Proof That Colors Read Lighter on the Ceiling

As a paint color consultant, one of the things I always explain to my clients is that paint colors appear lighter on the ceiling than they do on the wall.  I’m not sure they always believe me.

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The reason this is true has to do with the way in which lighting hits the ceiling vs. the wall, and we all know that lighting greatly affects the way we perceive paint colors, right?

painted ceiling

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So when I recommend they “wrap” their entire room in the same color, I explain that the ceiling color will actually appear lighter than the wall color.  I don’t always make this recommendation, but there are specific times (subject for a future blogpost) when it is absolutely the best thing you can do for your space.

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Need proof, oh ye of little faith?  Here’s a photo I snapped last week of the completed paint job at one of my client’s homes in Franklin, Tennessee.  If you didn’t know this was coming, would you think the color on the ceiling was the same as the wall color?   Well, it is!

painted ceiling

 

Here’s a shot from the stairs looking down into the vaulted living room – same effect.  The ceiling looks like it’s a shade lighter than the wall color.  But the result is that the boundary between wall and ceiling is softer and less harsh than if the ceiling were the stark white it was previously.

painted ceiling

 

The walls and ceilings were painted Sherwin Williams Austere Gray SW 6184.   And there was no need to add white to the ceiling paint to make it lighter – it appears lighter anyway.  Now do you believe?

 

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Dianne Tant
Dianne Tant
8 years ago

I believe…I believe!

Katie @ Wildwood Creek

Who knew?! This is such an inspired idea!

Fay Sophie
Fay Sophie
8 years ago

thats so cool. showed hubby after explaining… so he says how do they do the lighter colour.. doh lol

barbara jacobs
8 years ago

Interesting subject Kristie – and good demo pictures also.
So many designers and painters always do ‘one shade lighter than wall color…(often more than one ‘shade’ lighter”, thinking this will be a good thing. Of course, sticking with colors on the same printed strip often takes one away from the actual color (hue, in this case), also…regardless of lightness or depth. Adding white to wall color? Another mistake, that can Really change the actual color into a different dimension all together.

I always enjoy your informative posts!

Kelley
8 years ago

I’m in art school, and in my oil painting classes we’ve learned that adding white to a color not only lightens it, but cools and desaturates it as well. Interesting to hear that it works the same way with wall paint.

Holly
Holly
8 years ago

Very interesting…and I’m curious now about your future post and when you recommend wrapping the room.

Jil
Jil
8 years ago

Well, I’ve gotta say I didn’t know that. Now, I have 2 questions.

On the 4th and 5th photos , it looks like the 2 rooms are painted different colours? or is this an optical illusion too? I’m assuming it’s just one colour? If not, Is the celing the colour of the wall colour on the left or the right?

I noticed both examples show rooms with abundant natural light, how does this concept work in a limited lighting situation?

Anne
Anne
8 years ago

Well now, isn’t that interesting! Can’t wait to see the completed rooms!

Jil
Jil
8 years ago

Thanks Kristie, that does make sense and yes, I am surprised! I could have sworn that liv rm had 3 diff. colours in it! Color is fascinating isn’t it? Yes would love to see more pics! thanks for the speedy answer!

Rachellabelle Interiors
Rachellabelle Interiors
8 years ago

Seeing is definitely believing!

Teresa
8 years ago

You are absolutely right Kristie. Ceilings will appear lighter which is why many people have a hard time picking colors. The default white almost always looks clinical on the ceiling even if it looked good in sample. This is a great photo example of how deceiving color can be!. Your colors are also beautiful as usual my color friend!

Lisa Moon
8 years ago

Hi, Kristie! Interesting post, and it certainly made me reexamine what I knew about color. As a specialty painter (what we used to call “faux finisher” before that term started to connote bad sponge painting) and “ad hoc” color consultant, I too usually recommend that my clients wrap a room in the same color (usually, not always). But I often warn them that the ceiling will look a shade darker, even though the overall effect will be perfect for the space! So I went around and stared at all the walls and ceilings in my own house just now. The… Read more »

Dana Tucker
8 years ago

Love this post!!! We are also in the faux finishing business and are not professional color consultants, although we do offer color advice on almost every job. I have often recommended wrapping the room in the same color, because it just “looked right”. Your thoughtful explanation of “why it looks right” really makes so much sense. After reading your blog for several months I feel like I am getting so much useful color information that will help me with our business. Thanks so much for sharing your “color knowledge” with us! Happy New Year Kristie!

