Decorating decorative plasterwork; cornice and ceiling roses, to paint or not to paint!

To paint or not to paint when decorating plasterwork? It's a question that we are often asked and we see the results of this having been done badly over the years, but the subject of 'to paint or not to paint' is always relevant. We thought we'd try and candidly answer the question. Decorative plasterwork frequently outlives the furniture and textiles which were its original companions from any given period. In our opinion, this plasterwork should always be treasured. Here's our advice on the best way forward if you are considering decorating plasterwork.

For painting a cornice, it is recommended that you use a small HVLP (high volume, low pressure) spray system for a smooth finish, as brush painting often loses a lot of detail. With the spray system you are able to thin the paint to a thinner consistency gaining good coverage that doesn't disguise detail or fill in nooks and crannys. A think coating runs the risk of hiding the delicate detail of an enriched cornice or ceiling rose.

If the cornice is Victorian or Georgian then this is best painted with a distemper or lime wash. This will give a finish that modern paints struggle to replicate. Alternatively, there are paint companies now that supply clay based paints that are more suited to the lime plaster of period cornice. Both  and have a lovely range of period colours with a desirable mat finish!

Your final consideration may be how painting the cornice will impact the look and visual dimensions of the room. Very often the cornice and ceiling are painted in the same white, just because it's easier or perhaps you have been nervous about using colour on cornice as you wish for clean simplicity. Here are a few tips:

  • A white cornice on a darker wall colour will make the perceived height of the room drop by the depth of the cornice. This is because we see the top of the wall at the point where it meets the white of the cornice, making the wall appear shorter than it actually is. So if you want to bring a very high ceiling down to make a room cosier, white mouldings and white ceiling are a good idea.
  • Matching the cornice and ceiling works best when the ceiling projection of the cornice is deeper than the wall depth, (the part of the cornice that sits against the wall). In this case it might look clumsy to have anything but the ceiling colour on the cornice and may make the room look smaller.
  • Cornice and walls painted the same colour will make the walls appear taller and the room feel more spacious. Using the same colour on the walls and cornice also adds a simple contemporary feel to a room.
  • Picking out the cornice in a contrasting accent colour creates a crisp, tailored look to the room but as your eyes are naturally drawn to a the contrast it can make it feel smaller overall. This works when you want to draw the eye to both the decorative cornice and a ceiling rose, which should be painted in the same colour, but beware of closing room in. Painting just the cornice a subtle tonal shade that differs to the wall colour can look great too. Be brave!

Whatever your approach, do it carefully. Treasure your period decorative plasterwork and good luck! Call us on 01609 776462 to answer your questions or discuss your plasterwork requirements.

Images used courtesy of Edward Bulmer Paint and Earthborn Paints.

Photo shows a victorian cornice and frieze painted a darker colour than the walls.decorating plasterwork with 'Cuisse de Nymphe' by Edward Bulmer Paintsdecorating plasterwork in Bishop's Palace with bright paintdecorating plasterwork and corince with 'duck egg' by Edward Bulmer Paintsdecorating plasterwork with deep green paint from Earthborn Paints

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