Problem Ceilings That Could Definitely Wreck Your Room

Some of you begged me to do a post about vaulted ceilings.

However, there is a three-year-old post about problem ceilings. So, I’m reworking it and including a larger section on vaulted ceilings.

Plus, a little surprise I worked way too long on. But, it was fun getting rid of the fugly.


Okay, you know, a bad ceiling can really bring down a room. (no pun intended) :]


decorating lessons - beautiful mouldings-ceiling trim detail - problem ceilings


The ceiling above is not one of the problems. We first saw this beauty here a few summers ago.


There are about six major types of problem ceilings.

So, let’s jump in a go over each one and the best solutions.


Probably the most common problem ceilings folks have is:


The ceiling is too low.


But, yes, we just went over that one here. So, we don’t have to dwell on it too much. Please see the low ceiling post.

Also, please look at this post about boxy, boring homes with low ceilings.


Some of those tricks to make a ceiling appear as tall as possible include the addition of:



Also, please check out 16 ways to make your small rooms look larger.


And, there’s another device for making the ceiling appear higher.


I talk in this post about the best ceiling paint colors. There are more in the Laurel Home Paint/Palette Collection.


What about painting the ceiling super dark? Is that good for a low ceiling? After all, dark colors make walls and ceilings recede, as discussed in this post.


However, a super-dark color will also feel heavy, and if it’s a large room, it’s most likely going to feel oppressive.


Recently, I saw where a young designer had proudly painted a wide architrave under her small crown moulding. That’s a horizontal piece, and this one was about 12″. And on an 8′ ceiling with white walls, it looked oppressive to me.

just because you can doesn't mean you should

But, in a small room, like a bathroom, painting the ceiling navy or black can be an effective technique to lift the ceiling higher. And it can also be quite chic.


Nancy Keyes - bathroom after - wainscoting - brass chandelier - problem ceilings -Benjamin Moore Racoon Fur black ceiling

Above and below is Nancy Keyes’ fantastic renovated master bathroom. The ceiling color is a soft black – Benjamin Moore Onyx. And yes, Onyx is one of the Laurel Home collection paint colors. It is a touch softer and warmer than pure black.


Nancy Keyes - black ceiling bathroom after brass chandelier - Benjamin Moore Racoon Fur black ceiling

Nancy actually sent me these images at least five years ago! What’s funny (to me, anyway.) is that the before pics are also gorgeous!


Nancy Keyes - bathroom before - zebra chair - stained wooden door

Leave it to Nancy to create a gorgeous room, in any case. There may have been some other issues that lead to the reno, as well. I love both the before and after!


Nancy Keyes bathroom before
However, Nancy’s ceiling looks to be nine feet. I reckon that the black ceiling would still be fine in a bathroom with an eight-foot ceiling.

Here are some more ideas for dark ceilings

And, please check out this other fabulous bathroom that Nancy Keyes did.

But, what if we have a room with a low and expansive ceiling?


Yes, that’s one of the worst problem ceilings.

There’s only one worse ceiling issue.

A low, large, expansive POPCORN ceiling. (please click on that for lots of great ideas for problem ceilings)


I can’t think of one decorating issue from the 20th century that confounds me more than the all-too-common popcorn ceiling.


I’m sure that there must’ve been a logical reason for it. Did someone think that it helps with acoustics? Not much, I don’t think, but they sure do suck much of the available light. They’re just another of those bad ideas made popular in the second half of the 20th century. And, now we want to rid the planet of popcorn; on problem ceilings, that is.


There are two basic ways to get rid of the hideous popcorn. However, it depends on if you have a ceiling that looks more like fossilized seven-minute frosting or more like painted coarse corn grits.


In either case, it is possible to remove a popcorn ceiling.

But, I definitely recommend having a professional take care of it. But, if you insist, please make sure that your ceiling and paint is free of asbestos and lead. Wear protective gear.


IF the popcorn is very even and low, it is possible to cover it with various products.



What is anaglypta wallpaper?


It is a heavy, embossed wallpaper that can go on the wall or on the ceiling. It is usually made of paper or a cellulose product.


