Decorate Like A Design Boss with Kimberly Grigg | Style It Up with Your 5th Wall

Most people spend lots of time choosing the right wall colors, selecting the right furnishings, and even adding meaningful details throughout their homes, but few consider one of the largest elements in their spaces: the ceiling.

If you really want to make your home sing, then look up! The ever-important ceiling is like the 5th wall in your space, and it’s begging for your attention. So today I’m going to show you how to give it the glory it deserves.

From wallpaper to metallics to wood beams, I’m sharing my favorite ways to show the ceiling some love. Find out how to choose the right method of decoration for your ceiling, why I detest “ceiling white,” and what to do with your popcorn ceilings. Leaving your ceiling untouched is a design crime in my opinion, so I’m sharing how to avoid doing time for it today!

To celebrate the launch of this show, I will be giving away 3 of my adorable monkey bowls. This cool accessory ends up in almost all my designs, from cottage to edgy. It seems to fit every personality type and promises to make you smile. All you have to do to is subscribe, rate, and review the show in Apple Podcasts and I’ll be picking the winners in an upcoming episode.

 Click here to learn more about the contest and how to enter.


What You’ll Learn from this Episode:

  • Why I will never use the color “ceiling white.”
  • The importance of matching the undertones in your space.
  • How to decorate low vs. very tall ceilings.
  • My recommendations for working with popcorn ceilings.  
  • Some of my favorite ways to decorate ceilings.


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Full Episode Transcript:

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You are listening to episode seven of the Decorate like a Design Boss podcast. And today we are talking about decorating your fifth wall. If you really want to make your home sing then look up, the ever important ceiling deserves your attention. And today I’m going to share some ways to make some magic on that very important fifth wall.

Welcome to Decorate Like a Design Boss, a podcast for design lovers who want to create beautiful spaces in their very own homes. My name is Kimberly Grigg and I’m a professional interior designer who teaches design lovers like yourselves how to decorate. And when I say decorate I mean decorate like a design boss. If you’re ready to create a space that your family loves and your neighbors can’t stop raving about well, buckle up honey because it’s time to design.

As we get started on today’s topic I first want to reach out and thank you my design loving friends. And thank you for helping to make this podcast a real go. We are making great strides and your reviews are touching and amazing. Keep them coming and if you’re enjoying this podcast then do me a favor and share it with a friend. Now on with the show.

In general I find that most people when decorating spend lots and lots of time on choosing the right wall color, selecting the right furnishings and even adding meaningful details throughout their homes. Very few however, consider one of the largest elements in their spaces, the ever so important ceiling. Most are comfortable with just having a coat of dull, flat ceiling white paint color on their ceilings and are comfortable just calling it a day. Well, I say if you want to get a space right you must consider the entire space and that includes a very, very large part of it, the ceiling.

So let me break it down for you as there is a real method to my madness. You might be wondering at this point what I mean by decorating a ceiling. Well, I don’t mean hanging artwork or accessorizing. This is the one thing I haven’t done in a space although I have been known to add a medallion or a lovely round or shaped mirror to a ceiling as a medallion to support a beautiful light fixture. But what I do mean about decorating a ceiling is that I want you to incorporate the ceiling into the overall décor scheme from planning to installation.

Does this mean that no ceiling can ever be white? Well, no, not exactly but it does mean that no ceiling can ever be the color called ceiling white. Ceiling white is basically a can of flat white paint that your contractor has floating around in his van somewhere. It is a color but it’s so basic it’s not really even on the paint fan in most cases. It is a basic pure white and is the easy way to just get a non-opinionated white on the ceiling. I don’t think I’ve ever specified ceiling white on any ceiling ever.

I have however used white on a ceiling, but one that is carefully chosen to work with the other colors in the space, one whose undertone works with the undertones in the remainder of the space. So hang with me as I spell out the correct way to accomplish this. And as I go through the process of why perhaps you will want to consider other colors or materials for a ceiling, it’s actually very easy once you understand the fundamentals. So here we go.

