Great Question: “How Should I Paint My Tray Ceiling?”

Hi Tiffany, I love your designs and I am looking for fresh ideas on painting a bedroom with tray ceilings. There are so many options on which parts to paint or not paint and where to use the wall color and ceiling color. Tips on what works well and looks great could be a great blog idea. Thanks and keep rocking out more beautiful rooms – Rachel, Burlington, WI

Hey Rachel!!!

That is a damn good question. Since the beginning of design time we have been sold on tray ceilings. My opinion is that they are both a gift and a curse. There are so many ways to paint those types of ceilings, and many of those options look good. Lets see how others do it.

First of all,  before deciding exactly what parts to paint, lets first ask ourselves if the portions SHOULD be painted an accent color. Sometimes we have a situation where the angled wall part of a tray ceiling is painted a different color than the wall. This can give shorter rooms a “buzz cut” feeling. Here is an example of a photo that kinda makes me cringe..

You can tell by how high the doorways are, that the ceiling is about 7′ 11″ tall. Which is a very short ceiling to further chop up with differing colors. In this case, I would have elected to continue the caramel color to the 1st level of the ceiling, then up the angled portion. Finally, using a lighter color or a texture on the highest potion on the ceiling. This would be given a more infinite, ongoing feel. With my method, we would have been able to trick the eye into thinking the room is taller than what it appears to be now.

1st Level of Ceiling – (The lowest Part) 

If you have a shorter ceiling there is absolutely nothing wrong with painting at the same color as your walls. This creates an infinite, ongoing, cohesive look in your rooms.

via Apartment Therapy

via apartment Therapy

Even though the examples are without a tray, I wanted to dramatically illustrate the great thing about painting the ceiling the same color as the walls.

I then suggest to keep going with the paint color on the angled portion, then another color on the flat (highest) portion of the ceiling.

If you have higher ceilings or trim work:

Have fun! Well not too much….

Some of my favorite tray ceilings have been done when the home owner decided to do a texture, molding design, or a darker paint combination there. Take a look:



via houzz

via house of turquoise


Notice the drama that each tray ceiling creates. They use paint, moldings, wallpapers, and paneling to add to the well designed feel in each space. Did you also notice that most, not all, used the same color on the first level of the ceiling (lowest portion) as they did on the wall? Then, they selected an accent or lighter color on the angled portion, then went for the BANG at the highest potion of the ceiling! Trim work is always a nice finishing touch in your rooms as well.

Here is some verbage to remember:

Focal Point of Tray Ceilings

Traditional Bedroom traditional-bedroom

via houzz

 This is typically the top (the highest point of the ceiling). Here is where you go for the punch, and added drama.

Additional Accent

Foyer traditional-entry
via houzz
This would be the vertical or angled portion of the tray ceiling. I would use a color that is lighter than the walls, or compliments the wall color and the focal point. It acts as an accent. I feel that sometimes using trim work is enough of an additional accent, without adding a third paint color to the room.
 How to Use the Same Colors
Living Room traditional-living-room

via Houzz

Keeping your ceilings simple by using the same main paint color and only varying it by using a shade or two lighter, or darker, is often the easiest way to go. You can select two colors that are shades apart and use them on the ceiling (top-level) and walls, then the second shade on the angled, or vertical ceiling, and the lowest part of the ceiling. This creates a feeling of calm, and this method is perfect when painting tray ceilings in bedrooms. Adding crown molding to this adds an amazing accent, especially in traditional homes.

To sum it up there are many different methods you can use a paint tray ceiling. I hope I did a good job and categorizing them and inspiring you to pick one that most relates to you and your space.

Good luck!

Your Interior Designer & HGTV Host

 Tiffany Brooks
Do you have a burning design question? Ask it here

10 replies

  1. Tray ceilings are beautiful but I have to think about practicality. If one has allergies or asthma or any type of breathing problems, a tray ceiling is just another surface to clean and to dust and to maintain as dust free. So as much as these tray celings look pretty, they are not healthy for most people who have allergies.

    Liked by 2 people

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