Rose
Rose
8 years ago

Wow! Thanks for sharing. I believe you now. I have one question though. Does crown molding change this? We have triple crown molding , 12ft walls, and tons of natural light in our living room. I’m wondering if that much crown molding lessons this effect?

Ruth Buffington
Ruth Buffington
8 years ago

Would you paint the crown moulding to match the ceiling or a contrasting color? What if the ceiling and the wall are 2 completely different colors?

Donna Lee
Donna Lee
8 years ago

I’ve just happened upon your blog, when looking for muted paint colors. (We’re re-doing our kitchen.) I have known for a while that, the next time I (or somebody else!) paints, I want the ceiling painted the same color. The problem is that I’m not ready to paint EVERY room, yet — Won’t it look odd if I paint the kitchen ceiling the same color as the kitchen walls, and that’s the only room in the house that doesn’t have an off-white ceiling?!? (I should mention that the kitchen is open-ended into the family room, which has the off-white ceiling… Read more »

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The White Ceiling Phenomenon « Stratton Design Studio
8 years ago

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Connie Morelle
Connie Morelle
8 years ago

Tara…I believe EVERYTHING you say! You always back it up, too, so keep inspiring.

Becky
Becky
7 years ago

Thanks for sharing. I believe you now totaly looking at the posted pictures. However, I am still hestiate to do that for a room in which the wall is Benjamin Moore conventry gray because the room has low ceiling (around 7.5-8ft); I am afraid it will feel lower in height and pressed down. Currently it’s painted white and for some reason it looks yellow with the gray wall and do not look right. Soo I am trying to figure how what to paint it; any suggestions? should I go for the same color of Benjamin Moore Conventry Gray or try… Read more »

Michael
Michael
7 years ago

Very interesting, so hard to tell with swatches and even the pieces of drywall we’ve gathered.

We are painting most of our home ethereal gray (sw), planning on painting the ceiling the same.

The kids bathroom will be kids stuff (sw) a nice orange, planning to go on all walls. Do I put that on the ceiling too or go with they gray?

Downstairs bathroom will be hazel (sw) and is smaller, paint the ceiling hazel or gray?

Still deciding on master bath but maybe coral (sw) or something along those lines, same question.

Thank you.

Michael
Michael
7 years ago

Oh, and there is molding, which will be in the trim color (white)

Michael
Michael
7 years ago

A picture of the crown (and walls primed)comment image

Michael
Michael
7 years ago

Thanks. It’s a gray, I wouldn’t say light but not very dark either. Though the entry will be a bit darker gray.

Our trim is white, so you’d suggest a white ceiling? That would definitely be quite the contrast. We were going with the white trim to keep it fresh, but the gray ceiling to bring some warmth/cozy balance (and I’m not a big fan of white ceilings).

Definitely getting me to rethink a few things.

Michael
Michael
7 years ago
Reply to  Michael

And kids stuff is bright orange to bring some fun to the jack and Jill bath. Again, you’d suggest white ceilings to march the crown molding?

erin
erin
7 years ago

Hi! I’m a little late to the party here but I’m having a dilemma about how to paint my hallway which has a similar angled vaulted wall over the stairway as the photo you show. My dilemma is that the only natural light in that area is actually a skylight rather than windows. I’m afraid this will make the angled wall (where the skylight is) actually appear darker. It does when I hold up the little swatch…but of course that may just be that one area and as a whole it will still appear to be the same color. Since… Read more »

Stephanie
Stephanie
6 years ago

Love this post and love the paint color! This home looks like the same floor plan as mine and I cannot decide what color to paint. I love SW Comfort Gray and Austere Gray. So in this house above did you paint Austere Gray in the foyer, family room, hallways, and kitchen? I too have an orange toned wood I am looking to update but never thought of using a color other than beige in my open concept floor plan. So, is it fine to use a blue/green gray everywhere on a house that has two story foyer and family… Read more »

Stephanie
Stephanie
6 years ago

Thanks! While I like cool colors it still scares me to put austere gray all over the open areas of my house since I’m so used to warm beige or tan. I’m worried the house will feel cold. Did you use warm complementing colors in the other rooms or should I stick with cool colors with austere gray?

Amy
Amy
4 years ago

Hi Kristie, I am so glad I stumbled upon your post. I wonder if you can help answer my question. I am doing a new build home and want to use BM Revere Pewter HC-172 on all the walls and ceiling. My trim color would be BM White Dove. I also would like to contrast the formal dining room ceiling with Rockport Gray HC105. There would be crown molding also in white dove in the formal dining room. My ceilings in the formal dining, entry, and living room are 13 feet. The kitchen and all other rooms are 9 feet.… Read more »

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