The color of your ceiling plays a key role in the overall feel of a room, and white isn't your only option. Learn how to choose the best ceiling paint colors.

By Jessica Bennett
Updated November 12, 2020
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The ceiling represents one-sixth of the space in a room, yet it hardly receives more than a coat of white paint. Although bright white is generally considered the safest choice for ceiling paint colors, it's not your only option. There's a whole kaleidoscope of colors that can work for your ceilings if you're willing to step outside the box. Of course, a refreshingly crisp white is sometimes the best solution. But if you've never contemplated anything beyond the basic neutral, you might be missing an opportunity to add excitement and drama to a room. When choosing ceiling colors, consider which option will coordinate best with your home's architecture, wall colors, trimwork, and furnishings. To help you determine the right choice, use these tips for selecting a ceiling color you'll love.

Credit: Edmund Barr

How to Choose Ceiling Paint Colors

As a general rule, ceilings that are lighter in tone than the walls feel higher, while darker colors will make the ceiling feel lower. That doesn't necessarily mean the room will feel claustrophobic, however. Visually lowered ceilings can evoke a cozy, intimate feeling. As when choosing wall colors, consider the source and strength of light the room receives during the time you're most often using it. Bright daylight bouncing off a blush pink or sky blue ceiling creates an airy feeling, for example. In the evening, candlelight and lamplight reflecting on a tomato red ceiling will produce a rich glow.

Credit: Annie Schlecther

Ceiling paint finishes are usually flat, but an eggshell or satin finish paint offers just a hint of reflective sheen, which can help brighten the space if you're using a darker color. If you plan on using a glossier finish, remember that a ceiling must be in near-perfect condition since higher-sheen paints can call attention to surface flaws.

Credit: David Tsay

White Ceiling Colors

Color on the ceiling can enhance a room's character, but beware of excess. For primary living areas, keep the ceiling treatment simple so you don't grow tired of it. For a clean, simple look, white ceilings are often the best choice for a room. When used overhead, white tends to disappear, so your attention focuses on the walls and furnishings.

A white ceiling can also offset an intense wall color. Boldly colored walls appear crisp and sharp, and the ceiling feels higher. If the walls are pale and therefore space-expanding, painting the ceiling white opens the space even more. In rooms that receive scant natural light, a white ceiling helps boost the perceived illumination by reflecting whatever light is available.

Like any other color element in the room, a white ceiling needs an echo, something to help integrate it into the scheme. Woodwork, carpet, draperies, and other fabrics can repeat the hue throughout the room. Otherwise, the room might feel out of balance.

To choose the right white paint color for your ceilings, pay attention to the undertones. The basic ceiling white can look too stark and clinical, but paint companies now offer a range of cool and warm whites. Select one with faintly yellow or blue undertones that coordinate with the rest of the room's color palette.

Credit: Brian Anderson

Contrasting Ceiling Colors

Applying a contrasting color to the ceiling can dramatically alter your perception of the space. It's like a reflector bouncing light down into the room, and the quality of that light affects the room's character. For a high-contrast effect, consider hues such as sky blue, blush pink, warm tan, or charcoal gray to make a statement overhead. When an impactful ceiling color is your goal, you can disregard the rule that low ceilings require a light color. Apply a dark base to the ceiling and then use a glaze of the same color over it. The glaze softens the effect, and the sheen reflects enough light to keep the ceiling from overpowering the room.

Credit: Annie Schlechter

Matching Ceiling and Wall Colors

Applying the same hue to walls and ceiling wraps the room in a cloak of color, but this approach isn't for everyone. It can make the space feel smaller or more enclosed because there's no "escape hatch" of lighter color at the top. However, you'll find that in a small room, seamless color evokes a restful, soothing mood, perfect for a bedroom or bath. In a larger room, the one-color treatment unifies the space and focuses attention on the furnishings and accessories that fill it.

If you'd like to repeat the wall color on your ceiling but want the look to be lighter, dilute the wall paint with white in a ratio of about 80 percent white to 20 percent wall color. Since ceilings appear in shadow, the resulting diluted color will still relate favorably to the wall color.

In rooms with oddly shaped or multiangled ceilings, carrying the wall color across the ceiling can simplify the shape and unify the space. In general, a same-color ceiling seems lower, so it makes a room with lofty proportions feel more intimate. Applying the same color to walls and ceiling also makes your painting job easier, because you won't have to tape off the molding at the ceiling line. Whether you show off the crown molding and other trim with a contrasting color or paint them to blend in depends on your personal preferences. Highlighting the trim accents the architecture and calls attention to its shape.

Credit: David Tsay

Ceiling Colors for Rooms with Unique Architecture

Vaulted, cathedral, or multiangled ceilings can pose a special problem. Where do you start and stop color? In low attics, carrying the same color across the ceiling from wall to wall is a practical solution. However, you can increase the apparent height of the ceiling with a little visual trickery. Add a chair rail around the wall at about hip height; then paint the area below the chair rail a darker hue than the area above.

Because attic rooms often receive natural light through only one or two windows, keep the walls and furnishings light in color to brighten the space. Alternatively, if you want to create a sense of snug retreat, choose muted, darker colors. You can also let your furnishings and accessories provide the color in a white, light-reflecting space.

If you have a cathedral ceiling, don't feel compelled to carry its color all the way to the floor just because there's no crown molding to define the top of the wall. To separate the ceiling area, try taping off the lower section and painting it with a different color to create a two-tone look.

Credit: Jeff Herr

Architectural features, such as molding or timber framing, make it easier to know where to stop and start color, but wherever one plane or flat surface meets another, you can change colors. When painting, you'll need to tape off the ceiling carefully to keep the dividing line sharply defined and straight. An uneven line where the two colors meet will spoil the look. Changing colors where the wall meets the ceiling, for example, will focus attention on the living space instead of on the soaring height of the ceiling.

In a room with walls that angle sharply to the ceiling but offer more headspace than traditional attics, extend the wall color onto the angled walls up to the flat part of the ceiling. This will keep the room from feeling cramped. If necessary, add crown molding to define where the walls end and the ceiling begins.

It's also important to note that color need not come only from paint. If you like the look of wood, consider covering the ceiling with wood paneling.

Comments (1)

Anonymous
June 17, 2019
Enjoyed the article something other than white, for my kitchen ceiling. Luckily I have a lot of light via patio doors & the living room, so I'm going with a beautiful Silver Cloud Gray, in a satin Sheen. I think it will look great! Eventually my kitchen cabinets will be a darker gray, with white backsplash white countertops. But that's a work in progress. Thank you, BHG!