Thursday, March 3, 2016

Painting Ceiling Beams to Look Like Wood

When we moved into our house, almost every single surface was painted the same color--vanilla. Quite literally. Ceilings, walls, trim, plantation shutters, kitchen cabinets, everything. Including the ceiling beams.

Before: Everything was basically the same color (except for the lovely wallpaper).

I know some people like to paint the ceiling beams so they recede from focus. I don't really get it, but I've heard it. I, on the other hand, wished mine had the rough-hewn look of wood beams, complete with the warm color to accent my furnishings.

So I made it happen. Knowing we would be replacing the carpeting and knowing we'd have to unload our moving truck soon, this was one of the first projects I tackled in the house. It was important to do the beams while I had all the space I needed to move my huge-honking, ten-foot aluminum ladder where I needed it. And it was wonderful not to worry about needing a drop cloth.

Here's my process:

1. Paint the Ceiling an ACTUAL White

While I know many people are anti-popcorn ceiling and would do anything and everything to get rid of it, it doesn't bother me that much. I would have removed it if it were easy, but because the ceiling had been painted several times, I feared it was stuck there forever--unless I wanted to replace the drywall, and that wasn't happening.

I loved the difference right away. Including removing the fruit-themed pendant light.

So leaving the popcorn, I painted it a bright white rather than the faded parchment color it was. I loved how quickly it lightened up the room. Honestly, after painting all my ceilings white in this house, I vowed to never again have a ceiling any other color. White ceilings make me happy.

Oh, and you can see that the ceiling extends onto the walls. This was a little different for me, but I painted it just to see how it would end up. It's actually not bad. I don't mind it anyway.

2. Paint Wood Undertones

Because the wood beams had been painted several times, there was no chance of getting the wood tone back, unless I wanted to strip the wood, and I really didn't want to do that. I've used a chemical strip product before, and while it works, I think I would have had difficulty removing all the paint in the crevices of the wood, not to mention the corners. Also, at 5'2", even with my twelve foot ladder I would have had difficulty reaching at the apex of the ceiling.

So my aim was to paint the beams to resemble wood, and that meant recreating the undertones. I'm not an expert on colors, and I didn't want to go buy paint if I didn't need it, so I looked at what paint I had on hand. I figured a yellow and the orange-y brown would be a good base. I used a regular 2-in angled paintbrush--my go-to tool.

Steps One and Two--First the yellow, then the orange-y brown.

I didn't worry too much about coating the whole beam evenly--in fact, I wanted it to have variations like real wood does, which is why you can see some of the yellow under the orange. One thing I tried to avoid, however, was overlap. While it's impossible to keep from having any, try to keep the start/stop places from becoming too thick.

3. Paint Mid-tones

Because the first two colors yielded more of an oak color, which was not technically what I was going for, I decided the next color I needed had to be a darker brown.

Third color in the transformation.

This brown is obviously matte and lacking the richness of true wood tones, but I was getting closer. In fact, it became my last base coat before the final step.

4. Finally, the Gel Stain!

Knowing the furniture that was going to be going into this room was mahogany, that's the color of gel stain I decided on in Minwax brand. I prefer the gel stain over the regular stain because it is thicker (especially for a project like this, which still drips enough). Not only does it drip less, it covers more completely and can be applied with a rag, though I chose a cheap chip brush.

I painted it on with a chip brush so that it would be uneven and allow some of the lower layers to show through. Obviously, you can see some places where I stopped and started. With having to go up a ten-foot ladder, paint as far as I could reach, run down, move the ladder, positioning it just so, and then running up to work on the next segment, some drying occurred at times, leaving the overlap. Still, isn't it just amazing the difference between the flat paint and the gorgeous wood tones in the gel?

What a difference gel stain makes! If you look closely, you can still see some of the undertones, but only subtly.

While all of these may seem like a lot of steps, and perhaps one or two were redundant, I'm glad I took the time to add so many layers. I know that I did not get the same effect when I rubbed gel stain on an off-white board as I did when it was applied over all these other colors. And now, as I look up at my ceiling beams while writing this post, I can see many of the tones peeking through the final layer. It adds such a richness that would never have been there with the plain, boring vanilla-painted beams that blended into an equally boring and ugly ceiling.

The entire process was fairly cheap (if you have the ladder). Actually, it didn't cost me a thing because I already had all the paints and stain. Well, maybe the cost of a couple of two-dollar chip brushes, the enormous cost of the ladder, and several days' worth of painting. I wish I could remember how many, but it's hard to say because I would do a coat, go do something else somewhere else in the house, and then return to do the next step. (Let's just say I listened to at least two, maybe three, entire audiobooks.)

I'm just so glad I took the time to do it. The beams are now one of my favorite parts of the house.

The wood painted ceiling beams are done!

PS--If you like how the fireplace mantel turned out in the above picture, you can follow this link for a tutorial on how to build one of your own.