We are back today, with part two in our “How to Add Character” series. Last time we tackled the walls and showed you quite a few different ways to instantly bring a bit of character to your home through some simple updates and today we are moving up to the ceiling. We get that not every home comes with vaulted, beamed, or coffered ceilings, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a look that you can get for your own home. And we also understand that not everyone is in the market for a 100-year-old fixer-upper that is filled with innate charm. Sometimes a new build or tract home makes the most sense for not only your family but your lifestyle, but just because it is new doesn’t mean it needs to be devoid of charm, character, and appeal so today we are bringing you a few of our favorite ways to add all of that (and more) to your home through your ceilings.
We’ll cover most of the many options, with links to the best DIYs out there, and links to purchase the supplies to ‘get the look’ if applicable. We are hoping this can be a resource to anyone, with any style of house, because applying molding, beams, paneling, or woodwork to your ceiling can instantly transform it from being basic to interesting. Investing in upgrading the architectural elements in your home is always a good place to put your money and a great return of investment if you ever choose to sell. And as I mentioned in the last post, as someone whose job it often is to focus on the “stuff” in a room, I will tell you that if you take some time to elevate the architecture of the room itself, then you don’t need as much “stuff” to make it beautiful. So, let’s get into it:
While this one definitely is not the easiest of the examples below, this is one that instantly is going to bring A LOT of charm and character to your home. Coffered ceilings have been around since basically the beginning of time so it is one that you know will always be timeless and it also is a great one to potentially use in your home if you need to hide structural work behind it. IE if you have a basement that has ductwork, exposed pipes or wiring then this option can not only hide the stuff that you don’t need or want to see but it can add a lot of charm to what’s going on above your head.
Although we typically would leave this one to the pros or a contractor. Shannon Acheson of AKA DESIGN pulled a really good DIY version of it together over on her site, and the transformation is pretty incredible. Her area was approx. 8′ x 12′ and cost under $500. Before the ceiling was very simple with that recessed panel in the middle but now it serves as an incredible focal point for the room and elevates everything else going on there. This is a prime example of how if you bring in the character through these “built-in” elements you won’t have to fill the room with as much “stuff” to make it feel special.
The supplies for this one are pretty simple and straightforward: some sort of 4″x8″ board to create the boxes and then molding to finish it out. Or if that option seems a bit overwhelming for you, there are companies like #3 that offer the pieces already built and ready to install on the ceiling. You would just need to patch the install holes and paint after.
1. 4″x 8′ Pine Board | 2. Pine Door Stop Moulding | 3. 20″ Inner Cross Coffered Ceiling
Very similar in concept to the “strip moulding” that we discussed in the first post that you would apply to your walls. Strip moulding for your ceiling is a very simple and easy way to add some definition and depth to your ceilings. You can customize the size, shape, style, and motif which gives you a lot of options to really make it feel intentional and custom in your space.
This Old House pulled together a pretty easy to follow DIY on a dining room ceiling and although the tutorial is for a “coffered ceiling” the application they did doesn’t have a ton of depth to the coffers which is why we are using it to showcase how you can apply the same process to your ceiling if you want to use strip molding. You also don’t have to use trim molding like they did and could keep it more simple or modern with just straight edge molding applied to the ceiling.
Here are a few of the options to get you started, #1 would be for a very slim profile like you see in a few of the examples above and #2 and #3 could be used to get the look of the DIY above.
1. 1-1/2″x 8′ Primed Lattice Moulding | 2. 3″x 8′ Primed Trim Board | 3. Primed Pine Quarter Round Moulding
The concept of applied moulding is very similar to that of strip moulding although typically this type has some sort of curve to it versus the straight edge and corners of strip molding. These could be a continuation of strip moulding you apply to your walls to really give the entire room a completed look or you could just apply it to your ceiling. Either way, it is a pretty easy and more formal way to bring some character to your space.
