Monday, November 21, 2011

Create a Faux Tin Ceiling with Wallpaper

Cost: $150 for a small room  (with half of the primer, paste and paint still left after the job)
Materials needed:
  • wallpaper primer
  • textured paintable wallpaper
  • wallpaper paste
  • latex paint for base coat
  • metallic paint
  • paint roller with extension handle
  • roller covers
  • paint tray

(Apologies for the lack of step-by-step photos. This project was done pre-blog.)

I love the elaborate ornamentation that was a hallmark of Victorian interior design. Rooms were filled with furniture, windows were swathed in draperies, and walls were covered in a multitude of coordinating wallpapers. Even ceilings could not escape decoration. Elaborate plaster ceilings were found in the homes of wealthy Europeans. In America, tin ceilings were a practical alternative. Tin was stamped and then painted white to resemble plasterwork.

In recent years, there has been a resurgence of interest in tin ceilings. There are now many resources for tin or faux tin ceilings, from custom metal to embossed plastic tiles to textured wallpaper. Some are available in multiple colors, including plasterwork white, silvery tin, copper with or without patina, and even black.

For houses sporting the oft-hated "popcorn" ceilings, one route to a decorative faux tin ceiling is covering the popcorn with glue-up polystyrene tiles. The process is easy and does not require one to disturb the popcorn – a very important consideration if it contains asbestos.

Another option is applying textured paintable wallpaper (available online, and the larger home improvement stores such as Lowe's and Home Depot carry a pattern or two in stock).  This requires removal of the popcorn, of course. The removal process is messy but not difficult as long as your ceiling has never been painted.  Paint acts like glue and the texture may be hard to scrape off if the ceiling has been painted.  You might want to test a small patch to see how difficult removal will be.

Assuming you have asbestos-free, never-been-painted popcorn, you can remove it thus:
  1. If possible, empty the room.
  2. Cover any remaining items and the floor with waterproof dropcloths -- globs of wet goo will be falling from the ceiling.
  3. Working in small sections, spray the ceiling with water using a spray bottle or a tank sprayer. Spray enough to wet the popcorn but not soak through to the drywall.
  4. Scrape off the texture material with a wide metal putty knife. Texture that has never been painted should slough off with little effort.
Now your ceiling is free of texture (or maybe you were lucky and had a plain drywall ceiling to begin with!). You can move on to the papering.

1.  Prime the ceiling
Roll on a coat of wallpaper primer. The primer makes it easier to adjust the wallpaper when hanging, and is critical if you ever want to remove the wallpaper without destroying the drywall.

2.  Hang the paper
Tip: Even if your wallpaper is pre-pasted, use paste. By my estimation, rolling on paste is roughly 88 times easier than soaking the paper with water.

DIY Network has a good how-to on papering a ceiling. The photos show only one guy, but I know his helper is there somewhere because no sane person attempts to wallpaper a ceiling by himself. :P

I, however, take the "Y" in GIY too literally sometimes, and I was determined to do this thing all by me onesies. I managed it only because
a. the room is just 9' x 11', so the strips of paper were short enough to manage
b. the bed I made in an earlier project worked perfectly as pair of sturdy platforms to stand on
c. I'm tall and have absurdly long arms, allowing me to reach an 8' ceiling with only a 12" platform
wallpaper applied to ceiling

3.  Paint a base coat
You will get MUCH better results from your metallic paint if you base coat with regular latex paint in a color very close to the metallic.  In fact, I think it would be nearly impossible to get a decent result without a latex base coast.  I used Behr paint in a medium grey called "Porpoise."  It's important to allow several hours (a full day is best) for the wallpaper to dry completely before rolling on the base coat.  If the paste isn't totally dry and set, the moisture from the paint might cause the paper to come loose from the ceiling.

4.  Apply the metallic paint
Allow the base coat to dry completely, then roll on a coat of metallic paint. I used Martha Stewart Precious Metals in "Tin."  Metallic paint has poor coverage and is unforgiving of sloppy technique.  It must be applied evenly, without a lot of overlap, or it will appear streaky.  This is when you will be very happy that you painted a base coat. Repeat with a second coat of metallic paint.
the layers of paint

this photo shows how reflective the metallic finish is
Your faux tin ceiling is complete! I am thrilled with the end result in my room.  It will really look fantastic after the crown molding is installed.


  1. Your ceiling turned out very nice. this wallpaper looks very much like a tin ceiling. I never heard of popcorn ceiling but i live in Sweden. Since my country is mostly covered in forests the victorians used more woodwork than plaster to decorate their houses.

  2. Wow, that looks amazing. I would never have thought to use wallpaper to replicate the tin-ceiling effect. It turned out beautiful.

  3. Thank you all so much! Linnea-maria - Victorians used woodwork here as well, on both the inside and outside of the houses. I love the look of it.

  4. What a fantastic idea and effect!! I too love GIYing around the house...although the projects don't always get finished!! Look forward to more :)

  5. Thank you. More posts coming soon!