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Stucco Ceiling Makeover

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Painting and colour tips for updating plaster in a new home.

Q. I recently purchased a 10-year-old home, and it’s in desperate need of decorating. My question is regarding ceiling finishes. I really like the look of painted ceilings but am unsure of what colour to choose. Should the ceiling colour be the same as the walls or a lighter or darker hue of the wall colour? Can a complementary colour be used on the ceiling? The floor-to-ceiling height is 8’ and most of the ceilings in my home are stucco. Is there a specific technique for painting stucco?

A. Selecting a ceiling colour can be daunting, since we predominately encounter white ceilings wherever we go. The reason for this is that white is the colour that reflects the most light. There really are no rules for selecting an appropriate colour for a ceiling, but here are a few tips.

You should select a colour that is lighter than your walls. The reason for this is that a ceiling that is darker than the walls and floor will give the visual perception that the ceiling is lower than it is. It will also make the ceiling more prominent. Conversely, a lighter ceiling will give the room height. In your case, you should not visually lower an 8’ ceiling.

This doesn’t mean that you are restricted to white. You should be aware that the colour on the ceiling is but one element of your room’s composition. A pale colour on the ceiling that is complementary to your walls is an effective way to introduce colour to your space. You should expect that your room will be bathed slightly in the colour you have on your ceiling. If your stucco ceiling has a cornice, you can paint this in a different colour from the walls and ceiling for a framing effect. For a cornice you need not limit yourself to pale hues — experiment!

Stucco ceilings are applied in two different ways and you should find out how yours was done before any painting is done. In homes 10 years and newer, a plaster composite is applied by machine to the ceiling. If this is the case, then use an oil-based paint. Latex paint on a plaster composite ceiling will soften the stucco and may cause it to come away.

In homes older than ten years, plaster was applied to the ceiling by hand. In this case, latex paint will be fine. If there are any stains on your ceiling, they will show through the latex. Since your home is approximately ten years old, it is difficult to know which method was employed. Find out the composition of your stucco before purchasing your paint.

For painting the ceiling, a roller will be fine, just ensure that you purchase one specific to your job. When applying, start at your light source and roll away from it in strips. If you are not an accomplished painter, consider hiring a professional — their expertise will be well worth the expense.

Photographer: 

Felix Wedgwood

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