Tray Ceiling Transformation: Tips to Make It Look Amazing

Hey friends! It’s Amanda here, your friendly neighborhood interior design enthusiast. Today, I want to discuss one of my favorite architectural elements – the tray ceiling.

I don’t know about you, but I’m obsessed with ceilings. As much as we love our floors and walls, the ceiling is the crowning glory of any space. And few ceilings make as bold and beautiful a statement as the tray ceiling.

What Exactly Is A Tray Ceiling?

Simply put, a tray ceiling is a ceiling that has a recessed or indented central section. Visually, it looks like a tray inside your ceiling – hence the name. The recessed portion is surrounded by a decorative border that meets the walls, creating a two-level effect.

Unlike a bare, flat ceiling that sits there, a tray ceiling adds architectural interest and depth to a room. It draws the eye upwards, opening up the space and making it appear larger and taller than it is.

Fixing up an old tray ceiling

Tray ceilings work with various design styles, from glamorous and ornate to minimalist and modern. They can be subtle or make a huge statement. They’re popular in living rooms, bedrooms, dining rooms, libraries, and other spaces where you want to add a little drama.

Why Add A Tray Ceiling?

There are several excellent reasons to consider a tray ceiling for your home:

Architectural Interest

A tray ceiling brings unique visual geometry to a space. It breaks up the expanse of a flat ceiling, adding relief and detail. The contrast between the recessed center and the border transforms what’s typically a forgotten static space into an intriguing design element.

Illusion of Space

By drawing the eyes upwards, tray ceilings make rooms feel more open and airy. The two-tiered effect creates the perception of extra height and volume. It’s an ingenious way to make a low-ceilinged room feel grand and spacious.

Increased Home Value

A well-executed tray ceiling can boost your home’s value by adding an appealing architectural feature that makes it stand out. Homebuyers love spaces with character!

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How To Make A Tray Ceiling Look Good with recessed lights

Improved Acoustics

The indented central panel helps absorb sound reverberations, creating a more comfortable acoustic environment.

Design Concepts For Tray Ceilings

Now that I’ve convinced you to get a tray ceiling let’s dive into some design ideas to make them look spectacular!

Choosing the Right Color Scheme

Color is critical when it comes to tray ceilings. You can take two approaches:

Contrasting Colors

Painting the recessed portion a different color from the border creates a bold, eye-catching look. I’m a massive fan of deeper colors like navy or forest green in the center and crisp white for the borders. It’s striking and elegant.

Darker colors on the ceiling also draw the eyes upwards, creating the illusion of a taller space. It’s a trick designers often use in rooms with low ceilings.

Tray Ceiling Fan


Use the same neutral color on the recessed and border sections for a more subtle take. This gives a seamless, blended effect. It’s perfect if you want the tray ceiling to meld with the rest of the space instead of standing out.

No matter which route you take, be sure to use colors that complement your existing palette. Unlike an oddly disconnected element, your tray ceiling color scheme should feel cohesive.

Lighting Options For Tray Ceilings

The proper lighting takes a tray ceiling from basic to beautiful. Here are some options that create a stellar effect:

Recessed Lighting

Recessed can lights in the indented portion cast a sculptural glow and emphasize the design. Use bulbs with different beam spreads – narrow for accent and wide for ambient lighting.

Pendant Lights

Mini pendant lights hung at varying heights look spectacular. Go for clear globes to keep the look light and airy. Metallic pendants in satin brass or nickel inject a little glam factor.


For drama, hang a statement chandelier like a tiered crystal number or a modern geometric fixture. Position it off-center so it’s not hanging precisely in the middle.

Tips for decorating your tray ceiling


Place stylish sconces around the tray ceiling perimeter to give it a warm glow. This also helps make a low ceiling appear taller.

When selecting lighting, look for dimmable fixtures to create different moods. And don’t forget to layer light sources – mix overhead, accent, and ambient lighting to give your ceiling dimension.

