The sad truth about drop ceilings is that even though they’re usually installed to disguise ugly ductwork, plumbing, water damage, or crumbling plaster, they often become eyesores themselves. That gridded design, those cheap textured tiles: They’re not the best look. But living with drop ceilings doesn’t have to feel like a downer, especially if you use some creative thinking. Here are a few ways to make them work for you—and (gasp!) even turn them into a legitimate design statement.
Using matte paint in a dark color can help your ceiling recede, which not only makes the tiles less noticeable but gives the impression of taller ceilings. Try coating the tiles in one solid hue like midnight blue, charcoal, or black—or fully embrace the grid, and use it to create a kind of paint-by-number checkered design with multiple colors.
There are tons of companies that make tin ceiling tiles that you can easily swap in for your musty old ones. Lightweight and fairly inexpensive, they add instant architectural detailing, which is nice if you have an older home and can add a very cool dimension to a more modern space. If you don’t feel up to the task of replacing the old tiles, you can find glue-up versions of tin tiles at big-box stores that you simply affix to your existing surface. Easy peasy.
If you’re feeling adventurous (and your walls are a solid color), may I suggest wallpapering your ceiling? It’s unexpected, to be sure, and can add a whole lot of personality to a room in one go. Renters should stick to removable wallpaper, but keep in mind no matter the type of wallpaper you use, you need as smooth a surface as possible for the adhesive to stick. So if your ceiling tiles are very textured, you may need to fill them in a bit with a lightweight spackle. Pop out the tiles and individually wrap them with the wallpaper, or, if you want to hide the grid completely, fill in the grid lines, then apply wallpaper over the entire surface.
For a rustic, cozy vibe, you could always replace the tiles with wood. Consider using sheets of wood veneer, or you could get an adhesive veneer that you could stick over the existing tiles. Another option: Armstrong Ceilings sells MDF planks that are designed to clip onto an existing grid, which makes the process much easier. Granted, they’re not real wood, but they have realistic graining and come in a ton of finishes (from whitewashed to dark brown)—and they’ll be so high up, no one will be able to tell the difference.
One of the aspects that make drop ceilings so hard to ignore is that grid pattern. Even though both are typically white, the tiles never exactly match the color of the actual grid, which makes everything look dingy. Try to downplay the difference between the two with plain white grid tape.