We couldn’t find a good DIY of this for the ceiling (not to say that there isn’t any out there) but the concept and process of this DIY by The Created Home could be copied to apply the mouldings to your ceilings.
With this one, you can buy just the strips of moulding which come in a multitude of options, or you can buy fully finished boxes or corners from a few of the companies like you see in #2 and #3. These do lean a bit more formal so make sure to go with something that will work well with the style and character of your house. IE #3 might not be the best option if you live in a brand new modern home.
1. 96″ Solid Pine Moulding | 2. 10″x10″ Oxford Moulding Corner | 3. 12.5″x12.5″ Claremont Moulding Corner
Painted Wood Paneling:
When we moved into our first house we got very lucky in the fact that the ceilings throughout had wood paneling on them already. It was stained a very, very dark brown but the look and the character was there and we loved it (minus the color) so we gave it a coat of white paint and it instantly felt like a totally different space while still retaining the character it originally had. If your home doesn’t already have this then it is something really easy to add and as you can see from the examples creates such a cozy and warm look.
The Handmade Home pulled together this DIY where she applied wood panels to her ceiling and it adds so much character to the space. The room is approx. 20’x30′ and cost around $800. Although these were just simple straight edge strips you could also apply the concept with v-groove if you are into that look more (which we will get into later in the post).
We’ve seen a few different DIY’s with different product and the results are often similar so if you plan to paint then it doesn’t really matter which material you go for although #1 will save you a bit of time as that is already primed white and could quickly be painted with a coat of white. If you are looking for larger sized planks or a variety of sizes then #3 works as you can cut that down to the exact width that you want.
1. 3″x 8′ Primed Trim Board | 2. 6″x 8′ Common Board | 3. Bender Board
Beams and Paneling:
To be totally transparent the above picture shows our family room with beams and paneling which came with the house (although we painted it white) but it is such an approachable DIY that can really elevate the ceilings of a room (no pun intended). Similar to some of the other examples, this treatment doesn’t work for every style of home but if you do have a room that works with this vibe then it is such a good solution for the ceiling.
Jenna Sue Design already had the plank ceilings so she installed beams on top, which added an additional layer of texture and character and came in at only around $200 for her room. But if your ceilings are just drywall then you can combine this DIY with the Paneling DIY to get the entire beam and paneling look.
There are a few options with this one. You can build out the beams like in the DIY above using #1, or you could opt for something like #2 or #3 which is prebuilt and easy to install up on the ceilings to give you the full look.
1. 4″x 8′ Common Board | 2. 6″x 16′ Smooth White Beam | 3. 8″x 13′ Unfinished Faux Wood Beam
We have a few different areas in our current home that has beadboard on the walls and this is the same concept just applied to the ceilings. I wouldn’t recommend this one for a mid-century or modern style house but if you are looking for a more rustic, country, or english vibe then it is a great option for you.
Nina Hendrick Design Co. used premade beadboard panels for her ceiling and then filled in any gaps or screw holes and for just over $50 it makes the space feel totally different.
#1 can work if you are trying to be as affordable as possible although I haven’t seen this one up close so not sure if it will just look like you put wallpaper on the ceiling. #2 is a full wall panel which works well depending on the size of your ceiling, you just need to be careful with butting up the edges if you have a large ceiling and #3 is planks which can work well for small areas where you wouldn’t want to cut down a large panel or if you have a big area and need to stagger quite a few planks in order to fill the ceiling space.
1. Paintable Beadboard Wallpaper | 2. Beadboard Wall Panel | 3. Beadboard Planks
V-groove is very similar to beadboard except where the planks line up you have a slight ‘v’ etched into the edges versus a decorative “bead”. Oh, and v-groove is v-cool. Ok… no more jokes. V-groove paneling works really well in both more formal and more modern styles which makes it a great one for a lot of different spaces.
