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Tray Ceilings: Decorate With Moldings or Paint?

before and after moldings on tray ceiling

How to decorate this dining room’s tray ceiling?

[This post is part of my How to Install Moldings series.]

Tray ceilings are a contemporary architectural feature that have ended up in way too many traditional style homes.  They try to fill our need for unique detail in our otherwise generic interiors.

Instead of adding detail, however, you end up with yet another bland box-within-a-box to decorate, or worse, a box-within-a-box-within-a-box.  If you have a choice during a new-build or remodel, skip the tray ceiling and spend that money on nice crown molding in an otherwise normal room.


 

But if you have a dining room or master bedroom with a tray ceiling, what do you do with it?  Do you:

  • Paint it a bold color to draw attention to it?
  • Do you paint it a light color to minimize it?
  • Do you add moldings to it or not?

If your interior decor is traditional in nature, then by all means, yes, install moldings on your tray ceiling.

Two Approaches to Decorating a Tray Ceiling

  1. Minimize the ceiling by painting a color that blends with the room and adding simple moldings to the inner and outer perimeters to the tray.
  2. Draw attention to the tray with bold colors and elaborate trim patterns.

In the latter method, it helps to think of the inner part of the tray in the same way you would an ornate ceiling medallion.

before and after tray ceiling paint and molding installation with rosettes

The client ended up painting the tray ceiling moldings I designed and installed in more subtle colors than I had initially envisioned, but it still looks nice. Can you can come up with other color combinations that would work as well or better?

Above  If you really want to install a tray ceiling in a new home, then this is the style — beveled rather than stepped — is more appropriate for a traditional style home.

Below  I designed and installed a simple molding pattern for the upper and lower perimeters of this master bedroom tray ceiling.  The intent was to paint the ceiling in a several light colors, so not to emphasize the tray too much.

tray ceiling moldings in master bedroom

That is not how it was ultimately painted, though.  Like it or not, at least the tray ceiling really stands out now.

tray ceiling, door trim, entablature, walk in closets, big baseboard, crown molding

The master bedroom tray ceiling as it appears now.

Just for fun, do a Google image search for “tray ceiling,” and you end up with hundreds of reasons of why I don’t like them.

To be fair, here is a good example of a tray ceiling in a traditional style home.  Nice work Sandi.

Do you have an opinion on how to decorate a tray ceiling?  Let’s hear what you have to say in the comment section below.

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[This post is part of my How to Install Moldings series.]

4 Responses to Tray Ceilings: Decorate With Moldings or Paint?

  1. Krj December 7, 2012 at 8:12 PM #

    Nice work on this – love the first example.

    • Ken December 8, 2012 at 7:47 AM #

      Thanks Krj. I don’t think I spent about $30.00 on stock moldings to do that. It made a big difference for such a small price.

  2. Bill January 26, 2013 at 6:34 AM #

    Very nice! My house if full of tray ceilings and I hate it! I’d like crown molding, but it’s hard to find a pattern that doesnt look so choppy. I think you’ve pulled it off!

    • Ken January 26, 2013 at 7:54 AM #

      Thanks Bill!

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