A re-creation of a parlor ceiling.
Enrichment A pattern, often a small geometric, richer in coloring than normally used on a full wall. May be used as a dado, in wall panels, in the cove, or as filling in ceiling designs.
Fill(ing) The main portion of a wall between the dado and frieze. Also, any ceiling portion within borders.
Frieze A decorative horizontal band along the upper part of a wall, or the design intended for that space. Medallion Circular, oval, or square relief embellishment, most often in plaster, at the center of the ceiling, often surrounding the canopy of a hanging light fixture. When round and petal-like, also called a rosette.
Metal Ceilings Now prized on their own merit, so-called tin ceilings once stood in for more expensive plasterwork, and eventually got a bad name as a cover-up for failing plaster. But they came back big-time during the 1980s Victorian Revival and remain a versatile, affordable decorating option. Designs range from pebble texture and grids to diaper patterns, opulent Victorian cartouches, and Arts Deco geometrics. The metal panels (tin-plated steel, galvanized steel, or brass or copper) are stamped in an embossing machine; they attach to plywood sheathing or wood furring strips. Components include not just the field pattern, but also filler strips and cornice mouldings. The ceiling may be painted to look like plaster or polychromed (don’t go overboard: there’s already a lot of pattern); brass or copper may be clear-coated for an industrial look. Today the classic patterns are also made in vinyl tiles; because these can be glued or stapled to an existing ceiling, they’re good for low-ceilinged rooms or basements.
Plaster Ornament Plaster ceiling medallions could be found in parlors plain and opulent from the late 18th century and through the Victorian era. (By the 1930s, they were very much out of favor.) Medallions changed style along with houses, featuring Greek anthemions in the 1830s, Gothic trefoils in the 1850s, sunflowers in the 1880s. Fretwork, acanthus leaves, and rosettes were perennial favorites. The medallion was sized according to the breadth and height of the room. It would be painted to complement a polychromed room. It often disguised a chandelier hook, a gas line or electrical box, sometimes even an air duct. Although lighter-weight molded plastic medallions are available today (some quite nice, others not so), you can still buy real cast-plaster medallions in many styles.
Cole & Son’s ‘Cloud Ceiling’ paper.
Blackstone Edge Studios
Picture Rail A moulding (often 18″ below the cornice) from which framed pictures could be suspended without damaging the wall surface. The area above the rail might be treated as part of the wall or part of the ceiling in its decoration.
Polychrome To decorate in many or various colors, from the Greek words for multiple and color. Stencil Repeating ornament applied in paint through a design cut out of a template. Multi-color designs require multiple stencils (templates).
The Use of Borders
Using borders in ceiling design either can play up or disguise room irregularities or asymmetry. The most common Victorian-era ceiling layout has the border run so as to avoid, say, the chimneybreast, and instead create a regular geometry. The space between the border and cornice might be filled with paint or pinstripes, a wallpaper enrichment, or a stencil. The resulting center panel may be (typically) rectangular, or square or even polygonal. The center is treated in paint, paper, or stenciling. A ceiling in a very large, formal room may be subdivided into geometric sections.
A second approach seeks not to minimize irregularity, but instead to call attention to features by running borders that faithfully follow all the turns of the walls, resulting in an irregular central space in the room. Companies selling Victorian Revival wallpaper will help you with your design.
‘Adena Pin Ring’ bordered with ‘Rose and Sprig’ Adelphi wallpaper
How Much Paper?
Most wallpaper single rolls cover about 30 square feet. So here’s how to calculate the number of rolls you need: Multiple the width (in feet) of the ceiling, or of the center portion if you’re using multiple papers, by its length, and divide the sum by 30. Always round up. If you have a lot of irregularities—chimneybreast, window bays—add 10–15 percent to allow for waste. Borders are measured and sold by the linear foot.
Does It Peel No Matter What?
Then calcimine (kalsomine, distemper) probably remains—this early finish was meant to be washed off before it was reapplied. Calcimine on plaster causes subsequent oil or latex paints to fail. The only answer is to hand-scrape off all the paint (taking precautions against lead), then scrub with a sudsy solution of water and detergent (Spic’n’Span, TSP, or strong dishwashing liquid). Scrub and
squeegee, then rinse with clean water. As it dries, rub it with a dark cloth. If you see any “chalk,” keep scrubbing. Prime with an oil or alkyd primer.