First and foremost I want you to begin by assessing and evaluating your ceiling. Does the ceiling have any architectural features such as a tray, a double tray, anything interesting up there? Is it a vaulted ceiling? Can anything be added architecturally such as moldings? Adding molding to a ceiling to frame it out is a great thing to do if the ceiling is large, and expansive, and flat, and perhaps boring. I want you to consider, how high are your ceilings? Once you’ve determined the features or the lack of features on your ceiling then you can better determine how to treat them.

First, you will want to consider the mood and the style of your space when treating your ceiling. For example, if you have a grand millennial style you could consider a patterned wallpaper. If you have a boho chic style then you can consider something textural like grasscloth. An industrial look will also be enhanced with a texture on a ceiling, everything from a faux brick to adding a river wood to a ceiling can be appropriate in this style.

If you have a vaulted ceiling then you will have better success by not differentiating the ceiling with a color and your walls with a different color. So often this occurs in bonus room. You have walls that are about 8 feet high and then the ceiling will sort of pitch up. Often people paint the walls one color and then they paint the ceiling white. This creates a choppy look and it makes your space look small and not cohesive. You’ll get a much better effect if you paint the walls and the ceiling in this scenario the same color.

If you’re afraid of color then choose a light hue that is pleasant and just go for it. You will create a more cohesive look and the space will appear larger. If you have low ceilings then you will most likely want to go light on your ceilings. Low ceilings typically get a paint color from me and it is often pale but blends well with the remainder of the colors in the space. And of course it works with the style of the space. Low ceilings can feel lower if you paint them a darker color or if you put too much pattern on this style of ceiling.

On the converse, if the ceilings are soaring then I most often treat them in a dramatic way. I will typically add a deeper or a darker color to bring them down into the space. Very tall ceilings are also a good place to add a wallpaper. If you do however it needs to be a noticeable large scale pattern or else it will look like a postage stamp soaring way up above.

The question often comes up, “What if I have popcorn ceilings or textured ceilings?” Well, a smooth ceiling is my preference and there are now some ways that you can have your ceilings smoothed out that is more affordable and certainly less hassle. There’s a vacuum type piece of equipment that your contractor may have or that you can rent if you’re doing it yourself, that can be added to a sander so that dust isn’t flying everywhere. So if you can swing it I prefer a smoother ceiling.

However smoothing a ceiling is not always an option. And if this is the case you should still treat the ceiling, I say yes for sure. I typically treat popcorn or textured ceilings with a lightly colored coat of paint. If that’s all the budget will allow then I will give it just a soft coat of paint typically in a flat finish just to sort of minimize the look of all that popcorn. I have, when budget allows added a thin sheetrock to a popcorn ceiling. This will cover that space and yet if it’s thin it won’t cause you to lose square footage.

I have also covered a ceiling with river wood, river wood is actually wood pulled from the river or water and is dried over time. It has an aged and/or weathered look and it is beautiful in the right setting. Adding the river wood accomplished getting rid of the popcorn ceilings which tend to be dated by basically covering them up. I recently used this technique for a home that was rather old and we didn’t want to go through the hassle of smoothing those ceilings. So the mood and the style of the space was a real upscale coastal look so this proved to be a viable and stunning result.

Another question that I often receive is, “But what if I just want white ceilings?” I typically get this from clients who haven’t had decorated ceilings before. And sometimes I get it from clients who are going for an all white space. The answer is, “Well, of course by all means you can have white ceilings especially if it’s intentional.” But if you are painting a ceiling white then please choose a white color from a paint fan and don’t settle for builder’s ceiling white. If you have an all white look then use the same white color that you are using on the walls.

Sometimes if the walls in the space are quite light then I use the same color on the ceiling. It is a great way to neutralize the space if the other objects in the space are going to be creating the drama. This way, balance is achieved because the walls and ceiling are important but they are not the hero. People also often ask, “What finish do I use on the ceiling if I’m using a paint color?” I love to use an eggshell finish on a ceiling that is in good condition. Of course your builder or your painter is going to look at you like you have nine heads. I have it happen all the time.

Eggshell has a slight sheen and it is beautiful especially if you have a chandelier or there’s a lot of light bouncing in the room. Eggshell will however show imperfections. So if you don’t like or can’t tolerate a few imperfections, well, then you’ll need to go with the flat version of your paint color. So you will want to take that into consideration. A flat paint finish is the more common finish for a ceiling but if possible I avoid this option.

