The fifth wall: inspiration for adding colour to your spare room ceiling

Never look at the prime decor real estate above your head the same again

Sitting at home? Take a look up. Chances are you’re sitting under a ceiling painted white, off-white or a variation on the theme. It’s rare to walk into a room where the ceiling – or the ‘fifth wall’ – is a design feature. And when it is? Jaws drop. 

Your ceiling in any room is considered your ‘fifth wall’ – it’s that prime decor real estate above your head that is often overshadowed by the four vertical walls that typically form a room.

Cloud ceilingCredit: Rebel Walls
Cumulus wallpaper by Rebel Walls – £37.68 per m/2

Even if you’ve never picked up a paintbrush, you’ve got what it takes to transform your ceiling with a paint colour you love.  

Other ceiling finish options, like wallpaper, can be easily mastered with some basic know-how. And in some cases, with minimal commitment – thanks to the wonderful world of removable wallpaper. 

Your spare room can be the ideal place to explore your fifth-wall prowess. Imagine your family resting easy in a room where clouds float by. Or birds, or hot air balloons or whatever else your minds conjures. 

Since your imagination truly is the only limit with decorating your fifth wall, we’ve picked just a few of our favourite looks to share. 


Do it yourself

Here’s how to paint your ceiling like a professional.

Paint effects

Imaginative ceiling paint effects

A ceiling painted in a solid, cheerful colour is a guaranteed wow. But conceiving your very own unique paint effect will catapult you into the Michaelangelo league of home décor. 

This Turner-inspired moody storm of a ceiling came about by merging broad sweeps of three colours from a complementary green palette by Benjamin Moore.

The result (shown in the video below) is a controlled colour gradient effect – décorators call this effect ‘ombre’.

Your local library’s home décor section is a brilliant place to track down books on easy-to-achieve paint effects if you don’t know your rag painting from your colourwash.

Play around with some paints and a few bits and bobs and you’ll soon discover a style all your own which will look marvellous on your fifth wall.

Top tip: Did you know your humble washing up sponge can create some of the nicest painting effects around? Sponge painting is fun, easy and satisfyingly quick to master, as shown in the video below.  


The art of stencilling

Once you’ve painted your wow factor ceiling, why not step things up a notch by stencilling over the paint?

Stencilling over your freshly painted ceiling may require a steady hand – not to mention steady nerves – but the impact can be sensational. 

We wanted to know more about what is involved in stencilling on a ceiling and we chatted with Helen Morris, co-founder of The Stencil Library. This small stencil emporium in Northumberland is the last word in stencil arts, with possibly the largest collection in the world.  

Morris’ top tips for transforming your ceiling with stencils: 

  1. When stencilling a ceiling consider the force of gravity and try to pick a stencil measuring less than 70cm, so that it’s easy to handle when you are on a ladder
  2. Ask the stencil manufacturer to make your stencil in 190 or 250 micron material if possible. This material is less flexible than the normal weight which, again, makes them easier to use on a ceiling. My business (The Stencil Library) and a few others cut their stencils to order so different sizes and material weights can be accommodated to suit the needs of a customer
  3. Use a light misting of spray adhesive on the back of the stencil for repositioning – it helps to adhere any floppy areas of the stencil
  4. Secure the edges of the stencil with low tack tape
  5. Stencilling a ceiling can absorb your concentration –  take care not to strain your legs or neck. 
Stencilling a ceilingCredit: The Stencil Library

Grabbing a pencil and paper to sketch your very own bespoke stencil motif will make it extra special. Contact companies like Ideal Stencils or Lasercutit with your bespoke ideas.

You can also find a huge variety of pre-cut patterns on an A-Z of themes at shops like Stencilup and The Stencil Library. 

Top tip: Want to create your very own starry sky stencil effect? We’ve road-tested a lot of paint brands and one of our favourite dark blue options is Benjamin Moore Stunning (826) in Regal Select Flat. 