Jenna Sue Design DIY tongue and groove paneling for her ceilings and although the process is a bit more laborious with the individual planks the end result is worth the labor as it looks custom and like it has been there since the house was built. Her space was around 420 square feet and the materials came in at $1,184.
#1 is the same type of plank that is used in the DIY above, #2 is the same plank as #1 although is pre-painted which will save you a lot of time when you go to finish it. And #3 is a full panel that can be screwed into the ceiling so that you don’t have to deal with installing multiple planks.
1. 8″x8′ Tongue and Groove Board | 2. Painted V-Groove Wall Plank | 3. V-Groove Wall Panel
Ceiling Light Medallion:
Moving on to the treatments for those of you that don’t want to completely redo your ceilings but still want a little something to make the room feel a bit more special. Ceiling light medallions are one of our favorite and to be totally honest is one of THE easiest and quickest ways to give some character to your ceilings. It doesn’t work for every style of home but when it is done right it can really make a room. In case you need further proof, please admire Julianne Moores home above – complete with ceiling medallion.
My friend Justina Blakeney did a really easy to follow DIY with Popsugar which walks you through the entire process but it is pretty straightforward. Remove your existing hanging fixture, paint the medallion, pop it into place and reinstall the light. It can really be done in just an hour or so. And the cost of supplies and time needed are very low.
There is such a huge selection of medallions that the ones below are just the tip of the iceberg but we pulled a more simple version with #1 and #2 is a bit more decorative to get you started. If you aren’t electrically savvy then #3 is for you as you don’t even have to take down your existing fixture and instead can install this one and then patch and paint.
1. 12-1/2″ Bradford Ceiling Medallion | 2. 23-1/2″ Ashley Ceiling Medallion | 3. 8-5/8″ Lauren Ceiling Medallion
Last but certainly not least we have crown molding which many of you may already have in your homes but if you don’t is a great way to make your ceilings feel a bit more special. When it comes to crown mouldings there are A LOT to choose from and you can get as simple or as detailed as you want but for our purposes, we are going to highlight the more modern version as well as the more traditional versions.
A good example of modern crown can be seen in Orlando’s old condo where he kept it very simple and refined as the spaces leaned more modern but this little extra layer added a lot to each room.
If your space leans more traditional then you can get as decorative as you want with the crown moulding, even in some cases combining a few different styles to layer them together into a finished product. Which is what you will see a lot of in the examples.
The DIY for both would relatively be the same no matter if you go modern or traditional and my friends at Young House Love did a great step by step for how to do it yourself if you are feeling adventurous. This one is a bit tricky what with the corners and making sure you line it all up and measure correctly, so if you don’t trust yourself then leave it to the handyman to install although the labor shouldn’t run too much.
#1 is a great option for those of you that live in a modern house and #2 can combine with straight pieces so all the guesswork of having to deal with corners is taken care of for you. If you are feeling like you can take on the cutting and measuring then grab yourself #3 which will help with that and then you can use #4-#6.
1. 8-7/16″x 78″ Primed Crown Moulding | 2. 2″x 2″ Crown Moulding Corner | 3. Kreg KMA2800 Crown-Pro Tool | 4. 3-5/8″ x 96″ Unfinished Pine | 5. 96″ Wood Primed Finger-Jointed | 6. 2-1/4″ x 96″ Primed Pine Finger-Jointed
Essentially with all of these, you are adding a simple tonal texture to your ceilings. Texture adds character and while some of these wouldn’t work in every style of home like we discussed above, there are versions that could work in yours. You can play with the width, pattern, and orientation to make each of these feel truly custom in your space. If you are a ‘save time, spend money’ person then you can easily hire a handyman for this (you don’t need an expensive contractor), but if you are a ‘save money, spend time’ person, then hopefully these DIY options and links have helped. I am sure you have some questions on some of these so if you do have any leave them below and if there are some other ways to add character or DIY’s that showcase how to pull said ways off then be sure to link them up below so that people can use this as a resource moving forward. We aren’t experts in this field but hope that this roundup will help you to grasp how easy it can be to add a bit of character to your own space.
