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  Help with dark ceilings
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We recently bought a new home. It is a gorgeous mid century modern and the entire ceiling throughout the whole thing looks like this (these pics are from the listing - not out stuff)

In fact these pictures show the rooms (living/kitchen/dining) that I'm having a hard time with. The wood paneling is not painted but is still darker. The large beams that cross the house are sadly painted a very dark brown, almost black. If we could have picked out the wood ourselves we would have gone with a nice light white pine.

A couple things I know for sure we're doing: new paint on the walls, some lighter neutrals or off white colors, white trim, and painting the kitchen cabinets white (currently a dark oak). New floors eventually, but that is a long ways down the road. What I am stuck at is the ceiling. What would you do? Paint the ceiling white? White wash? Paint the beams white and leave the rest?

For contrast and comparison here is the family room. This room used to be a garage and was converted some years ago to living space. The ceiling is the same but the stains are not. The panels are lighter and the wood beams are unpainted. Consequently the room is lighter. I don't think I'll touch the ceiling in this room.

(My pups are modeling the updates we have done to the room thus far for friends on facebook)

I found this house, also a mid century modern, on houzz. Inspiration pic! They painted the ceilings white. I think it looks great but when I brought someone in to quote me a price on painting them he REALLY pushed hard against it. Yes the ceilings are cool as is, but so dark! Once we paint there is no going back...

This message has been edited. Last edited by: niroha,
Posts: 5 | Registered: Oct 13, 2013Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Glory be! That dark ceiling to me is oppressive looking, I don't care what anyone says about leaving it.
If you intend to paint your walls a light color, I probably would go with a lighter color than the wall paint on the same swatch.
White rooms are in and very stylish, clean and modern.
From there your palate is anything you'd like it to be.
Just my 2 cents.
Posts: 1594 | Registered: Jun 23, 2009Reply With QuoteReport This Post
Picture of lady of shallot
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Yes, I would definitely paint a light color. You don't want the ceilings to visually come down on your heads!
Posts: 13004 | Registered: Jun 27, 2004Reply With QuoteReport This Post
Picture of Grapefruit
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I agree....paint it all in lighter colors! Personally, dark houses would depress me.

Enjoy the excitement of a new home!
Posts: 3239 | Location: central PA | Registered: Jan 08, 2007Reply With QuoteReport This Post
Picture of Annett
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I would prime it and paint it. But I wouldn't sand first, partly to prevent tannin bleeding which the existing finish should prevent, and partly to make the paint easier to remove if you ever decide to go back to a wood ceiling. Sanding is important when you have a piece that's going to get a lot of use, but your ceiling won't.
Posts: 1433 | Location: Minnesota | Registered: Nov 28, 2004Reply With QuoteReport This Post
Picture of Always Nesting
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White ceilings would be beautiful! Love your inspiration photo.
Posts: 2159 | Location: Oregon | Registered: Dec 29, 2007Reply With QuoteReport This Post
Picture of *Bella*
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Ok, I'm going to have to go against the grain on this one. I like the room as it is except that I think the wall color is hideous and contributes to the oppressiveness-which I agree it has. Certain shades of light to mid green would be great in a room such as this because of its coloring. White would be fine too if your preference is toward the mid-century look.

The ceiling, cabinets and floor all work well together colorwise. The major problem that I see from my end of the internet is that the lighting is too inadequate to make the room feel comfortable while accentuating that lovely real wood ceiling.

Here's what I'd most likely do if it were my place: Find a new wall color and quick-cause that one isn't nice for this room as it adds nothing positive. When you have the walls repainted, the whole place will look different and you'll be able to decide if the cabinets really need a change. Paint them next if you think they do. Once all that's done, re-evaluate the ceiling. You said the large beams are already painted, repainting them would be no big deal. I'd probably pick a lighter brownish color (or possibly even a color similar to your wood floor) that compliments the natural wood ceiling color but doesn't create the high contrast that a color like white on those big beams would.

