Blog by Beebe Cline

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Break Up a Bland Ceiling the Modern Way

All too often the ceilings of modern interiors are treated in one way: flat drywall. This treatment may coincide with a focus on minimalism, but it can also be seen as unimaginative. Crown moldings and other decorative features don't work in modern interiors, so this ideabook highlights other means of modifying painted drywall ceilings.

The following examples fall into four broad categories: cutting, materials, layering and stepping. The first involves openings in ceilings; the next highlights other materials adjacent to drywall; the third deals with multiple ceiling planes; and the last involves different ceiling heights across a space. These modifications show how ceilings can be enlivened without departing from modern style and simplicity.

This simple, white drywall ceiling is broken up over the kitchen by an opening to the floor above. To its left we can see the stair heading up. The wood in these openings echoes that in the kitchen counter below.
Another view of the space shows the stairs next to the kitchen, echoed directly outside. Let's take a look upstairs ...
The white drywall from downstairs gives way to lots of wood. If this space had been treated with the same surfaces as the living area below it, the opening above the kitchen would not have the strong contrast that pulls the eye — and body — to the second floor.
This bedroom has an unusual feature, a skylight above the headboard. The light it adds to the room is tangible, and it breaks up an otherwise plain-Jane white ceiling.

White drywall and plywood top this living space. The latter goes a long way to break up the space and to link the overhead plane to the wood wall at right.
In this bedroom, wood walls run along the sides while a taller white ceiling with boxed-out beams makes up the center portion over the bed. The design is like an inversion of an exposed wood structure with white drywall below it.

A bold yellow ceiling juts out from below the usual white drywall in this kitchen. A slot in the yellow surface receives the pendant lights hanging over the island.
A view from above shows how the ceiling extends past the mezzanine's glass guardrail. It's a unique touch, if another surface to dust.
This kitchen uses a similar tactic, but here it is rendered in another color and material and receives an exhaust hood. The ceiling gives some intimacy to the kitchen and seating area at the island, while also housing the flue; otherwise the latter would enter oddly into the drywall ceiling.

Different heights can also work toward breaking up drywall ceilings. As in the previous example, the lower ceiling gives intimacy to this kitchen, but the living area has more breathing room.
Looking from the living area to the kitchen, you can (barely) see another use of the stepped ceiling in the top right corner. A diffuser shows that the air supply can be put into the vertical surfaces, leaving the ceiling free of grilles.

Here is a living area with a stepped ceiling much like the previous example. Yet the band of light on the wall at right hints at the layering that is going on as well.
The low ceiling at right — seen from the opposite direction of the previous photo — reveals the clerestory windows that sit between the two ceiling planes. These high windows help bring in natural light even when the blinds are closed for privacy.