What Can You Do About Your Stippled Ceilings?

One of the most universally hated spec home details is the stippled ceiling. Also referred to as “knock down”, “textured” or “popcorn” ceilings, this is sprayed or trowelled on finish to a drywall ceiling that saves builders a lot of time and money because the ceilings do not have to be mudded, taped, sanded, primed or painted. However, what saves time and cost up front to the builder causes years of visual angst for the homeowner.

So, if you have stippled ceilings in your house what can you do about them?

There are a few options to deal with the stipple. The first and least expensive is to paint them – usually by spraying them. At least this will make sure the color matches the rest of the wall and trim colors in the house. The second option is to scrape them smooth and then paint them. A skilled drywaller can do this and achieve a decent result. The third and most costly option is to install another layer of drywall on top of the stipple and finish the ceiling smooth, the way it should have been done in the first place. Or finally, choose your battles and only place new drywall where you absolutely need to, like over the kitchen island, and then just paint out the rest.

Today’s Slides:

  • Li-Na

    Are you two intent on going through my mental list of hated design details?! :)

    But seriously, what I really wanted to ask if it was possible for you to post larger versions of the pictures you show in the video? Or, if they’re already posted somewhere, please point me in the right direction. I find it hard to get a good look at the details from the image in the video alone. :)


  • Steve

    Hi Li-Na,

    We’ve just added the slides seen in today’s video.


  • Matthew North

    Hi Li-Na – Haha! Yes, we do seem to be going through a laundry list of hated home design elements at the moment. I wonder what we should do next……..? Any suggestions? Brass door knobs? Tile or hardwood installed on a diagonal? Exterior columns that don’t touch the ground? Rounded drywall corners (I still can’t believe this is an up-charge!)……the list is endless!

  • Li-Na

    Just off the top of my head, here’re some of the items on my list:

    1) Cabinet pulls installed right smack in the middle of cabinet doors. Why would someone think this is a good idea?? I can’t wait to get rid of the ones we have on our bathroom cabinets. I keep bruising my knees on them!

    2) Potlights installed in rows (or a grid) with no thought on how the space will actually be used. I don’t think many people need airplane runways on their ceiling.

    3) Nipple lights! (Uhm…am I allowed to use the word “nipple” on here, or will my post be flagged?)

    4) The brilliant plans people come up with to make something unwanted “better”. E.g. a beam gets turned into an elaborate curved archway. Usually, such schemes just serve to highlight the initial problem.

    5) Fake shutters! The ones that are very obviously way too small to ever completely cover the window in question.

    6) Ugly bulkheads. I understand the need for bulkheads. But with a little effort and thought, a lot of them could be better integrated and might actually look like they were placed there for an aesthetic purpose as well. Instead, most are (to use a previous Matthew’s-Word-of-the-Day) a carbuncle.

    7) Light switches/thermostats installed right in the middle of a wall when they could have done the job just as well off to the side.

    Matthew, I’ve only seen rounded drywall corners once…what do you have against them? According to some, no pointy corners is good feng shui? ;-) And please elaborate on your disgruntlement with diagonally installed tile…doesn’t that make the space seem larger? *evil grin*

    Steve, many thanks for posting the photos, especially the last one, which was the one I really wanted a closer look at. :-) 

    P/S Surely exterior columns that don’t touch the ground are a fluke and weren’t actually designed that way? Right?

  • Konkinsa

    Came upstairs to watch my design lesson after a conversation with the drywallers about how to finish the ceiling in our addition.  What to do: orange peel or flat?   They said that almost all new construction is doing orange peel – very light texture and they would spray it on which makes it lighter than rolling the texture on.
    Then I watched the design lesson and I even took the laptop downstairs to show the taper the lesson.  He said that with the orange peel ceiling you don’t have to paint it after he’s done.  Well I’ve made the decision to go with flat ceiling even though it’s only the basement addition.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

  • Matthew North

    Li-Na – that’s a great list! I had to laugh out loud at the “nipple” lights. They have been a source of much humor around here for years. Your potlight arrangement point is a good one – a grid over an entire ceiling is an indication of someone who has not taken any Slow Home lessons in lighting design yet.

    As for rounded drywall corners…..where to begin….. one of the best ways to make an architectural statement in a modest and cost effective way is to design the walls and ceilings in a home to be architectural planes – expressing them as objects in a space as opposed to just boundaries of rooms. We try to do this in every house or renovation we design at Housebrand. This can be further enhanced through the paint color application, and is something we will be bringing up in future Design Minute episodes. The rounded corners are somehow perceived as a  ”faux” luxury that dissolves the potential crispness of any architectural reading of the space. It also makes the baseboard and casing details all fuzzy and rounded…….just gross in my opinion. 