You have something unique and I think it would be better to keep as much of it that way as possible. Painting the whole ceiling white is more likely to create something like a mid-century shabby chic look-which in my opinion is entirely incongruous. There are people who would love the ceiling you have in this type of home, even if you do not. This is something that may come into play if you ever need to sell the place. In the meantime, since the future is unknown, you need to find something you can live with. Take baby steps in deciding on this one.

Some other things to consider are what's actually involved in painting the ceiling if you want it to look nice and hold up. First, someone has to get up there and scrub all the years of crud-cigarette smoking was still popular when this house was built, so in addition to cooking residue and the dust, etc. of daily life, all that stuff needs to come entirely off. Next, all of it will need to be primed with a solvent based primer-because they used oil or other solvent based sealers, finishes, and varnishes when your house was built. Solvent based primers are also the most effective for locking up residual stains and knot bleed-through (which is a good possibility because heat can cause them to bleed and it's hot up there.) Of course, the solvent based products often have a strong odor that many people just can't tolerate and they're going to linger in the house for days/weeks even with proper ventilation. Then, you can paint if you want, and latex will be fine at this point. The problem is that once you've painted, every crack between every board is going to show as a black line. It's fine to have this look in certain places-like a cottage on the beach for instance, but for your place where your architectural elements have a more finished look than a slouchy, shabby, casual beach thing, those cracks aren't gonna be a bonus. To get rid of them, someone will need to go up there with a caulking gun and 800 tubes of caulk and fill them all in, then repaint. I just don't think it's worth it.

What I would probably do if it were my place and I couldn't find a way to handle the ceiling, I'd have someone come in and drywall over the whole thing. You could make coffered ceilings out of the big beams if you felt like it. While this option is more dusty than the painting, It's probably a more cost-effective option in the long run and I think it would provide a better overall result and would be more ok for resale as well and anyone interested in restoring the old ceiling could just pull the new stuff down if they were so inclined (which is a lot quicker than scraping paint!)

It's a lot to think about, but take your time and do some of the other things first. Once you have some of those things tackled, time has passed and you may get a better feel for what needs to be done. Consider some subtle, hidden lighting options, maybe add some cool retro-modern lighting, and see if you find anything fun to do with the place.

As far as the new room, it's ok if it isn't exactly like the rest. It has an entirely different feel than the main house and those two cutie pies hanging out in there are just perfect! Love that!

This message has been edited. Last edited by: *Bella*,

Posts: 4031 | Location: West TN, Zone 7a | Registered: Jan 05, 2007Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Thank you everyone for the thoughtful replies and opinions.

Christie you've given me a lot to think about. I appreciate your step by step approach to this problem. My husband and I love the wood paneled ceilings and we had talked about adding it to any house we purchased where it seemed appropriate. Aesthetically it's what we're drawn to. So we were pretty excited when we saw this house - not really taking into account what a light suck the heart of the house is.

Here's some pics of the ceilings showing the different stains. This is the kitchen/family room. The family room wood is very natural looking. Technically still a shade darker than what my husband and I would have picked on our own, but not bad. The stain in the kitchen is just too dark.

Hallway vs bedroom

So the family room and the bedrooms/laundry have a more natural wood look. The kitchen/dining/living/hallway have this darker stain and those are all the rooms that gets poor light penetration.

So anyway. I'll start with the walls, probably a light neutral - but definitely something light (I have a soft spot for greens and other earthy tones). I definitely want to paint the cabinets. I just don't care for the dark oak look so for me there's nothing to think about there other than what color to pick. I'm leaning either all white or two tone. Like a light grey/blue on the bottom and white on the top and back wall. Still debating that one in my head.

The flooring is a dark linoleum which I want to tear up. There's multiple floor types in this house and eventually I'd like to unify things with a ceramic wood tile.

So many thoughts Smile
Posts: 5 | Registered: Oct 13, 2013Reply With QuoteReport This Post
Picture of *Bella*
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I just had to play a little. Here's a quick mock up to give you a vague idea about what changing the colors of just walls, cabs, and painted beams might produce. The original ceiling was left alone. Because the photo is so dark, it looks kinda weird, but you get the idea.

