Don’t let ceilings be ‘a missed opportunity’

When it comes to houses, Atlanta has long been a traditional town. Buyers go for the classic styles, both inside and out. Perhaps nowhere has that been more evident than by taking a look at what’s overhead.

Chances are it’s plain, flat, white ceiling.


“For so long, all we did was design a room, then put white paint on the ceiling,” said Michael Morris, the design center manager and interior designer for Monte Hewett Homes. “You could have great wall color and furnishings, but they were below this infinite white ceiling. It’s a missed opportunity.”

The last time Atlanta buyers saw something different overhead was in the late 1980s, when it seemed as though every builder was into stippling – making those brushlike or popcorn patterns that added texture but were notorious for gathering cobwebs and being difficult to paint and repair. Those styles gave way to the basic flat white, with the only significant change coming in the past several years as ceilings have gotten higher. Today, 9- and 10-foot heights are becoming more fashionable, particularly in the main living areas and master bedrooms.

“A lot of rooms are taller than they used to be,” said Angi Sago, the director of design for Traton Homes. “But we’re actually not seeing as many two-story rooms; I think I’ve seen one in the last two years. People are doing media rooms over what were once the two-story family rooms.”

Morris is seeing the same trend with Hewett homes in Cobb, north Fulton and DeKalb.

“In the ’90s and even into the early 2000s, you always walked into a two-story foyer or living room, but we’re not seeing that as much anymore,” he said. “Designs are pulling away from that now as people want more intimate space, and all that open-to-the-ceiling area is just wasted.”

While buyers are making better use of once wide-open spaces, they’re also looking to add definition to the rooms they have. Kathleen Sickeler, an associate broker with Coldwell Banker Intown, said one of the best ways to make a room remarkable is to add some flair to the ceiling.

“It can really give a room a different look,” she said. “Buyers may want open floor plans, but they also find that having a different ceiling treatment helps define the space a bit better. For instance, they may add a stained ceiling over the breakfast area. That keeps the area open to the rest of the house while adding some detail.”

One of Sickeler’s builders, ParcLife, has used ceilings to create distinctive looks throughout the house, adding a stained, tongue-and-beam ceiling in the kitchen; a coffered ceiling in the dining area; a vaulted ceiling with exposed stained cedar beams in the master; a reclaimed wood ceiling on a rear porch; and a tongue-and-groove ceiling on the front porch. With the move toward scaled-back house plans, those distinctive ceilings have a “wow” factor, Sickeler said.

“Builders are always looking for different elements, and tray ceilings — well, been there, done that,” she said. “Builders are still doing them, but they’re always looking for what’s next — what will wow a buyer.”

At the Brock Built Idlewilde community in east Cobb, builders have added a variety of custom treatments to the ceilings, said Evanne Brock. Stained cedar beams have gone up in a family room and vaulted media room. Beams accented a vaulted ceiling in a study; a tongue-and-groove design was added over a kitchen and breakfast room. The same style has been added in a master bedroom.

But according to real estate experts, the top wow-inspiring feature is the coffered ceiling. Using trim or beams, builders create deep ceiling squares that can be finished in a variety of ways, such as adding recessed lights, painting the interiors a dark color or lining them with bead board for maximum impact.

“A deep coffered ceiling, with boxes from 6 to 8 inches deep, is our No. 1 upgrade,” Sago said. “It gives a big profile.”

At Traton communities such as Montgomery Park off the Marietta Square and the Estates at Davis Ridge in east Cobb, a coffered ceiling can be added as an option for about $3,000.

Ginny Bryant, director of sales and marketing for Lennar, said buyers at the company’s Mountain Creek in Marietta and Whitney landing in Dunwoody will find 10-foot ceilings with coffered accents on the main floors and 9-foot heights on the second.

“A coffered ceiling is just dressing up a room more,” she said. “It’s a more formal, sophisticated look that draws them in.”

Beamed ceilings also have gained a following, Sago said. But instead of those rough-hewn, stained planks, buyers are going for painted ones that add an accent to a keeping or family room. Tray ceilings, particularly those with different tiers and extra moldings, are still popular for adding height and drama in dining rooms and master bedrooms. Vaulted designs are showing up on smaller scales, such as in a breakfast room, a secondary bedroom or a porch.

Even in floor plans that cannot accommodate a dramatic ceiling design, homeowners can use paint to create an impact, Morris said.

“I like to pick out the lightest shade in the room’s paint palette and use that on the ceiling to create a little bit of warmth,” he said. “It takes the harshness out of the white and brings a coziness to a room. It’s very subtle, but when you see the difference, it’s huge. Another option is to go dark. Instead of putting the color on the walls, put it on the ceiling. It creates a sense of drama and balances out the lighter colors on the walls.”

Sago also has known homeowners to put paint on the ceilings of their outdoor living areas, too. “Now that these spaces have become so popular, I’m seeing people do a pale blue on the ceiling of a porch or covered patio to make it seem as though the sky is coming in.”

No matter what the design feature or color accent, there’s no doubt that buyers and homeowners alike are giving ceilings a second look.

“For so long, they’ve just been an afterthought,” Morris said, “and they don’t have to be.”