High fashion

From intricate murals to high tech digital imagery, decorative ceilings are creating statements worldwide.

Swarovski crystal chandelier.
Swarovski crystal chandelier.

From intricate murals and tromp l'oeils, to high tech digital imagery and expensive and expansive chandeliers, decorative ceilings are creating statements in buildings worldwide.

Ever since Michelangelo finished painting the Sistine Chapel in 1512 creative ceiling designs have been in vogue.

From detailed crowns and coving to digital images of a favourite scene, ceiling decorations vary widely, but are largely seen as an ideal, and often cost effective, way to add character to a space.

"The ceiling has become known as the fifth wall of a room. With more open floorplan living, walls seem to go on and on, not ending at a corner anymore. So what used to be an accent wall isn't as common as it once was. The ceiling has become the new accent wall," explains Linda Cassels-Hofmann, co-owner and designer at Art Effects, a company that specialises in painted wall murals, trompe l'oeil and faux finishes.

Cassels-Hofmann predicts that at least 60% of her faux finish work is done on a ceiling.

"A faux treatment on a ceiling will also bring your eye upwards to other architectural elements such as crown moldings," she points out.

Art Effects also specialises in trompe l'oeil ('Trick the eye' in French), an art technique involving realistic imagery to create an optical illusion, making two-dimensional objects appear three-dimensional.

"With murals we are asked for trompe l'oeils with skies to open up a room. We do a lot of trompe l'oeil stain glass designs and wrought iron. Designers and decorators seem to consider colour and texture mostly in a ceiling treatment.

"Trompe l'oeil medallions or beautiful stencils can sometimes be enough around a chandelier or ceiling fan to finish off a room. But in the end the budget always plays the biggest role," Cassels-Hofmann says.

Budget does indeed play a role. However, for Cassels-Hofmann, artwork such as her trompe l'oeils or faux finishes, represent a good deal for commissioning interior designers.

"You can get a lot of bang for your buck by addressing the ceiling: four walls versus one ceiling and the room looks completely dressed out," she remarks.

Art Effects custom makes and designs its own stencils for most of its ceiling work, while design ideas largely come from the furnishings, flooring and draperies, to provide a complete, well thought out interior design.

Ceiling Scenes

From Art Effects' intricate murals and skyscapes to a modern-day interpretation of the trompe l'oeil, Ceiling Scenes provides digitally mastered printed ceiling tiles, capable of reproducing virtually any scene or character.

"We have produced imaged ceilings for literally thousands of dental offices, hospitals, paediatric centres, dialysis centres, cancer clinics, childcare centres, private schools, business offices and even warehouses," says David DeAvila, vice president of sales and principal of Ceiling Scenes.

"Most of our applications have been used as a way to improve the healing ambiance that patients find themselves in while receiving treatment. In addition, we have found that in applications outside the healthcare arena, end users are looking for ways to enhance the productivity of their employees by utilising Ceiling Scenes as environmental stress reducers."

"Others have looked at Ceiling Scenes as reinforcing the 'green leanings' of the company by introducing trees, mountains and other nature scenes into the workplace," he explains.

Some of the most popular images used by Ceiling Scenes mimic scenes from typical vacations; open sky, ocean or mountain scenes, African safari animals, nature trails and open woods are all popular options.

However, DeAvila is quick to point out that it is very important to understand who the recipient of the decorated ceiling tiles will be prior to selecting an image.

"For example, in a daycare environment very young children may not wish to see trees in the ceiling as this might create a sense of being lost in the woods. More appropriately, an interior designer might choose scenes of kites or cartoon animals as a better application for young children. In hospital applications, consideration should be given to the type of room where the product will be installed. In MRI rooms, for example, the chosen design might be open and airy, perhaps of a field, to counter the claustrophobic effects created by the MRI," he said.

Using Ceiling Scenes, or similar products, within a building can improve the overall ambiance of the interior while providing an inexpensive alternative to actual skylight installations.

Design considerations

When designing a decorative ceiling the height and volume of the space are the two main considerations, followed by lighting distribution, colour and finishes. Other important considerations include protection from the elements and insulation for heating and cooling.

The ceiling is often the source for artificial lighting and, when skylights are used, natural lighting. It also adds an important element to the character and atmosphere of a room.

Naturally, ceiling types vary according to the use of space - offices require a more utilitarian ceiling, with a focus on providing good lighting, while living spaces can be more creative.

"For offices drop grids are recommended. However, coffered ceilings with custom designs are magnificent for large lobby areas. Indirect lighting, as well as general lighting, must be balanced. A sculptured or custom-designed ceiling may become the room's focal point and can be designed in highly dramatic ways to following no set pattern," says Perla Lichi, interior designer and founder of Perla Lichi Design, a full service interior design firm specialising in high-end residential and commercial interiors.

According to Lichi, 'Barrel' style ceilings are very much in vogue at present. "A lot of freeform curved sculptural ceilings are even 'hotter', but any ceiling design is done in conjunction with the style of the architecture, the theme of the overall decor, and the purpose of the space," she points out.

"Often in commercial settings it takes the confidence of a professional designer to do something that will be considered original. For example, many times in these spaces, the ceiling is nonexistent - simply exposing the structure above. This allows almost complete flexibility of lighting placement and is ideal for retail stores. It allows flexibility to change as the merchandise below changes. And this gives an informal or high-tech look," she advises.

Based in Florida, USA, Perla Lichi Design Dubai was created in 2007 to meet the growing demand for high-end residential and commercial interior design in Dubai and throughout the Middle East.

Ceiling ornaments

Another way to add a dramatic design touch to a ceiling is through lighting, and most notably through chandeliers.

Swarovski, a world leading manufacturer of crystal interiors solutions and decorative lighting products, has produced some of the largest and most elegant chandeliers in the world.

The company has long had a presence in the Middle East hospitality and hotels market and its interiors and lighting products adorn a number of the region's up market resorts.

For commercial interiors, Swarovski's team recommends urban styles based on geometrical forms to achieve defined bright lines, colour and shapes.

Popular designs include traditional Marie Theresa chandeliers trimmed with modern crystal cuts and colours, while crystal effects such as Golden Teak from Strass Swarovski Crystals are often used in combination with traditional chandelier frames to dramatic effect.

The largest chandelier utilising Strass Swarovski Crystals in the region is located at the Abu Dhabi Grand Mosque, while the second largest one also utilising Strass Swarovski Crystals is in the Sultan Qabous Mosque in Oman.

This year, Swarovski is introducing its new La Murrina Creation called Medusa to the Middle East, with Wafi Mall in Dubai destined to become the first location to display the unique chandeliers.

From exquisite trompe l'oeil murals to eye-catching chandeliers, ceilings have never looked so stylish... well, at least not since Michelangelo finished painting the Sistine Chapel in 1512.

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