    As for tile on the diagonal…..why would anyone do this? It is visually distracting. There is nothing worse than walking into a small mudroom or bathroom and looking down at the floor to see everything is on a 45 degree angle to the room. It makes me dizzy just thinking about it. Before installing floor tile, spend a few minutes and figure out the best installation pattern to minimize the cuts rather than just turning everything on an angle and hope for the best. The same goes for hardwoods floor too – no real excuse for a diagonal installation unless there is an angle introduced into the geometry of the house for a good architectural reason.

    Wow….I’m on a rant this morning.

  • Matthew North

    Konkinsa – thank you very much for sharing this! I loved the fact that you took your lap top down and showed the contractor the Design Minute. You have absolutely made the right choice to go with a flat ceiling! I am so happy!  One of the biggest problems with the design and construction industry stems from what your contractor said……”almost all new construction is doing it.” These words make home owners think they have no choice and should follow the crowds and current trends. 

  • Marilyn

    For economic reasons we kept our stippled ceilings in our somewhat-large master bedroom when renovating. Our contractor had a good aesthetic idea. He scraped a border of about 4-inches around the edges, added crown molding and painted it all the same flat-white colour. When people walk into the room, they say, “I love the molding!”, a beautiful distraction from the still stippled surface.

  • Konkinsa

    I told the taper that I wanted a flat ceiling finish and he said: “I thought you would.”  You have to stick to your guns.    These guys can really sway you from what you really want.

  • Matthew North

    Good for you sticking to your guns! Too often it’s all about taking the path of least resistance……….that is why the built environment generally looks the way it does!

  • Li-Na

    I find a lot of contractors and trades are really set in their ways and give me a lot of flak if I ask them to do something different. The most ridiculous incident was when I had asked to hang two things up but wanted them aligned on one side. The contractor asked me very indignantly, “Why don’t you just centre one over the other like everyone else??”


    It was easy to stick to my guns in that instance because it was a tiny matter, but I sometimes find it hard to stand my ground when it involves bigger issues especially in the face of strong opposition (even though the only basis for that opposition is often: “But We’ve Always Done It That Way!”)

    In the back of my mind, I’m always afraid that maybe the reason they’ve done it the same way for years is because it’s the best way!

    I really appreciate your (John and Matthew) willingness to share your knowledge and experience…education is a useful tool against the But We’ve Always Done It That Way (TM) crowd!

    No offense to anyone in the trades, I know there are really excellent, highly-skilled people out there, but I’ve kind of had to make my way through quite a few doozies too. ;-)


  • Armstrong Residential Ceilings

    Hi! You didn’t mention other possibilities for covering a stippled ceiling like “direct attach” options. Armstrong Residential Ceilings offers several including: Woodhaven, Tintile and Metallaire.

    Learn more here http://www.armstrong.com/resclgam/na/ceilings/en/us/

    Kim from Armstrong

  • Armstrong Residential Ceilings

    Hi! You didn’t mention other possibilities for covering a stippled ceiling like “direct attach” options. Armstrong Residential Ceilings offers several including: Woodhaven, Tintile and Metallaire.

    Learn more here http://www.armstrong.com/resclgam/na/ceilings/en/us/

    Kim from Armstrong

  • Anonymous

    Hi guys!  Sorry I missed this originally.  This is interesting as we are faced with this now…

    Scrapping is not an option in many homes due to asbestos in the popcorn texture (at least in USA pre 1990 I think it is?).  Our room has this issue.  The asbestos removal folks highly recommended encasing due to the high cost (actually they did not even provide one … must be telling me something…).

    Adding a layer of drywall is also not ideal due to the loss of ceiling height (which is low already).

    Painting is OK but yeah still there.  Slightest of knocks you get dust falling!


    My contractor suggested we get it more smooth by applying a ski m coat with drywall mud.  They can make it seem more like the plaster walls in the rest of the home. 

    Wondering if you have tried this or have thoughts…
    Mid America Mom  

  • zzpala

    I have installed plenty of ceiling in my life. Most have been textured ceilings but I have done flat and painted as well. By doing texture one reduces the tremendous amount of work and preparation of a flat painted ceiling. It is hard enough on a wall to produce a great finish but overhead it is a beast! Even with texture you still have to prepare the ceiling to reasonable flat finish, not good enough for paint but still well prepared. To say texture can cover up everything is not correct. For some reason textured ceiling have got a bad rap lately and mainly because of renovation shows critical of the concept! To me it is a fashion thing forcing the home owner to spend a lot of money to do stuff that may not change anything to improve the home and in my opinion not even the appearance. I see so much negative stuff about “popcorn” ceiling that is not accurate. I must point to the renovation industry and the “Increase the price of your property” shows. If they can convince you that your home is dated then they can convince you to do many things to to your home to make it better with cost to you and work for contractors. With the textured ceiling we are not talking about the purple tubs that became popular for a short period of time. Remember the new ceiling finishes are very similar to texture and many use the same concept. ( i.e. knock down).

  • alafrosty

    If you want two hung things lined up on their sides rather than their middles, that’s no biggie. But when someone asks for something senseless like 13″ stud centers, the contractor *needs* to push back!