Good post !! I really loved reading your blog. It was very well authored and easy to understand.
Thank you! This is a roundup I can get behind. My only wish is ideas on what to do with popcorn/orange peel ceilings. I’m really trying to learn to like them but it is not working. Is there hope? Should I attempt to panel it? My shoulders are hurting just thinking about the labor required.
They’re so bad, and often there to hide the imperfections in a quickly finished ceiling.
1. Wet/Scape/Sand/Touch Up/Repaint
2. Install new drywall on top of the ceiling – you can get away with installing 1/4″ drywall directly on top of the popcorn, nailing, taping, sanding and repainting.
If you house was built before about 1973, you’ll want to confirm that the popcord doesn’t contain asbestos before attempting to remove it yourself. The test is about $20-30, and just requires a little scraping of the material in a ziploc bag. Don’t mess with asbestos! Hire qualified professionals to either remove it or contain it.
Just check the age of when you think the popcorn ceiling was applied. Some can have asbestos (which isn’t a problem until it gets removed or starts to powder). This is why we haven’t removed ours.
If you do not have the rock hard kind of popcorn ceiling and instead have the plaster finish stuff, it is not too hard to remove. I have done this in two homes, and it’s a doable DIY. If you have patched walls or done any basic plaster/drywall work, even as a helper, this is something you can do. Start in a closet or less noticeable spot to perfect your technique. Hang plastic sheets over all your walls, floors and furniture as it can be very messy. I used a spray bottle to dampen the popcorn as I went along, which makes it easier. The biggest trick is getting the feel for scraping horizontally without gouging into the drywall/plaster underneath, which will necessitate repairs. It goes quite quickly once you have the hang of it. (Again, I stress I have only had the plaster popcorn and not the stuff with a really hard cement-like texture.) Then you vacuum everything up with a shop vac. Assess where you may need to patch ugly spots. Sand as needed with a pole sander. Prime with a very good primer and paint. Mine turned out great. Any little imperfections were infinitely more tolerable than… Read more »
I’m with you, Charli! I have a popcorn ceiling that has to go! I saw online some people just board right over it…has anyone had experience with this?
Love these add character posts. I think coffered ceilings are so beautiful but they would look out of place in our current home. That DIY on them is amazing and had to take forever!! Thanks for the continued inspiration. Can’t wait to see the character you add to your mountain house.
Great post! Bookmarked for future use.
Do you feel that there need to be a ceiling height minimum with these kinds of treatment?
I have the same question. What are the “rules”? Can you do any of this in small rooms or rooms with lower ceilings?
Oh, I have the same question! Would some of the treatments on ceilings that aren’t particularly high?
We added v-groove paneling to most of our ceilings and they’re only 8ft high. We did however paint them white so that the ceilings didn’t feel too low. I love it.
One thing you may have to consider though is that you might need strapping depending on the direction of your ceiling joists and which way you want to run the paneling. We ran the boards parallel to our joists so we needed to screw strapping to the joists and then nailed the panels to the strapping to make sure they had enough support. It brought the ceiling down a couple inches but I don’t notice it at all. It does help though that I painted the paneling the same colour as the walls (different sheens) so it helps visually keep the rooms looking taller than they are.
Thank you for including DIY links!!
Beautiful examples, and such good ideas. Thanks for posting.
You and your team have no idea how very helpful this is!!!! We are gut renovating a house right now and I’m being asked to make a lot of decisions. Between showing choices to my husband and the contractor, ideas for how to do it ourselves, sources, etc., this is the best!!! Thank you!
Right on! I love the way you include so much information into one blog post. I know how time consuming writing an entry is and it is much appreciated! Thank you
Such great ideas. I wish more of them were doable for those of us with super textured ceilings, which are the norm for us here in Utah.