Anaglypta Paintable 33' x 20.5" Spencer Supaglypta 3D Embossed Wallpaper

Here is one pattern that’s either the same or very similar to what I had on my kitchen ceiling for 16 years. I loved it! My boys always said it looked like paper towels. Haha. And, yes, it’s paintable. I had it professionally installed, and then the contractor painted the paper high-gloss white.

You can see a bad photo of it here.


Anaglypta wallpaer ceiling - solution for problem ceilings


Above is a better photo of anaglypta wallpaper on a ceiling. (sorry, source, unknown) There are numerous patterns to choose from. As you can see, it mimics the look of a tin ceiling and so works best for older homes or a home with a quasi-vintage look like our old townhouse tried to have. haha.


For an expansive and low ceiling as in an open floor plan, here’s what I think is a good idea.


I would add either beams or very shallow coffers. (we’ll get to that in a sec)

Sometimes the beam will make sense because there’s already a post holding up the ceiling somewhere. That is a logical place to run a beam if there isn’t one there already. But sometimes there’s the one post and what would make sense is to add a beam going perpendicular and possibly another post, somewhere else, if necessary for symmetry.

my old home awkward floor planAbove is a floorplan of our old townhouse. There’s a post located just as you come up the stairs from the front door. It’s difficult to see here, but there’s a steel beam covered with sheetrock running along the length of the room attached to the post. You can see it better if you go back to the original post.

We could’ve run a faux beam running perpendicular and intersecting the post if we had wanted to. I don’t think that would’ve looked good in this case, however.


via-lifestyle-and-design-beadboard-ceiling-low-ceiling - problem ceilings

Lifestyle and Design


Hallow coffers on a low, expansive ceiling, like above (with or without the beadboard), is a wonderful way to break up a low, expansive ceiling.


family room with low coffer 8-foot ceiling height - new addition

One of most favorite clients from 2003-2012 (with some breaks during the recession) added this lovely kitchen family room addition in 2008. I can’t believe it’s nearly 14 years old. Crazy! These ceilings are only eight-feet high, but they don’t feel low at all.


In my portfolio, there are numerous examples of beautiful coffered ceilings.

Another problem with a coffered ceiling might be if it’s dark and heavy AND in a large space like we saw here.

Should you paint the inside of a coffered ceiling?




I never have, but you can. I think the ceiling should be high. And indeed, for a coffer as deep as the one above, it needs to be at least a ten-foot-high ceiling.

Next up in Problem Ceilings are those pesky attic ceilings with all sorts of angles, dormers, pitches. It can get confusing as to what’s the ceiling and what’s the wall?


I usually paint it ALL ONE COLOR. In so doing, it will help the room look softer and less choppy. I typically do a shade of white or cream. But I’ve also done khaki and gray.


problem ceilings - attic ceiling - room by Nicole Balch of Making It Lovely


Beautiful office before done by Nicole Balch of Making It Lovely for the One Room Challenge™.

Look at all of those crazy angles!


Room by Nicole Balch of Making Lovely. And she did!


And the finished room! Great job!

The wall color is Benjamin Moore Brandy Cream oc-4 and 1030


Above and below by Tim Barber


Fabulous bathroom. I love the accent of the aqua above the tile. No problem ceilings here!


Tim Barber


His work is totally awesome!


For more blue ceiling and wall ideas, click here.


Related to the attic ceilings are the aforementioned vaulted ceilings or cathedral ceilings. The terms are used interchangeably. However, Cathedral means symmetrical, and vaulted can be asymmetrical. But, sometimes that can be pretty awful.


Okay, let’s look at some things I found that I very much don’t recommend that you do when it comes to vaulted ceilings. It’s not difficult to do.


But, first, one lovely asymmetrical vaulted ceiling that works, in my opinion.


original source unknown half vaulted ceiling


This, of course, is a rustic, farmhouse-type room. Sorry, I don’t have the source available for you. If anyone knows, please let me know.


But then, we have this vaulted ceiling mess below.


really bad vaulted ceiling Problem Ceilings

Let’s emphasize how weird this all is by highlighting these bizarre panel mouldings. Horizontal beams going across would be a lot better, I think.


