Design Notes Archive

Painted Ceilings

Painted Ceilings

Interior designers often refer to a room’s ceiling as the fifth wall—meaning it should be decorated with the same consideration as rest of the room, not as an afterthought. It’s easy to default to white (though you could go down a rabbit hole picking “the right white”) but apply colour to the ceiling and it can completely transform a space. The effect is especially intriguing when a decorative painter is brought on board in rooms with architectural detail, like coving or exposed beams. Their site-specific artwork becomes a canopy of pattern and texture that makes a room feel truly curated and unique.  

Decorative painter Nicolas Valle recently completed one such ceiling for designer Nina Farmer, who tapped him to paint an intricate geometric display in a soon-to-be dining room (left). Valle spent nearly a year devising multiple samples before landing on the final pattern, which boasts Escher-like cubes mixed with a Greek key style border. The beams’ rough texture posed a design challenge—“it was hard to get those crisp lines and tiny details,” says Valle—but the contrast of the coarse surface with such fine detail gives it character. Valle’s tenacity, it turns out, comes from a melting pot of experimentation and experience. He’s self-taught and used his own furniture as a canvas in the early days, but credits his late partner, production designer Ferdinando Scarfiotti (whose work included films like Death in Venice and The Last Emperor) as a key influence. These days Valle works with designers like Farmer, Commune and Studio Shamshiri, who all champion the power of artisans to customise their projects.

Architect and designer Pierre Yovanovitch is renowned for commissioning bespoke elements for projects as well. When he was selected to restore Quinta da Côrte, a 19th century winery and estate in Portugal’s Duoro Valley, he commissioned local artisans to bring a contemporary sensibility to the rustic setting. In this sitting room (centre), that meant working closely with a local painter to transform the ceiling into a focal point. Beams were painted with a trompe l’oeil pattern of repeating squares which, Yovanovitch notes, are a subtle nod to tiles and mosaics that typically accent traditional Portuguese buildings. On that thought, beams clad in hand-painted tile could also look quite dramatic. 

In neighboring Spain, designer Jacques Grange looked to the ceiling as a place to create intrigue when designing the dining spaces for Majorca’s Hotel Cappuccino (right). Inspired by the island's Palm Cathedral and the Royal Palace of La Almudaina, he commissioned decorative painter Marco di Domizio to adorn the ceiling with an undulating pattern of zigzags and a small-scale diamond motif along the coving. The patterns call to mind traditional Majorcan “tela de lenguas” fabric (a hybrid of flamestitch and ikat) notes Domizio, whose early fascination with graffiti led to his career as a decorative painter. Grange's goal for such detailed work throughout the hotel was to create the feeling of a private residence. We’d certainly be happy to live in a house with such an exquisite ceiling.

Photos © Nicolas Valle; Jean-Francois Jaussaud; unknown