Wow! Such an incredible post! So many resources in one spot! You guys always do such a fantastic and thorough job creating your posts. I’m left drooling and inspired at once! Bravo! Cheers! xxx
I also wonder if you have guidance on what ceiling height these would be appropriate for. I have been considering adding beams and paneling in my living room and kitchen but the ceilings are just “regular” height (8 feet, I think). I’m worried that it will look silly and the ceiling too low with beams.
I also considered beams and v-groove paneling with my 8ft ceilings but chose only to do the v-groove paneling painted white. I love the look of the texture it adds to the rooms. I would love to add beams but I think that’s a “one day” when we can afford to vault our ceilings.
This is my question too. Does any of this work on an 8 foot ceiling? These are without exception higher ceilings which very few people have.
I’m loving this series! I appreciate that you included inspiration pictures as well as DIYs. I’m hoping to use one of these ideas at my parents’ house.
Thank you so much for this post – so much good information. I really enjoy your blog for that reason (and many others). Would you consider doing a post on ceiling paint? Are there any rules for when you should paint the ceiling white or the same color as the walls? Should you ever tint the ceiling paint with the wall paint? What about painting the ceiling an entirely different color than the walls? Thank you!
I’m not Emily lol so maybe what I did was wrong but my ceiling paint is the same colour as my walls, just different sheens. I only have 8ft ceilings so by painting the v-groove paneling we installed the same colour it made the rooms feel taller. There was no visual break between the wall paint and ceiling colour so it tricks the eye into seeing it as a taller space.
My baseboards are also painted the same color as the wall it’s on. I love more modern/mid century spaces and baseboards/crown molding etc wasn’t used so I tried to minimize the baseboards vs making them a feature which would work in other house styles.
I love this post (and the previous “adding character” post)!! Thank you
I love the character those textured ceilings bring without straying from a white palate. I know some people find it boring, but I’ve lived in enough dwellings to know that I just feel better with white walls. I’d only do it to vaulted ceilings (for fear of making the space feel too cramped) but I love the idea.
Another fantastic and info-laded post! Thanks Emily and team! I’m definitely saving this one as I head into basement renos with an ugly ceiling.
These are my favorite kinds of posts. So helpful! Many of the sos es shown had white walls and/white ceilings. I would love a deeper dive or some tips into how to apply some of these techniques (or which ones we should avoid completely) if we prefer color.
Would also love to know what should be done about textured ceilings. In California we had popcorn and that was a tedious, but doable DIY. The ceilings here in Indiana use a different texture and I’d love to know the appropriate technique for covering them.
I am so excited about this post! We moved into a typical 90s tract house in 2011 and the first thing we did was cover the popcorn ceilings with painted v-groove. We couldn’t raise our arms without pain for weeks after but it was totally worth it?. Our ceilings are standard 8’ and it actually made them feel higher which was a nice surprise. (You can see pictures on Instagram by searching #olivetreekristin if anyone is interested).
Love this series. Any reason you didn’t suggest tin ceilings? I think it’s such a classic and very visual way to add a design element and draw the eye upward. Here’s a good example: https://www.thekitchn.com/yes-you-can-paint-your-entire-kitchen-with-chalk-paint-248428
Love these posts! I have cathedral ceiling in my bedroom which sounds cool but really isn’t because I feel like I can’t put too much color on the walls. Any suggestions on the best way to jazz up a cathedral ceiling?
We put up painted (white) v-groove paneling up in a majority of our house and I love it. I love the wood ceilings in Eichler homes so I thought the wood paneling would be a nice touch in our 1962 MC-modest home and give it a bit more MCM character. Our ceilings are only 8ft though so we painted the wood white so the rooms didn’t feel too low. Best thing we’ve ever done for our house.
Whoops, I forgot to add that if we’d had higher ceilings I also would have tried to add beams. Maybe one day if we get the money we’ll vault the living/dining room and add beams/wood v-groove paneling in that area but we also have wood wall paneling so we left the regular drywall ceiling in those two rooms for now. The rest of the house though has the wood v-groove paneling 🙂 Looks so good!
