises Andy.

Are white ceilings better?

White ceilings can undoubtedly help light bounce around a space and can make a room feel larger and brighter if the walls are also white. However, a white ceiling that creates real contrast with wall colors can be stark, particularly in rooms with low ceilings, where a ceiling color that is the same as the walls can actually make the room look larger, while creating a really cozy result.

Lucy Searle
Global Editor in Chief

Lucy Searle has written about interiors, property and gardens since 1990, working her way around the interiors departments of women's magazines before switching to interiors-only titles in the mid-nineties. She was Associate Editor on Ideal Home, and Launch Editor of 4Homes magazine, before moving into digital in 2007, launching Channel 4's flagship website, Channel4.com/4homes. In 2018, Lucy took on the role of Global Editor in Chief for Realhomes.com, taking the site from a small magazine add-on to a global success. She was asked to repeat that success at Homes & Gardens, where she has also taken on the editorship of the magazine.