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Finishes: What to do with walls, ceilings, and floors

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Any empty room with so many decisions left to be made for its design can be daunting, especially for an amateur home decorator. For help with an overall plan, see my article entitled, "Overwhelmed? A step-by-step plan may help".

But if you're in the midst of a plan and are at the "finishes" step, then this is the article for you. Your first step for finishes is to decide the general "feeling" you want the room to have.

How do you want the room to "feel"?

As anyone at any of the top interior design firms knows for any interior design project, one of the first decisions to make is how do you wish your room to "feel"? What I mean is what feelings do you wish to invoke in the visitors or inhabitants of the room or house? Here are some but certainly not all of the feelings you may wish the room to invoke for the people in it:

  • Relaxed
  • Urbane
  • Rustic
  • American
  • Comfortable
  • Proper
  • High style
  • Formal
  • Modern
  • Family-friendly
  • Fun
  • Romantic
  • Serene
  • Business-like
  • Private
  • Great for parties
  • Old-fashioned
  • French-country estate

Although there are countless "feelings" you may wish your room to conjure, and you may pick whatever adjectives you like, there are none that are incorrect or wrong in any way, it is always important to remember these adjectives in all aspects of the planning for any space.

Texture, texture, texture

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Whatever adjectives you have chosen try to pick up as many details that contribute to that "feel" as you can through an image in your mind of what the room may look like when finished. This is sometimes difficult for amateurs so as a professional of one of the St. Louis areas top interior design firms, my advice is find another actual room you would like it to be modeled after, for example, a room from a favorite film may be your goal. And keep in mind when it comes to finishes, and the "feel" you want a room to have, texture may be the most important aspect you want to bring back with you from your "image" of the perfect space for this room.

Finishes, which is what to do with the floor, walls and ceiling have more to do with texture than possibly any other element in your room. As everyone who works at any of the area's top interior design firms knows that texture is an integral part of everything in a room, but the image you have in your mind that evokes the feelings you wish your room to summon will succeed or fail based on the textures you choose for your walls, ceilings and floor.

When I say "texture", I am describing the actual feel of the item itself; meaning is it rough or smooth, soft or hard, pointy and sharp, or fluffy or fuzzy?

Floors, the foundation of your room

Flooring may be the most important determination within your decisions for finishes. This is because all the judgments regarding walls and ceilings exist in floors and durability is added as possibly the most important decision in flooring. Durability is important for wall finishes, but it is imperative in flooring.

Floors take a beating; all professionals at top interior design firms know this. In some homes more than in others but no matter where you live or how you live your floors must withstand whatever lifestyle is yours.

Floors can also give a beating. By this I mean, that if you are designing a kitchen and you love to cook, and spend hours a week standing on your kitchen floor, the surface must withstand that however, it also must be able to be stood-upon for those hours of cooking you put in without making your feet hurt or actually injuring you over time.

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Some possibilities for flooring:

  • Wood plank or Parquet
  • Bamboo plank
  • Porcelain, or ceramic tile
  • Concrete
  • Stone or marble
  • Brick
  • Terrazzo
  • Cork
  • Rubber
  • Linoleum
  • Vinyl
  • Carpet
  • Rugs

Hard surfaces are more durable

Generally speaking, hard surfaces, such as stone, ceramic and porcelain tile, brick, terrazzo, wood, bamboo, and concrete are more durable than the softer finishes for floors, but they will also generally speaking be more injurious on the feet, knees and hips of those using them.

In addition, they are more expensive, generally speaking than softer surfaces. But if durability is your main concern for your space, then as anyone at one of the top interior design firms would tell you, spending the additional money on the right flooring up front is probably worth it in that re-doing a floor later when furniture is already on it usually requires that all furniture be removed from the entire room and also the loss of the use of the entire room, while new flooring is installed.

Soft surfaces are easier on your feet

While soft surfaces such as carpeting, rugs, linoleum, vinyl, cork and rubber are less durable, they are also easier on the feet, knees and hips of those using them on a daily basis. This is an important point that top interior design firms would be sure to cover with you if you were to hire them.

So while it may not matter much that the stone floor in your family room is hard on your feet, because you don't spend hours standing on your feet in the family room, top interior design firms would definitely consider this if you wanted to place a stone floor in your kitchen. Careful consideration to whether you are willing to spend so much money on a stone floor, when it may be hard on you, if you cook or spend long hours standing in the kitchen is an important determination.

If you wish to utilize earth-friendly finishes in your interior design, see my article, "Green interior design".

Does the flooring also match your chosen "feel" for the room?

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If you've decided that you wish your family room to "feel" like a Tuscan estate, and you are handling the decorating yourself, know that top interior design firms would probably not choose wall-to-wall carpeting. In fact, all soft surfaces mentioned above are generally speaking more modern than traditional, with the exception of area rugs, which date back thousands of years.

So as a professional of one of the top interior design firms I might choose for a soft surface in your family room that you wish to "feel" like a Tuscan estate stone floors that are rough hewn, but a large area rug on top of them under furniture seating areas.

Classic floor coverings with room to grow

If you are not feeling overly confident that you won't change your mind later for the "feel" you wish your space to have, then choose classic floor finishes.

As a professional of one of the top interior design firms in St. Louis, I will give you the advice that the most classic and therefore also the most versatile would be wood or bamboo floors with area rugs over them. This is not necessarily my recommendation for kitchens or bathrooms, as those need more careful consideration. But for all other rooms of a home, wood floors with area rugs over them will work for modern or traditional interiors and they are versatile enough to allow the room to be re-decorated later in even a vastly different style without the demand to re-do floors.

The aspect of area rugs that many professionals of top interior design firms including me like best of all is that if you purchase a rug with several or even better, many colors in it, you can change the colors of your room, without having to purchase new rugs.