You can see what mine looks like if you want to search for @stream1313 on Instagram (feel free to remove Emily if you don’t want this comment up!)
If this isn’t too weird, could you send me pictures? We just moved into a typical 1962 California ranch home fixer-upper and it is in dier need of character. And I thought about doing something on the ceilings but my husband needs convincing.
Hey Kelsey – I sent you a couple emails. Hope they help 🙂
This post is amazing! It is so full of ideas that I could use to transform several areas in my home that need a little more “WOW” factor. With these ideas and the “how-to” information you compiled I believe I can convince my husband to collaborate on another home improvement project. Thanks, Emily!
I love these posts – thank you!! We just purchased our first home (yay!) and it is a solid modern/traditional condo from the early 2000s. Great, but a bit generic. Your advice on how to elevate our game feels like you’re speaking directly to us. Would love ideas for the back yard too.
A word of caution when using common board- bleed through is a real problem! I’ve been there, and I know this happened to Jenna Sue as well on her kitchen project. It can be incredibly difficult to cover knots and prevent them from yellowing over time THROUGH your paint, so make sure you use a really really really good primer specifically over those kinds of boards. And maybe be mentally prepared for touch ups down the line. But the look of a paneled ceiling is just so special.
I’ll add that installing picture rails, especially if you live in an old house with plaster walls, is also an excellent option. I’ve added them to my house (built during the Civil War), and it makes changing out artwork so much easier! I’ve collected some images of picture rails on my Pinterest page: https://pin.it/gr44hxdah7w3ob
We had picture rail in our old home, and we got so many compliments and questions about it. It was a real focal point and actually practical too. Saved a lot of time patching and touching up paint.
Timely post Emily, thanks so much!! We are currently adding crown to rooms and doing a coffered ceiling in our dining room. I was wondering if you had any “size” guidance for the ceiling medallions. I want to add one to our foyer.
Oh my gosh, there are so many different options just for ceilings how do you choose just one?! Thanks for this huge, comprehensive resource!
Strip moulding and applied moulding are screaming my name! They seem a little more doable for my smaller projects right now, and are gorgeous.
I LOVED this post!! Question: I live in a 1968 ranch with 8 ft. ceilings. If I installed crown molding, it would be more toward the sleek, modern look. But I’ve read that crown molding just doesn’t work well with 8 ft. ceilings, especially in midcentury homes. I’d love some advice on this!
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This is one my favorite posts. I moved into a new house (builder basic from the 80s with lots of potential) a year ago and am looking for ways to up the architectural detail. I was thinking coffered ceilings for the living room but hadn’t looked into how to pull it off. Thank you for linking up to some handy DIYs!
If I wanted to add architectural interest can I mix styles or is it best to pick one
I love these series! I don’t know what other topics you have planned for it, but I would love one on tile. Watching design shows with older homes, so many have gorgeous tile features (fireplace, etc), but most things I see done now look very monotonous.
Great post — Love the options, photos, and DIY. More like this would be great.
Interesting ceilings! I like when they have some pattern or are out of the ordinary, instead of just plain white with nothing on them.
This is my favorite post and, indeed, my favorite series ever. So useful. Thank you! I was one of the people who specifically requested ceilings on the last post about walls. This is great! More please!
Hi Emily – I’m looking for a piece of over-sized art with navy tones and love the one pictured in your family room. Can you share where you got it from?
Fantastic info… thank you! Can you address the lighting in the paneled ceiling? I have a mid-Century ranch, and the ceiling looks very similar to yours. But the paneled ceiling is the roof deck. In other words I have no interstitial space for the transformer, nor can I use flush fixtures without drilling through the roof. I have a mix of track, and one old ceiling fan light that it hanging awkwardly from a beam. I would really love to have pendant lights.
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