The Fifth Wall

Look up for inspired ceilings.


Maximalism is an interior design trend that you might want to approach with a bit of caution. After all, how are you going to paint over all that lacquer once the trend gets old? The good news is that there’s a safe way embrace it.

Sally Lord, of GreyHunt Interiors in Chantilly, says, “Because of the rise in maximalism, people want to be surrounded by their design and not leave surfaces unfinished. They’ve rediscovered the fifth wall”—a designer term for ceilings. “With maximalism, everything is covered and treated. Now, you’re seeing more of an increase in treating that fifth wall and people aren’t afraid to do it.”

Lord, a fifth wall expert, loves to highlight a ceiling with wallpaper. She says, “It’s a great way to bring color, pattern, texture into a space, to have that contrast and interest on every surface. So people don’t feel totally enclosed in a space—a little on the ceiling is just enough.”

The options for wallpaper are endless, and finding something appropriate you can stare at from the floor of a room is a daunting task. Lee Waters, of Lee Waters Design in Midlothian, says, “Look for ceiling wallpaper patterns that look good no matter how they are rotated, since you’ll view the pattern from various angles in the room. Patterns to avoid would be something where all the pattern faces one direction, or has a distinct bottom to the pattern.” As an example, Waters cites a plant in the ground stretching toward the sky—how would you position it on a ceiling? “Geometrics, mirrored shapes, and abstract patterns generally work well,” she advises.

There’s also lighting to think about when you’re papering a ceiling. Lord says to consider what you want the light coming from your fixtures to do. “There are multiple ways that the lighting can come into play. Sometimes you want reflection off the paper and around the space to give a glam shimmer in a formal space, like a dining room.” 

If you like drama, Lord says, “You may have paper with an iridescence to it, which brings a different moodiness to the space. Sometimes you can pick paper to showcase the light fixture itself, to define and show off the lines of the lighting. Other times, if you don’t want to saturate a room with drama, you could have a black ceiling with white walls, or you could have a pattern, but you haven’t papered the whole room with that depth of color so you’re not lighting something that is too dark. You can get the depth without the complete saturation, making the room too dark.”

Erika Bonnell, of Erika Bonnell Interiors in Sterling, says that her favorite types of paper to use for a ceiling are “non-directional papers—all-over florals or geometrics. Some of my favorite designers are Lindsay Cowles for cool abstract geometric patterns.” She’s also a big fan of Osborne & Little and Designers Guild, especially for their stripes and florals, and Cole & Son “for pretty much anything they do.” 

Thinking of trying it out yourself? Waters says, “Ceilings are often not as smooth or level as a wall. You will want to ensure that you utilize a skilled installer to apply wallpaper to a ceiling, especially if your pattern is geometric or striped. The installer will compensate as much as possible to avoid a crooked appearance along the ceiling-wall joint and any straight lines or edges in the wallpaper’s design.” GreyHuntInteriors.com, ErikaBonnell.com, LeeWatersDesign.com 

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