Problem Ceilings


First, the one-sided vaulted ceiling is not accessible to pull off.


It can quickly look like a “lean-to.” But add to it these oppressive, heavy beams, heavy stone installed to match the pitch, and dull brown cabinetry that feels wrong.

But, we can add in the ubiquitous bad lighting we were just talking about. What also disturbs me about this space is that it’s trying to be symmetrical but just misses by about three or four feet.

How would I fix this? Well, the cheapest, which Nancy Keyes did, and it looks amazing, would be to paint everything white. By the way, Nancy is not in any way cheap. lol, She just didn’t feel like putting money into this part of the house.

A more expensive way would be to cover the stone and then create more of a deep tray ceiling by following the angle on the left and then bringing the ceiling straight across for the fireplace chimney, and then bringing the angle down to match the left. Then, I would also fill in the space above the cabinets.


Can you ever stain the beams dark?


Yes, but mostly it’s when the walls and ceiling are painted a rich, medium to dark color.


Liz Walton Home - Instagram - photo - angle eye photography - gorgeous, no problem ceilings here


Liz Walton from Liz Walton Home on Instagram (please follow her) did a fantastic job in this lovely family room/library. She achieved the perfect balance with a hunky leather sofa and a gorgeous Oriental rug. – photo – angle eye photography, on Instagram.

Plus, Liz’s beautiful website.

Angle Eye Photography’s website


Liz is also demonstrating another excellent treatment for a vaulted ceiling which is the flying crown or flying cornice, as it is known in the carpentry trade.


As you can see, the crown sits just under the vault running horizontally, with the effect of flying, I guess.


bhdm design vaulted ceiling - wonderful - no problem ceilings here


BHDM, a design firm in New York City, did a fantastic, unadorned soffit. I love it and the white-on-white to unify all of the elements.


But, here’s another don’t do this when it comes to vaulted problem ceilings.


vaulted ceiling - no no no! don't do this! Problem Ceilings
Running a crown moulding on the angle is just plain weird to me.

What to do instead?

Well, it’s fine to run a plain three or four-inch piece of wood, as you see below.


cathedral ceiling - bedroom-peter-mcdonald-architect - no problem ceilings in this beautiful bedroom
Architect Peter McDonald did a gorgeous job with this beautiful coastal bedroom on Cape Cod. Please check out his stunning portfolio!


Let’s keep going with a few more fugly vaulted ceilings.


no outlining vaulted ceiling - Problem Ceilings - please do not pin to pinterest

Above is a virtual design I happened upon on Instagram. Fine, we all need to start somewhere, and I had many failures in my early years, but golly gee. I think this one is self-explanatory.


cathedral ceiling - weird mural - big Problem Ceilings


This is from a real estate listing. Money and taste do not necessarily go hand in hand. No other words here. And no suggestions on how to make it better except to paint it all out and slipcover the furniture with seagrass rugs.


The following kind of problem ceilings sometimes are tray ceilings.


However, I don’t have any bad examples, only gorgeous tray ceilings.


Julie Nightengale - beautiful job with this dining room and love the architectural detailing and how she dealt with this problem ceiling

Julie Nightingale

I think painting the ceiling taupe provides great balance in this elegant dining room. This is also an excellent solution when there’s ample space above the window. The architectural detailing is beautifully done here. This is a flying crown moulding without the vault.




Gorgeous dining room by Darryl Carter. The color looks like Benjamin Moore Quiet Moments. (one of the Laurel Home colors.)


Striking entrance by Laura Covington. Pale blue, grey, greens are absolutely gorgeous for ceilings.


The rest of the post is not about problem ceilings but some interesting ideas for decorating more regular kinds of ceilings.


ceiling decor

Royal Design Studio

Oh my, this was stenciled on! I have a lot of respect for someone who has the skill, patience, and spinal column strength needed to accomplish something like this. If you like this or just want to fantasize about the possibility or can afford to have someone else do it, please take a look here. It’s an excellent site filled with tons of wonderful images.


ceiling decor

Source unknown. But I love this stenciled design on the ceiling.



The grasscloth texture provides instant warmth to this elegant design by interior designer Brian Gluckstein.


