The Best Ways to Dress Up a Drop Ceiling
There are pros and cons to traditional drop ceilings.
Drop ceilings—secondary surfaces that hang one to four feet below the main ceiling—are useful for hiding wires, plumbing, and HVAC equipment throughout the house like in your unfinished basement. Plus, the lower room height may improve indoor circulation and reduce heating/cooling costs. But drop ceilings, installed by fitting tiles into a grid-like suspension of metal beams that provide structure, couldn’t be more blah. Until now, that is! Here are 10 creative, affordable cover-ups and daring designs sure to make a drop ceiling look special and enhance the ambience of any room.
1. Copycat Coffered
Want to recreate the elegant indentations of a coffered ceiling without the effort? Decorative PVC tiles molded with indentations from Armstrong Ceilings ($2.50 to $4.19 per square foot) come in a few pleasing neutral hues. Pop the tiles in place with clips for a coffered ceiling that will look striking in a traditional or Art Deco room.
2. Sublime Styrofoam
Lightweight square Styrofoam ceiling can tiles, available in a range of sizes and engraved with a host of patterns from florets to geometric shapes, can suit a traditional or transitional interior. At $1 to $3.50 per square foot from brands like Anet (which you can find on Amazon), the tiles are certainly affordable, and installation is effortless: Just apply Styrofoam-friendly glue (e.g., Glue10, available on Amazon) to the back of the tiles and stick them onto the ceiling surface.
3. Faux Metal Marvel
Recreate the rugged beauty of a corrugated metal ceiling, the perfect accent for an industrial chic interior, with corrugated-style PVC ceiling tiles that replicate the zigzag pattern of the traditional design. Sold by Decorative Ceiling Tiles for $4 to $5 per square foot, the tiles come in a variety of colors including brushed aluminum and gold. Simply replace existing tiles with the new ones in the ceiling grid, securing them with the included metal clips.
4. Beadboard Beauty
The narrow wooden slats of a beadboard ceiling can make small spaces look bigger. While traditionally, slats interlock in a tongue-and-groove system, nowadays you can get the look with less work using a specially designed system of vinyl ceiling planks. Armstrong Ceilings’ panels ($2.50 to $4.50 per square foot) come with mounting tracks and clips to attach directly to the ceiling surface.
5. Burlap Beauty
At $2 to $5 per square foot at fabric stores, burlap—a coarse fabric woven from jute or hemp—is a budget-friendly way to add unfussy style to a drop ceiling in a bohemian or shabby chic interior. As a bonus, burlap softens harsh lighting and dampens echoing to achieve a more intimate ambience with better acoustics. For a billowing effect, run a burlap roll from one end of the room to the other, securing it to each ceiling grid along the way for a canopy-like effect.
6. Wonderful Wood and Wood-Look
You can’t beat the warmth of real wood, especially in a rustic or farmhouse setting, so why not spruce up your ceiling with laths? Sold at home centers for $3 to $5 per square foot, these thin, short strips do take some effort to install: You’ll cut wooden boards to size (or buy pre-cut laths), lay each into a ceiling opening, mount it to the suspension with screws, then repeat so that the laths snugly fit side by side in each ceiling opening.
Even easier, though, is this pre-finished wood-look plank system from Armstrong Ceilings that runs only about $2.50 to $4.19 per square foot. Like the company’s other drop ceiling solutions, these tongue-and-groove planks install over existing 15/16″ grid systems.
7. Lovely Light
Whereas suspended light fixtures like chandeliers can further reduce headroom and make a space with a drop ceiling feel more cramped, flat, decorative, light-diffusing ceiling panels open and light up the space. Find them for $1.68 to $12.50 per square foot at The Home Depot from brands like OPTIX. Installation usually involves securing the panels with screws over light fixtures already housed in the drop ceiling, but you’ll also find panels already equipped with LED lights that mount directly to the ceiling with metal clips and screws. Designs ranging from cracked to stained glass suit a range of interior styles, from contemporary to industrial.
8. Stylish Stick-up
Who said wallpaper is only for walls? It can create a dynamic focal point on a drop ceiling. Opt for solid prints in neutral tones like black or gray to boost drama in a contemporary interior, or choose a patterned print of stripes, geometrics, or lookalike wood or metal in an Art Deco or bohemian space. Prices run the gamut from $0.20 to $10 per square foot, plus adhesive.
Remove your drop ceiling to apply panel by panel, and you won’t have to spend the full time doing work above your head as you would with a traditional ceiling. Note: Wallpaper glue is extremely sticky, so renters and commitment-phobes should use removable wallpaper that peels off easily.
9. Perfectly Perforated
An ideal addition to a contemporary or rustic entertainment or multipurpose room, perforated ceiling tiles, sold in solid colors and wood-like finishes, add visual interest while boosting acoustics. (High-frequency sound waves that enter through the holes get absorbed and dampened by the tile backing.) These lightweight metal or melamine tiles ($2 to $4 per square foot from brands like TopTile at The Home Depot) replace existing tiles in a drop ceiling; simply pop each tile into the ceiling grid and secure with metal clips or screws.
10. Splashy Style
Pennywise homeowners may choose to makeover their drop ceilings with interior paint, at a cost of only $0.10 to $0.50 per square foot. Paint patterns and colors can be mixed and matched to achieve a range of effects and moods. Paint the entire ceiling in a solid color in a contemporary or industrial interior. Or alternate tiles in beige, gray, and turquoise to evoke calm in a coastal interior.