The Sixth Plane or Pain?
I've got a bone to pick with wallpapered ceilings.
The ceiling, often referred to by designers and architects as the sixth plane (after the floor and four wall planes), is often sparingly treated in residential design. It makes sense to leave a ceiling unadorned in a low-ceilinged room. (There are clever ways to treat the ceiling in this type of space, but that's for another post.)
Sometimes the ceiling features important architectural details in a space. Think of a cathedral ceiling with exposed beams, rafters or trusses. Also coffered ceilings. I like the use of coffers to unite the ceiling plane with wall planes. In the space below, the coffers align with the fireplace and overmantle, creating unity between the planes, drawing the eye to the fireplace as the focal point in the space.
But recently I've been seeing wallpaper added to coffers. This bothers me. The coffers create forms which define zones in a space. Or they create linear elements that draw the eye to certain other focal elements in the space. But when you add wallpaper -- technically, a pattern according to the elements and principles of design -- you're drawing the eye upward, making the ceiling a focal point. This is a design faux pas (unless the rest of the space is minimally treated and your goal is to highlight the ceiling; more about that below).
The pattern on the ceiling above creates disharmony. To me, it's just a gimmick, and I don't like gimmicky design.
So when is it appropriate to put wallpaper or pattern on the ceiling? It's fine when the ceiling is the focal point. Like in a dentist's office. Or in a nursery. The image below, from Domino magazine, features the nursery in the former home of J.Crew's executive creative director and president, Jenna Lyons. Jenna painted stripes on the nursery's ceiling so her baby would have a pattern to look at while lying in the crib.
A bedroom might also call for a wallpapered or patterned ceiling. Jennifer Mehditash of Mehditash Design included a panel of Gracie wallpaper in her bedroom for the re-design of the Ronald McDonald House of Long Island in 2013. The color of sky, the panel gives residents, staying at the facility while a loved-one undergoes medical treatment, a visual focus to uplift the spirits.
Photo by Stacey Van Berkel, courtesy of Jennifer Mehditash
I've used metallic wallpaper on ceilings with cove lighting to create a glow and add illumination to a space.
Photograph by Eric Roth
Bottom Line: don't fall for design gimmicks. Treat the ceiling as part of a composition and don't add wallpaper unless the spatial composition dictates it.