To close, I have one more vaulted ceiling that I think could use some help.


In fact, I got so into it; I ended redoing the entire space. If I had known that, I could’ve saved some time.


living-room-cathedral-problem ceilings

Okay,  let’s forget about the horrid furniture and layout and focus on the vaulted ceiling. And, the other architectural elements.

As you can see, there is no adornment whatsoever on the vaulted ceiling. But, something’s off. Can anyone see what it is?


Yes, Pamela. I saw your hand go up first. ;]


It’s those two very long skinny windows flanking the fireplace, right? And why are they so much taller than the Palladian window and door?

Bingo! You get an A+, Pamela. Thank you. ;]

Believe it or not, I just noticed that there’s a window AND a door on the right side. So, we have three window/door elements in one room, all at different heights. Who does that? Never mind. People do stuff like that all of the time!


Of course, we’re not going to rebuild the house. (You’re going to see it all visually in a sec.) But, here’s what I would do.


I would bring those windows down on the inside. (It’s okay; no one will notice on the outside. It will look like a shade is pulled down part of the way.) Just take off the moulding, add a piece of sheetrock to bring them down to the appropriate height, and then put back the moulding.

I think a relatively simple running crown or horizontal piece for the vaulted ceiling. And then run about three or four horizontal beams painted white.

Below, I did just that in a virtual redoing of this room. It’s not perfect, but I like how it turned out.



Before and

living-room-cathedral-ceiling-flying crown moulding



Do you like how I moved the mirror up to where it should be if it were a window?


That one element alone helps this space a lot!

Typically, I don’t face a sofa away from the fireplace, but maybe this is a super deep room, and there’s another sitting area by the fireplace.

I thought doing the faux marble charcoal gray, and the white-ish floor would be fun. I love how the large diamonds of the floor play off the angle of the vaulted ceiling. Sorry, it’s slightly off-center.

Also, I brightened up the green walls a little. The color is very close to one of the Laurel Home Paint Collection colors, Benjamin Moore, Sherwood Green.


sherwood green hc 118

Benjamin Moore Sherwood Green hc-18


The ceiling is the palest blue-green. In fact, it’s probably a cool shade of off-white. I’m not sure which one. At first, I thought white, but it seemed a little too stark. I like this better.


Kennedy Sofa - Jayson Home

The sofa is the Kennedy from Jayson Home.

It comes standard in this beautiful peacock velvet. However, it can be ordered in numerous other fabrics they carry. Or, you can provide your material.

Of course, the yellow chair is my own. The manufacturer discontinued it.


Jonas Lie - American painter early 20th century impressionist

If anyone is interested, the painting in the back is by American painter Jonas Lie, 1880-1940. There is a painting over a fireplace in the Bronxville Library by him very similar to this one, only better. It is large and magnificent, and I must take a pic of it the next time I’m in Bronxville for a visit.


The beautiful Chinoiserie china cabinet or bookcase is available at Chairish, and it says free shipping! Wow! That’s big!


vaulted ceiling and furnishings before and afterplease pin to Pinterest for reference


six types problem ceilings - dozens of solutions


And here’s another post with lots of architectural ceiling detail and some breathtaking ceilings.


PS: Please check out the newly updated Hot Sales.

Some super-amazing sales are going on this weekend.
And, I just reintroduced a women’s clothing widget with some lovely items, primarily for winter and all on sale! Or, at least for a bit as of this writing.


30 Responses

  1. Popcorn ceilings!! Ugh!! A few years ago I moved to a condo in Florida, which not only had popcorn ceilings (the petrified frosting kind you describe) but faux stucco textured walls. All the worst excesses of the 80’s, which is when it was built. Thank goodness I had money available for renovations, and had my builder sand the ceiling and walls smooth. The ceilings were only 8′, and I did not want to reduce the height AT ALL, so it got sanded off instead of being covered up. The “pop-corning” was so extreme and egregious that anaglypta wallpaper could not have been used — not to mention that I don’t care for it, nor would it have worked with the architectural style of the place. I saved time and money by keeping the popcorn textured ceilings and textured walls in the bedrooms, where there is very low occupancy, so no one cares about that in those rooms.