Finishes for walls, room dividers, and partitions

Walls, partitions, and room dividers are an extremely important aspect of a room, in fact, they are the thing that defines that it is a "room" and they may cover around four times or even more of surface space than does your floor, so as any well-versed professional of any of the area's top interior design firms would tell you, they must be contemplated seriously in your design plans.

While keeping in mind the "feel" you have chosen for your room, the next question you may wish to ponder in regard to the walls or room dividers is do you wish them to make a statement, or sort of "fall away" and be a background?

Prints will make a statement

If you wish your walls to make a statement, a print will more so than a solid, it will demand that it be noticed, as opposed to falling away into the background. Also, contrary to popular belief, as professionals of top interior design firms know dark colors on walls will not make a room appear smaller and are a great way to make walls fade away into the background.

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Some choices for wall and partition finishes

  • Plaster, stucco and drywall
  • Paint, faux painting techniques and traditional paint surfaces
  • Stone or masonry
  • Ceramic, porcelain, glass and other tiles
  • Glass and mirrors
  • Fabric
  • Wallpaper and other wall coverings
  • Laminates
  • Wood, paneling for example

Respect your "vision" for the room:

You want your room to "feel" like a Tuscan estate, in order to be successful with this you will have to make sure you don't have walls that scream, "1950's American suburban home". So what might the walls in a Tuscan estate look like?

They might be stone, and you can have a stone fa├žade installed but this is expensive and if you already did the floors in stone might seem as if you were not inventive enough to come up with another finish for the walls. So how about stucco? Professionals of top interior design firms know that this is not as expensive as a stone fa├žade and will vary enough from the stone floors to be interesting.

You can have a plasterer come in and actually coat the walls in stucco, or you can use a faux painting technique to make them look like stucco.

Cheap and "cheesy" shortcuts

"Faux" paint finishes are very popular and as a professional of one of St. Louis' top interior design firms I will tell you that there is a definite place for them in interior design. I do realize that real stone fa├žade installations are extremely expensive and not within the budget of all home decorators. But if you have your heart set on making the walls look like some rough texture such as stone or stucco, and you choose a faux paint finish to achieve this look due to budget constraints, don't take any shortcuts with this technique.

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Stucco walls are rough in texture. Professionals of top interior design firms would tell you that faux stucco walls need to be rough in texture or else the entire room will look cut-rate. Instead of having the rustic, old feel of a Tuscan estate, if the "stucco" walls are smooth or worse, smooth and shiny, then it looks like an American home that is trying and failing to look like a Tuscan estate. If you are not willing to make your faux painting look genuine, it would be better to not do it at all, because if it looks trashy, you have wasted your time, money and effort.

Faux painted "stone", "brick", "stucco" and any other originally rough textured surfaces should have low or no gloss paint and also have texture added to the walls to not only give the walls a genuine rough texture but also be more three dimensional as brick, stucco or stone actually is.

Fabric and upholstered walls

One wall-covering method known by top interior design firms but not usually thought of by amateurs is to upholster the walls of a room. Although it is very expensive to upholster a wall and therefore should not be done unless you either can easily afford to re-do it if you decide later that it is not to your liking or are absolutely positive that it is the correct finish for your room, it is a great way to make a room look private, secluded and luxurious while also adding sound absorption which may be a consideration for rooms adjoining media rooms.

Fabric as a wall covering is a traditional and respected treatment and should be considered anywhere where wallpaper is being considered, but keep in mind the needs for durability in the space. A children's room where the kids will probably touch the walls often may not be the best use, however, since children's rooms usually get re-decorated every few years anyway as children grow and their tastes mature, it can be a fantastic method for customizing a child's room with their favorite themes.

Ceilings, the oft-overlooked surface

Many home decorators paint all ceilings some form of white and think they are finished. But ceilings can be a wonderful way to be inventive and creative!

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Some materials for use on ceilings:

  • Plaster, stucco or gypsum
  • Wood, either beams or paneling
  • Acoustic ceiling tiles
  • Ceramic, glass or porcelain tiles
  • Paint, and not just white
  • Wallpaper and other wall coverings, such as vinyl "tin" ceilings
  • Tin ceilings, either purchased or original to the home
  • Fabric, either flat against the ceiling or draped from the ceiling
  • Brick or stone, such as in a wine-cellar, but can be applied to any room

Drama and fun!!

Ceilings need not be dismissed in the design process. And top interior design firms would never dispose of them so easily. If you have a creative flair and want to have fun, this is a place to run wild. No one will ever touch them, so durability to the oils in people's hands doesn't need to be considered, so if you have a wild streak or have a flair for the dramatic, this is where you can express it.

Some dramatic ideas for ceilings:

  • Try darker colors, they will NOT make your room appear smaller or your ceiling lower
  • HIGH gloss paint
  • Ceilings are a wonderful place to emphasize one of the bolder colors in your room, see my article entitled "Paint by numbers for the home decorator"
  • In a child's room, or any room, drape red and white striped fabric from the ceiling starting at a central point thus making the room look as if you are inside a circus tent
  • Wood beams across a ceiling can give a room a great sense of history
  • If you are a great painter, or know one, copy the ceiling of the Sistine chapel in your dining room just for drama
  • Faux paint the ceiling with cracks in the plaster to imitate what an old Tuscan estate's ceilings might look like, and if your ceiling has cracks, what a great way to conceal them!
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Floors, walls, and ceilings need not be daunting

With a little planning and creativity, your "finishes" will look as if you hired one of the top interior design firms.

But if finishes are still too daunting, or if you simply don't have time to handle your own interior design, contact one of the top interior design firms in St. Louis for assistance at [email protected]