Painting the “Fifth Wall”: The Importance of Ceiling Color and Sheen

by James Florence


While it’s an often-overlooked aspect of the painting process, ceiling color plays a crucial role in a room’s aesthetics. Photo: Pro-Staff Painting & Faux Finishing (2014)

When planning to repaint a room, it’s easy to get preoccupied with choosing wall and trim colors. However, there’s one wall that many people neglect to address altogether: the ceiling (also known as the “fifth wall”). Even though its role in a room’s aesthetics is somewhat subtle, a ceiling’s function is nonetheless crucial; in some cases, it may constitute the difference between a good-looking room and a great-looking one.

One of the most common mistakes regarding ceiling color is to oversimplify it, whether by making it the same color as the wall or defaulting to plain white. When approached creatively, a ceiling’s color can add a significant amount of depth and intrigue to a room’s color scheme. One popular practice is to paint the ceiling a lighter variation of the wall or trim color, which can be achieved by blending in white to create a half or three-quarters formula. Don’t be afraid to experiment—you may be pleasantly surprised with the color combinations you come up with.

In addition to creating tonal complexity, ceiling color can be used to alter a room’s physical characteristics. For instance, light hues can give the effect of adding height to rooms with low ceilings, while darker colors can make high ceilings appear lower, giving the room a cozier feel. Because of the influence ceiling color can have on a room, be sure to consider the “mood” you want to achieve when making your selection.

Another important aspect of ceiling paint is its sheen. Since light tends to hit a ceiling with a broader spectrum than it does walls, you’ll want to avoid a lustrous sheen like eggshell—it’ll create distracting reflections and expose any imperfections in the paint. Instead, choose a paint product with a flat sheen that absorbs light.

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