    I’d like to add that I discovered your blog midway through the renovation, and found it useful and encouraging. Thank you!!

  2. Laurel, we are pondering our new build ceilings. As we’ve been replacing lights we’ve noticed a few ceiling medallions, round and rectangular, that have been done beautifully in other designs. Do you have any guidelines on sizes or shapes? We’d like to do some, but are flummoxed on how to make them work. Seems they can also be a hot mess!

  3. I’m completely enthralled with your beautiful transformation of that very uninviting room! The colors especially are so pleasing and happy that I’d never want to leave. I’ve copied it to my decorating files so that I’ll never lose it.

  4. Our house has a vaulted ceiling with this ransom design. I just ignore it. We have taken down popcorn before, but this is in a class by itself. Enjoy your information. Always so good.

    Have you seen the They build custom homes. I am not involved with them in any way. I just follow them on Instagram.

  5. I love the before and after pix. I was interested in your thought process as to why you didn’t paint the back triangular section of the wall white? Was it to give the mirror a similar background color as the other windows? Or to raise the visual height of the room?

    1. Hi Christine, That’s a good question. It was already green and I didn’t mind it. I think it does give more presence to the fireplace. And, also doesn’t totally chop off 2/5ths of the total height. Usually, I just paint rooms like this a very pale color or else, everything white. But, since the walls were already green and by the time I got to a point where it would be difficult to change them significantly, I kept them close to the original color.

  6. Very pretty. How would that flying crown not droop with that wide width across the room? Just wondering how the carpenter would pull it off. It looks great if it could be done in real life.

    1. Hi Monique. The crown around the room isn’t a problem. But you’re right. The horizontal beams would require some support, most likely. But since they aren’t structural, it wouldn’t need to be down to the floor. Sometimes you’ll see a truss system, but maybe something more simple would work. Great point!

  7. I live in a ranch house that doesn’t fit the categories because it’s built into a hill but had many of the problems you talk about before we did quite a bit of renovating some years ago. Now people walk in and think it’s beautiful.

    But what I really want to say is that, architecture aside, so many living rooms look so awful because people make their TV the centerpiece of the room. All the furniture has to point toward it, no matter how hideous the arrangement looks. The room you redid had a gigantic TV/entertainment center on one wall. When you redid it, you put a gorgeous large cabinet in roughly the same space. If people would only limit their TVs and keep them out of their living rooms, they might actually see the room differently and think about how they might make the space look nice.

  8. Very nice! What about decorative trusses for the ceiling? Yes, dust and cob web collectors lol. Love that idea with the long windows!

  9. Laurel, I love this post so much! They way you changed the room with the too high windows is amazing. Thank you for creating this and sharing!
    I adore the beams and fixing the window heights, the mirror as a high window. I am in love with the black and white checker on the diagonal floor. I recently reread your floor cloth post and have been thinking about making a floor cloth for my kitchen in this same pattern. 😍

  10. Hi Shelley,
    My mother is in a hot climate (Texas) and has an asymmetric vaulted ceiling. The vaulted ceiling makes a big difference in the heat. You don’t mention where you are so just wanted to give you something else to consider. Of course, during the Texas freeze and power outages last year, the high ceiling wasn’t great! She has made her living room look lovely despite the asymmetric vault, but we aren’t designers so, as the other designer who replied wisely pointed out, it would be hard for someone like me to identify what exactly is making it work. Good luck! Laurel’s blog is a treasury of ideas!

  11. Nancy, thank you for sharing why you changed it. Both versions are beautiful and I have been curious what prompted the change!

    I have only seen the wet room idea on UK remodeling TV shows and in some European hotels so I love that you did one here in the US!

  12. Cris S., Laurel may have an answer you, but I have a couple of thoughts to share (I’m also a designer). I am sorry to hear about your struggles with your GC. That was an unprofessional “fix” to be sure! I suggest creating a flat surface at the apex of your vault. You can make it look like the ceiling or you can make it look like a beam. Take a look at Laurel’s pictures above. There is a flattened ceiling section in the photo of a dining room from BHDM. And two pictures below that, there is a bedroom by Peter McDonald that shows a beam. You can buy faux beams that are more affordable and not solid wood. This will create a flat surface for your lighting. If you don’t like those ideas, you can also remove any centered lighting and put matching lights on the sides of both slopes. Make sure the canopy (thing that connects to the ceiling) and tubing or cable works to have it mounted at an angle. Hope that helps!