My favorite finish on a ceiling but one I rarely get to use is a high gloss. The ceiling must be in excellent condition and the high gloss must fit the style and mood of the space but the luster is amazing.

And then there is the question of can I just take my wall color and dilute it by 50%? I say absolutely not. Adding globs of white paint to a paint color is not just a dilution of the paint color, it can and very often will distort and change the color. Unless you really understand paint color mixing this is not a good idea. It kind of sounds sexy and when I first started designing I did it in fact a few times. That is until I did it for a client and made a huge and costly mistake.

So the wall color was a lovely shade of gold. I wanted a lighter shade for the ceiling which was separated by a lovely cream molding and trim. I diluted the wall color by 50% and thought I was so clever. The color looked like baby poop and was now all over the ceiling that I had painfully convinced the client to consider to begin with. This client as luck would have it had never had decorated ceilings before. I felt foolish.

Needless to say I personally paid to repaint the ceiling in a color that I selected from a paint fan and one that looked great with the wall color. So the room was in fact a success, but this rookie mistake has made sure that I haven’t diluted a paint color since.

So what can we learn from today’s lesson? The long and short of it is that your ceilings are an important part of your space. In fact in volume they’re at least one-third of the overall space. To not decorate them is what I call a design crime. I am going to share with you now some of my favorite ways to treat a ceiling.

Number one, wallpaper, oh yeah baby, wallpaper on a ceiling is a win. If you’re using a pattern make sure to have a complete pattern and not a directional pattern. A directional pattern will cause confusion. But a pattern that is a complete repeat will look right at home. If you’re using a pattern on a ceiling then consider the scale. The scale should be in keeping with the scale and the height of the ceiling. High ceilings get larger patterns and low ceilings get smaller patterns.

Number two, look for ways to create texture. I love to add wood to a ceiling, beadboard planks, beams, river wood and antique or reclaimed wood are all options that turn out nicely especially when the wood look blends beautifully with the style and mood that you’re trying to deliver.

Number three, fabric, yes, fabric. I have used fabric in a tented type style on ceilings and I have also padded and upholstered ceiling, this is a very effective use of materials and can certainly make a dramatic statement.

Number four, paint is probably the most popular way to treat a ceiling and it’s a great way to break in the concept of decorating a ceiling in your home. Remember to select a color that works well with the remainder of the space. If your ceilings are low then choose a light color, if they are tall then you have more flexibility with the color. And if your ceilings are vaulted then paint the vault the same color as the walls unless the vault and the walls are super tall.

Cathedral ceilings are lovely with wood beams and/or a French cord. A French cord is my term for a wire that runs across where dropped beams would be. This look is most often done in country French settings. Dropped beams are beautiful to help create a cathedral feel on a cathedral ceiling, although attached beams are also nice. Wood details are gorgeous on a cathedral ceiling, think ornate and lavish, and think about churches.

Metallics, metallic paint or papers are always beautiful and dramatic on a ceiling. I love the shimmer created when the light from a chandelier hits them.

So now you know that ceiling work is important work. Your homework is to revisit your ceilings. If you haven’t treated your ceilings in the past, well, pick a small one, perhaps it’s just your powder room and use one of the techniques I have shared with you. Give it a whirl and let me know how you fare.

As you know this podcast is relatively new and I am so excited about the momentum. I am thrilled to be able to share and serve with you and others by teaching you how to decorate your spaces. So please let me know how we are doing. If you will kindly take a minute to subscribe, rate and review this podcast so that we can bring you the information that you want and need, and so that we can share the podcast with others.

To reward you for doing so I will be giving away my infamous monkey bowl to three lucky listeners who subscribe, rate and review. This bowl is my go to accessory for any style and I use it in almost every setting that I decorate. Go to for contest details and for a look at this iconic accessory. Thank you for tuning in today and as I like to say, don’t wait, it’s a great day to decorate. Bye for now.

Thanks for listening to Decorate Like a Design Boss, if you want more info on how to decorate your space like a pro visit See you next week.

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