I'm a cherry cabinet person, so if they were my oak cabinets, I'd paint them too. Go for it. In the mock up I just did them whitish-cause I'm just lazy. Big Grin

Here's a link to a post from a lady about painting kitchen cabinets. About half way down, I posted some before & after pics from several years ago of some oak cabinets that I painted at my favorite house. The difference was amazing. Go for it!

Well, I forgot to attach the mock-up!


Posts: 4031 | Location: West TN, Zone 7a | Registered: Jan 05, 2007Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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I think Christie gave some good advice.

My thought had been to refinish with a lighter stain. Finishes can darken over the years.

Think carefully before doing something that can't be changed back.

I think you are going to have a very lovely home there.


Friends divide our sorrows and multiply our joys.
Posts: 6356 | Registered: Sep 20, 2002Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Love that, Christie! I will have to take a better picture and play with it on the sherwin williams website.

Strings I have thought about having is sanded and refinished in a lighter color but worried about the cost. Do you think that would hurt the pocket book? We are not skilled DIYers.
Posts: 5 | Registered: Oct 13, 2013Reply With QuoteReport This Post
Picture of *Bella*
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Something to think about when considering sanding. The age of your house means that lead was pretty much a staple ingredient in solvent finishes. There's a lot we lay-people don't know about what products they used for various applications. There's no telling what they used up there, but given the age of the house, there's a high probability that lead is involved. It seems to be in everything back then. Good, long lasting stuff, but not so good if you disturb it. It's kind of like asbestos that way. It's ok if you leave it alone. The problems come about when you disturb it. You may also find that the early floor coverings are asbestos once you start pulling up the floor. Like lead, it was study stuff and was in almost everything! I believe there are kits available to test for both.

Posts: 4031 | Location: West TN, Zone 7a | Registered: Jan 05, 2007Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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I favor the wood as it is vs. painting it out. There are a lot of windows in the pics you posted which is a good thing, and I love the uniqueness of the windows in the kitchen with light and nature pouring in.

Christie has some really good points regarding the huge undertaking it would be to paint, and I am getting the feeling the wood is what drew you to the home in the 1st place. I think it's beautiful.
Posts: 512 | Location: NE PA | Registered: Jul 15, 2009Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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I personally love dark natural wood when there is lots of natural light. Light colored walls, rugs, and furniture will go a long way to brighten the space. Not sure if sanding and restaining the ceiling is an option for you, but it may help.
Posts: 12 | Registered: Oct 13, 2013Reply With QuoteReport This Post
Picture of *Bella*
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Had to play some more since I had the thing set up. Top is white cabs, white beams, white wall, blue-gray island. Bottom is same thing just in the lighter wood colored painted beams.


Posts: 4031 | Location: West TN, Zone 7a | Registered: Jan 05, 2007Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Hi all. I met today with the interior decorator peeps to help me out. Picked some colors and talked about window treatments and the ever-dark ceilings.

They offered pretty much the same advice as Christie. Paint the rooms and paint the kitchen cabinets since those are things I am 100% sure I want to do. Live with it for a while and then decide if we want to paint the beams. I don't think we'll touch the wood ceilings themselves but since the beams in that room are already painted we may as well go with something lighter. We didn't pick out a color for the beams. We'll cross that bridge when we get there.

What do you guys think of accent wall colors? We picked out some nice neutrals and a light gray blue for a wall in the living room, a wall in the family room, and the kitchen cabinets. I like how that ties that all together but not sure what I think of accent walls in general.

If it helps I can post pics of the walls she suggested we put the accept paint on.

Here are the paint colors
Paint colors: -
1) Ash - living room and kitchen:
2) Macadamia - Family room:
3) Almond - Some accent walls in both living and family rooms, and the kitchen cabinets:
4) Whip - trim

This message has been edited. Last edited by: niroha,
Posts: 5 | Registered: Oct 13, 2013Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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not sure what I think of accent walls in general

Since you asked, this is my opinion for what it's worth. I think accent walls are a trend whose time has come and gone. People still paint them in their homes but there are so many other ways to introduce colour into a space.
Posts: 546 | Registered: Mar 04, 2011Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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