The Fifth Wall

Ceilings are the new statement wall. Here’s what’s trending in overhead treatments—and best practices for achieving balance.

By Elise Hofer Shaw

Wallpapering a single statement wall is yesterday’s trend. Instead, consider papering the ceiling to show off your unique style and personality. (Photo credit: Elle Decor)

Homeowners are paying more attention to the home’s most bare expanse—the ceiling. From statement ceilings to more traditional takes, the trends in 2022 are anything but boring. Marshall Erb, founder and lead designer at Marshall Erb Design in Chicago, shares his favorite finishes for the fifth wall.

Add Grandeur With Ceiling Mirrors

Flipping the script is very 2022. While we all know that mounted wall mirrors open up our spaces and reflect light, placing them on the ceiling isn’t second nature. “Mirrored ceilings are particularly great for adding glamor to a dining room, and they work well with both contemporary or Art Deco styles,” says Erb, noting that a chandelier or beautiful pendant lamp hanging from a mirrored ceiling can bring instant elegance. “Smoked mirror tiles cut to fit between the beams of a coffered ceiling can add an antiqued vibe, and the separation can help balance the look of the glass so that the mirrors aren’t so prominent. SPANCraft is a fast and easy resource for antiqued mirror sheets in custom sizes and shapes.” If you’re considering mirrors for the boudoir ceiling, however, Erb suggests exercising some restraint (unless you want your primary to look like a honeymoon suite).

For this home on Sullivan’s Island in Charleston County, South Carolina, Marshall Erb Design chose a high-gloss ceiling paint to reflect the sunlight throughout the space.

Keep It Classical With Decorative Millwork

If you really want to level up on the Gilded Age grandeur, some textured ornamentation could be the right direction. “Carved ceiling tiles, medallions and trim are making a big comeback,” says Erb. “Originating in churches and temples, these handcrafted flourishes have been around for centuries, making their way into the homes of well-heeled Americans around the turn of the century.” Artisanal carving requires hours of manual labor, making it one of the most expensive options on this list if authenticity is important, but there are pretty pop-in ceiling tile options available on Etsy. “I love the look of juxtaposing clean and contemporary lighting fixtures with ornate ceiling medallions,” adds Erb. “And if you’re attempting to restore a Victorian home with original millwork, consider keeping the character but painting it a consistent color that matches the walls, too, to make it modern.”

Find Balance From Organic Texture

While maximalism is here to stay, some still prefer the calming effect of a blank canvas. That said, all-white walls can come off as sterile without a little something, something. “Textured lime wall paints are having a moment,” shares Erb. “They have soft color variations and a matte velvety effect similar to Venetian plaster.” Thus, getting the look of plaster, limewash and even concrete is a lot easier than you might expect. “That old-world, chalky patina you find on buildings in Europe and South America—and homeowners’ desire to live like they are on vacation—is what’s driving this trend,” adds Erb. “For years, people have been trying to replicate the look with faux-painting, but now there are luxury paints that deliver the plaster-like look, so you don’t need a master Italian plasterer to get it.” Los Angeles-based Portola Paints’ bestselling Lime Wash and plaster-like Roman Clay paints are a quality choice.

Engaging greens are all the rage in 2022. Here, Mendelson Group carried the color to the ceiling with a bold gingham wallcovering. (Photo credit: Mendelson Group)

Bring Bold Personality With Wallpaper

Wallpapering a single statement wall is so five years ago, but that doesn’t apply to the fifth wall. Next time you’re browsing beautiful wallpaper designs, consider how one may look on the ceiling. There’s versatility to this approach: You can extend wallpaper from the walls to the ceiling, use a bold ceiling to contrast neutral walls, or mix and match a patterned ceiling with colorful walls. “Patterned wallpaper is an easy way to infuse a space with your unique style or personality,” says Erb. “If you lean more toward a modern sensibility, opt for a geometric pattern for added intrigue. If classical is more your vibe, a blue-and-white Chinoiserie print is a timeless classic, and gingham is on-trend once more.” As for wallpapering all five walls in one room, Erb says start small. “A petite powder room is perfect for carrying your wallpaper up from the walls and over the ceiling to create a lovely little jewel box.” Erb is a fan of Pierre Frey and Maya Romanoff for luxe wallcoverings.

Laminate for a Modern Look

There’s something super sophisticated about a high-gloss sheen that shines like the hood of a Ferrari 250 GTO. “Much like mirrors, high-gloss paint reflects light,” informs Erb, adding that Farrow & Ball is his go-to resource for full-gloss paints in fashion-forward hues. “Even a beadboard ceiling can go from basic to beautiful with a coat of white, oil-based paint,” says Erb. “But don’t shy away from color. Sage green is this year’s top hue. In the kitchen, for example, you could go matte for the cabinets but glossy on the ceiling in the same shade for some subtle contrast.” The high-gloss ceiling is also a smart option for small spaces like offices, bars and butler’s pantries. “For smaller spaces that may not receive a ton of natural illumination, it’s all about catching the light—sunlight or artificial lighting—and bouncing it throughout the room.”

To make an ornate ceiling detail modern, Marshall Erb Design opted for a single paint color and mixed in MCM furnishings for fresh contrast.