Mouldings & panels

Paint meets pattern with ceiling mouldings and panels

MouldingCredit: The Library Ladder Company

Your fifth wall doesn’t have to be a flat surface. Hand or spray-painted ceiling mouldings and panels can transform your room in a dramatic way. 

And panels and mouldings are not just for traditional interiors anymore. These days you can spot modern ceiling panels in the slickest, most contemporary interiors. 

Modern mouldingCredit: The Library Ladder Company

Whether you choose to go with traditional wood or synthetic materials, your best bet for panels and mouldings will be lightweight, simple to apply and easy to maintain.

Synthetic options have an edge in terms of price-point but are made of polyurethane which admittedly is not the most eco-friendly of materials.  

The upside is your mouldings and panels, whatever the composition, can last for decades and you should be able to re-paint or your ceiling many times without losing definition. 

A wide range of moulding and panel options are available from companies such as The Library Ladder Company and The English Panelling Company.


The wonder of wallpapered ceilings

Wallpapered ceilingCredit: Rebel Walls
Beyond Us Wallpaper by Rebel Walls – £37.68 per m/2

There’s almost no wallpaper theme under the sun that you can’t find. That’s why adding paper is one of the most dramatic options for creating your fantasy fifth wall. 

We reached out to our painting and decorating expert Artur Soszynski of Prime Projects, London to share his top tips for wallpapering a ceiling with us.

Artur Soszynski’s top wallpapering tips:

  1. Get someone to help you – they can help hold the paper up and also help to hang it
  2. Try to use a platform and not a ladder as this will give you better access to the ceiling
  3. Aim to get the wallpaper joins perpendicular to the wall with windows
  4. If papering the walls as well, start with the ceiling as the way the natural light enters the room through windows will show joins and shadows on the ceiling moreso than on walls so the position of the window dictates the direction the paper is hung on the ceiling foremost. Also, just like painting, wallpapering a ceiling can also stain your walls, so papering the ceiling first means you will have an easier job of making good your walls afterwards.
  5. Strips of wallpaper will need to have paste added to the plain backing for a period of time before placing on your ceiling in order to soften the paper, otherwise bubbles and gaps at the joins may form – this is called ‘soaking’ and strips of paper should only be allowed to soak for 5 – 10 minutes
  6. Don’t try to speed up the drying of the paper with draughts or strong heating, this might ruin your paper 

Top tip: In cases where the wallpaper manufacturer does not recommend a paste Soszynski uses Solvite or Polycell

Bird wallpaperCredit: Rebel Walls
Free As A Bird Wallpaper by Rebel Walls – £37.68 per m/2

Why not up your creative ante with a wallpaper fresh out of your own imagination? Upload your image to a company like Rebel Walls and revel in the luxury of one-of-a-kind wallpaper. 

Wallpaper is also becoming far easier to use, thanks to peel and stick options that do away with paste. Do the previously unimaginable and change your ceiling wallpaper at will, with no mess or fuss.

Online store like Wallpops, Spoonflower and Wallsauce carry a vast array of options.

Flamingo wallpaperCredit: Spoonflower / Studio Xtine
Flamingos on Natural Linen Wallpaper by Studio Xtine from £92.18

Paint + decals

For a creative and colourful ceiling

Once your ceiling is freshly painted, there is no easier way to add a stamp of originality to your fifth wall than by applying decals.

These vinyl stickers work like magic on ceilings without the risk of them peeling away over time.  

The easy job is using them. The harder task is finding decals not too focused on the kiddie end of the market (although this is good news if you’re decorating your spare room for your younger grandkids).  

We like this chinoiserie-inspired collection by Deco Wall. A search for ‘Adult Wall Decals’ on Etsy also throws up some good options from a wide range of themes. 

Blue bird decalCredit: Deco Wall
Garden Birds and Cherry Blossom Wall Stickers by Deco Wall £9.95

Have you tried another fifth wall ceiling design option we haven’t mentioned? We’d love to hear about it. Ping us on and share your design story. 


Written by Joy Archer she/her