  13. Shelly, it’s very possible Laurel will answer you, but I thought I would put my two cents in (I’m also a designer). I have to agree with what Laurel posted. As a designer, I’m less-than-thrilled with asymmetrical ceilings. If I have to deal with a vaulted ceiling, I much prefer a symmetrical one. The photos you found may have a deft interior stylist who added other elements in the room to make it look pretty, which may be difficult for you to replicate. That being said, if something brings you joy, no matter what other people say, you should still go for it (in my opinion). 🙂

  14. People retrofitting older homes, especially in multi-family buildings, often have to hide high velocity mini ducts behind runs of flying crown moulding. It tends to look pretty awful, especially when the homeowner leaves the design up to the contractor. Thanks for providing some visual inspiration. Lovely post!

  15. Laurel, you did a lot of work transforming that room! It must have taken you hours. I asked myself if there was anything I would have added or subtracted (It’s a mental exercise I do all the time. You probably do it too). The answer I came up with was to remove the fan and bring in some very large, style-appropriate chandeliers and hang them even with your cross beams. One in each rectangle. How fun it was to be ‘creative’ with you this morning! Thank you. My favorite parts you suggested: the ‘window’ mirror up high, the use of internal sheetrock to lower the windows, and the fresher color on the walls. Brilliant. Thank you for this post!

  16. Dear, dear, Laurel,
    Always so much fun to wake up to see your blog and relive some of my projects. Thank you so much, as always, for your “over the top” flattering words! The bathroom was a Jack and Jill and by removing the door to a guest bedroom we were able to have a separate tub and shower. It is a “wet room” with no enclosure around the shower. The first floor has beautiful 10 foot ceilings which make the upstairs 8.5 ceilings feel low. The black ceiling disappears and I love it. Thank you again! XOXO Nancy

  17. Good morning Laurel,
    After “discovering you” about a year ago, yours has become my favorite blog.I really enjoy the professionalism and fun! in every one.
    This post could not have been more timely. I am building a small home. The ceilings are 8 feet, and the living room, dining area, and kitchen are open concept in a line. (Bedrooms on the other side). To keep it from looking so boxy I have asked the builder to vault this area, and in fact liked the idea of the asymmetric vault. I thought that would add height (it will come up from the 8 foot ceiling on the right side up onto the left wall at about 11 feet.), and interest. But the more I read the more I worry that I am creating a problem instead of enhancing the house. Your term “looking like a lean to” especially scares me!
    I have picked out some pretty pictures of this kind of ceiling, but I am about to chicken out! Thoughts?
    Thank you!

  18. We have a lovely cathedral ceiling in our kitchen. The problem is that the GC’s electrician was HORRIBLE and one day I came in and saw that they’d installed the Hicks pendants (which have about a 5ish inch canopy at the top) into the peak of the ceiling – just hanging there below the peak looking janky and weird. Oh, we’ll take care of it said the GC – apparently that meant he’d have the painters try to build up some caulk and paint around it to close the triangular gap, fail, and walk away leaving gunk kinda hanging there looking worse than before. 3 years later and I still don’t know what to do with that awfulness!!!

    Thank you for the post. It was very helpful and had some lovely examples. And if anyone has suggestions on the above issue – I’m all ears!

  19. Hi Laurel,
    I’m very fortunate that I’ve never had to deal with any of the problem ceilings you brought up.
    But who knows if I will in the future. This post is packed with useful information. Thanks for providing us with solutions.

  20. Thank you so much for this post. You confirmed what I thought I knew about trimming a cathedral/vaulted ceiling but your advice went a long way in helping to convince my husband that I was correct.

    Thank you!

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Hi, I’m Laurel, and Laurel Home is the website and blog for Laurel Bern Interiors.
I’ve been creating new-traditional interiors since 1988. The blog is where I share all.

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