Walls and Ceilings

I love to create visual surprise in my design. Walls lend themselves brilliantly to this. You can let your imagination loose on their vast planes, making them a quiet backdrop or a fascinating focal point. Ceilings, on the other hand, aren’t for showing off unless you have a historic house with fabulous architectural detailing.

Let’s look at the things to consider when choosing a finish for walls and ceilings, and explore some of my favourite treatment options.

Background or Foreground?

Before you commit to a wall finish, it’s essential that you know what role you want the walls to play in the overall scheme. Will they be the backdrop or the foreground? Have a clear idea from the outset about what you plan to hang on the walls or display in front of them.

You don’t want a star piece of artwork to compete with its backdrop, or to lose your taupe linen sofa against walls of a similar colour.


Your budget should guide your choices in all aspects of design. Don’t overspend on wall treatments at the expense of the rest of your scheme. If you covet a stunning gold wax finish but the cost is prohibitive, consider using it on just one wall. It will create drama when set against a room of otherwise understated walls.

Choosing a Finish

Once you have set your budget and know what role you want your walls to perform, you can explore different finishes.


If you want to keep costs down, painted plaster walls or brick can be a wonderful backdrop. Choose your colour carefully — remember your walls are just one element of your scheme.

They should be the same tone as your dominant texture. Test colour samples against every wall in the room, and at various times of the day. It’s amazing how a colour can change when viewed in different lights.

It’s also important to consider the quality of the surfaces that you intend to paint. Light directed at walls will highlight scars and imperfections, so either plan to have the walls skimmed first or choose soft lighting that diminishes flaws. Lined paper or fabric might be a better alternative to painted walls if the plaster is in very poor condition.

Specialist plaster

Walls are a playground for adding texture, depth and colour, and plaster is the perfect medium for creating it. You can choose so many finishes and each one is bespoke.

Here are some of the many possibilities:
• White-waxed plaster — creates a scrumptious, soft finish with a look of fresh cream.
• Floor-to-ceiling vertical ribbed plaster — adds height to any room.
• Pigmented plaster — for soft, blended tones of colour.
• Large-scale textural pattern — a more subtle and softer alternative to patterned
paper, offering great depth.
• Stone-like textural effect — a perfect matt backdrop for the warm glow of brass or
the shine of chrome.
• Highly-polished or lacquered — adds an element of surprise with its reflective finish.
• Smooth plaster with a gold-plaster wax — silky, precious and glamorous.

Mix contrasting plaster finishes for an added layer of juxtaposition. Take a matt-black stone effect wall alongside a lacquered oriental red wall, for example. Each enhances the other’s qualities.

Plaster finishes have grown in popularity, so there are many specialists to choose from and prices have dropped in recent years. Make sure you choose a contractor that understands your commission requirements and has the skills to achieve your desired look. If in doubt, the Italians are still the best in the trade.


Tiles come in all shapes, sizes, textures, colours, materials and price ranges. In smaller spaces, such as bathrooms, steam rooms and cloakrooms, they’re an ideal choice for adding detail. By their nature, tiles work well for emphasising the grid. Use differently textured tiles together for bands or stripes of contrast. One of my favourite combinations is reflective mosaic tiles paired with roughly-textured stone tiles. Follow the horizontal plane to make a room appear bigger and the vertical plane to add height.

If you want to create drama in a bathroom or hallway, stone and composite tiles are great contenders. Classic, luxurious marble provides a wonderful contrast against contemporary bathroom furniture or sculptures. Chiselled stone offers depth, texture and a modern twist to a traditional finish.

Tiles can be used as creatively as your imagination allows. I’ve had great success creating
feature walls using mother-of-pearl tiles and wood, and also mirrored glass and stone tiles.
Grids or strips of contrasting metallic and matt tiles work beautifully too.


Probably the most versatile material of all, wood is stunning in its natural planed state, lacquered, painted, gilded or waxed. Fully clad walls and ceilings add an organic, warm and relaxed feel to a space that will accommodate modern or vintage furniture. Painting the wood can soften the scheme. Use whitewashed softwood for a contemporary rustic look.

Aside from cocooning a room in warmth and richness, panelling offers a brilliant camouflage for doors, allowing the space to read as one. In a home with no original features, detailing on panelled walls can create interesting interior architecture.


Charming, genteel and masculine. Leather can look stunning in libraries, home cinemas and studies. It’s a unique material that develops beauty and character with age. The ruggedly handsome patina of distressed leather walls behind an aged oak desk exudes warmth and sophistication. For an added layer of detail, choose light-coloured stitching on dark, rich leather panels.

Ceiling Considerations

Many people automatically assume that a ceiling should be a solid shade of white. In many cases, this can let a room down. The contrast of a white ceiling against bold coloured or textured walls can be jarring. Instead, the ceilings should blend in tone with the wall finish. For example, if you have textured plaster walls, the ceiling will look more harmonious and modern if you paint it in a tone that matches the walls. If you want to create more light in a room, choose shades of white for both the walls and ceilings.

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