A beautiful interior, like an amazing landscape, has you at first blush. After that Instagram-worthy moment sinks in, you start soaking in all the details in the room -- a sculptural chair, a fabulous artifact, intriguing lighting or enchanting art.
Colors -- singly or in tandem with unexpected mates -- first command attention. But nuances of shades and textures, along with metal accents and rich woods make even neutrals anything but bland. And the dynamic of patterns adds energy in a pretty floral, a mod geometric, a bold stripe or an artsy abstract.
At designer show houses from Kips Bay in New York to San Francisco, the spotlight this year often was on top. Especially with patterned wallpapers, most definitely on the uptick.
Don't forget to look up. Because not all ceilings are created equal, painted in contractor favorite -- ceiling white.
For some designers, the ceiling is the fifth wall -- with potential for creative heights.
Not so for Jamie Drake of the New York-based design firm Drake/Anderson.
"It's an integral part of a room," says Drake. "Every part needs to be considered -- baseboard, wall or ceiling. With a tall ceiling, there's an opportunity to bring some intimacy. (Treating) a low ceiling brings the eyes up."
San Francisco artist Willem Racke feels that ceilings are underutilized as a decorative element.
"I love adding color, or even designs, such as herringbone or stripes, to a ceiling," says Racke, who collaborated with Susan Chastain on a room for the San Francisco Decorator Showcase. Inspired by 1960s geometric art, he painted a series of concentric squares whose pinky tones fade into a shot of apricot. The ceiling is a deeper tone of that tangerine.
Drake, with Caleb Anderson, deftly teamed both fabric and paper to create a dynamic focal point above, in the room they designed for the 46th-annual Kips Bay Decorator Show House in Manhattan. First, they clad the space in a mustardy fabric with a sheen, as well as areas that appear worn away. In addition: strategically placed hand-beading. They pulled the fabric up to wrap existing ceiling beams, which were enhanced by adding slightly larger crown molding. Between the beams, they had a small-scale pattern installed. "It's almost like a textural weave," says Drake, "printed in subtle grid metallic in three shades on a white ground."
A neoclassical vibe often permeated Alexa Hampton's interiors, and this room at Kips Bay nodded repeatedly to her husband's Greek heritage. Art featured Hellenic statuary as well as Acropolis scenes. The backdrop for all: a swag -- in a hand-painted paper she designed with de Gournay. The brilliance of it is how it wraps the corner, where the trompe l'oeil melds with real drapery. Artist Chuck Fischer painted a mural for the ceiling; it was photographed and digitally transferred to a canvas for hanging.
At the San Francisco Decorator Showcase, designer Jon de la Cruz used real fabric to tent the TV room, evoking childhood fun of setting up forts with bed linens. The linen he used was beaded, which added a a bit of sparkle to billowing walls and ceiling. And at Kips Bay, designer Mark D. Sikes created a tented effect with blue-and-white striped fabric in a small vestibule space leading to the bedroom he designed.
One of the reasons Kim Hoegger papered the ceiling -- actually, all the walls of a bedroom she designed for the Julian Price designer show house in Greensboro, North Carolina, is that she wanted it to feel special.
"The paper envelops the room," says Hoegger, who furnished it with a beautiful French daybed and painted dresser. "It's like a jewel box."
The paisley in a warm cocoa and blue with white ground isn't overpowering, and she also brought it into the adjacent powder room above white and black tile, original to the house, which was built in 1929, covering the ceiling as well.
"The inclination might have been to go with black and white," says Hoegger. "But I didn't want to do something expected." The result is romantic, a little bit exotic, making the space feel "collected."
Denise McGaha had a unique perspective for a room she designed for the Savannah Southern Style Now show house last November. She designed a wallpaper with an allover lily pad pattern, and she put it up on the ceiling, "to make it feel like you're underwater looking up at the lily pads."
She teamed it with peachy drapery, which has a swirling pattern inspired by beta fish.
Another approach is to highlight only the ceiling. A graphic dark-ground floral mural by Stephan Blachowski graces the ceiling of a powder room in the San Francisco Decorator Showcase. Here the walls are alternating gray and white marble, and create a wide stripe. The modern vanity has a clapboard surface.
Small spaces such as these can afford to be a bit brazen -- even whimsical. Artist George Venson's big lips are a fun treatment, again, up and over the ceiling, in a powder room at last year's San Francisco Decorator Showcase.
Jamie Drake riffed from a set of nine Gene Davis prints in an adjacent space to pull colors for his own artwork on the walls of a powder room in New York's Flatiron District. He designed a checkerboard for an allover pattern.
Especially in an all-white room, a patterned ceiling can create drama. Australian designer Greg Natale used a gold-and-white herringbone pattern (it's available in a wallcovering he designed for Porter's Paints) on the ceiling, a Kelly Wearstler Tracery rug with a modern abstract pattern on the floor, and hot pink Tom Dixon chairs that pull from a Damien Hirst painting.
There actually are many ways to draw the eye up.
-- Paint it. Choose barely there pastels, like Jamie Drake opting for a soft boysenberry mousse in a bedroom with soft spring green papered walls. Or choose a zesty hue like apricot or tangerine, as painter Willem Racke did to pair with his ombre wall mural for a San Francisco show house. Moody hues like indigo or dark chocolate also can be very effective, especially with white moldings and/or paneling. Matte finishes are attractive, while high gloss delivers drama and is reflective.
-- Celebrate architecture. Inherited coffers or plaster ceilings can be stately and elegant. Or add your own. Armstrong has a series of applications that replicate coffered ceilings, wood planking, some in light weathered finishes, and even tin or copper tiles (www.armstrongceilings.com).
-- Paper it. Patterns add punch, either in matching patterns or with solid painted walls. And metallic papers in gold, silver, copper or a combination lend shimmer.
-- Cover it with fabric. A tented effect can be exotic, romantic or have an ethnic vibe, depending on the pattern.
-- Consider peel-off options. Tempaper (www.tempaperdesigns.com) has a range of sophisticated patterns from chinoiserie to Southwest, including collections by Cortney and Robert Novogratz and HGTV's Genevieve Gorder. They're easy to install -- and just as easy to take down and move on to your next obsession.
-- The Alpha Workshops, 212-594-7320, www.alphaworkshops.org
-- Dina Bandman, 650-867-8644, www.dinabandman.com
-- BLANKwalls Design, 415-269-4694, www.blankwallsdesign.com
-- de Gournay, 212-564-9750, www.degournay.com
-- Alexa Hampton, Mark Hampton LLC, 212-753-4110, www.markhampton.com
-- Kim Hoegger Home, 214-856-3962, www.kimhoeggerhome.com
-- Phillip Jeffries, 973-575-5414, www.phillipjeffries.com
-- Greg Natale for Porter's Paints, email@example.com, www.porterspaints.com
-- Barbara Ostrom Associates, 201-529-0444, www.barbaraostrom.com
-- Willem Racke Studio, 415-252-1341, www.willemrackestudio.com
-- F.Schumacher, 800-523-1200, fschumacher.com
-- Mark D. Sikes, 323-378-6927, www.markdsikes.com
-- Voutsa, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.voutsa.com
-- Drake/Anderson, 212-754-3099, www.drakeanderson.com
-- Denise McGaha textiles and wallcoverings by Design Legacy, 972-869-4914, www.denisemcgaha.com