Architectural Details

Well-chosen architectural details give tray ceilings refined elegance. Here are some easy ways to embellish your design:

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Crown Molding

No detail gives a tray ceiling a finished, upscale look like crown molding. Use it to outline both the recessed and border sections. Add wider molding inside the indented portion and slimmer molding on the border for extra dimension.

Shadow Boxes

Framing the tray ceiling with shadow boxes (recessed panels with a lip) adds depth and interest. Paint the inside of the shadow boxes a darker accent color for contrast.

Decor Ideas For Tray Ceilings

When it comes to decor, the possibilities are endless for tray ceilings. Have fun and get creative with these ideas!

Paint Techniques

Specialty painting techniques like ragging, stippling, stenciling, glazing, etc., add eye-catching texture and visual interest to a tray ceiling.

Tips for painting a tray ceiling

If you aren’t artistically inclined, hire a painter skilled in faux finishes to work their magic. A mural, hand-painted design, or metallic leafing transforms a basic tray into a stunning focal point.

A more straightforward DIY route is painting clean, sharp stripes in contrasting colors across the ceiling. Thin lines give the illusion of height. Wider stripes make more of a statement.

Wallpaper & Textures

Consider covering the indented portion of your tray ceiling with wallpaper for a glamorous effect. Opt for patterns with subtle sheen or metallic accents. Keep the border section a solid color so the wallpaper pops.

If wallpaper seems intimidating, use textured paints or finishes like Venetian plaster, fabrics, wood, etc., to add tactile dimension.

Wood & Metal Elements

Both wood and metal beautifully complement a tray ceiling. Here are some ideas:

  • Coffered Tray Ceiling: Using timber panels creates a coffered effect with sunken squares. Stain a crisp white wood for a beachy vibe or dark walnut for warmth.
  • Beadboard: Tongue and groove beadboard offers laidback rustic charm. Paint it in soft white or pale blue for a cottage feel.
  • Metallic Tiles: Cover the recessed ceiling with antique mirrored or embossed metal tiles for sparkle. So Hollywood Regency!
  • Exposed Beams: Frame the tray ceiling with rustic exposed wood beams for an earthy, industrial edge.
  • Geometric Metal: Adorn the center with bold geometric metal medallions for a modern style statement.

Installation & Considerations

Ready to install your tray ceiling? Here’s what you need to know:

Hiring A Pro vs. DIY

Installing a tray ceiling is an advanced project involving carpentry skills and knowledge of load-bearing construction.

Tips for lighting a tray ceiling

Hiring a professional is highly recommended for most homeowners. A qualified contractor will:

  • Determine ceiling joist spacing and calculate load requirements
  • Provide engineering expertise to ensure the ceiling is structurally sound
  • Have the specialized tools and equipment needed
  • Install the ceiling smoothly, safely, and to code
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This option costs more but gives peace of mind, knowing the work is done correctly. Expect to invest $3,000 to $10,000 for materials and professional installation.

If you’re an intrepid DIYer with carpentry experience, installing a basic tray ceiling yourself is possible. You’ll need:

  • Saw, drill, level, ladder, and safety equipment
  • Drywall, nails/screws, joint tape, lumber for framing
  • Skills for measuring, cutting, and installing drywall

Watch structural load limits and get permits if required. Focus on simple designs first before attempting complex architectural details.

Safety First!

  • Use sturdy ladders and scaffolding to reach the ceiling safely
  • Wear protective eye gear, masks, and gloves
  • Follow safe practices with tools – avoid loose clothing, tie back hair, etc.
  • Work with a partner for assistance and safety

Time Expectations

The project timeline varies based on ceiling size and the intricacy of the design.

DIY: 10 – 25 hours over several weekends for demolition, framing, drywall, finishing, and painting

Hired professional: 1 week – 1 month from start to finish


  • Use a dry microfiber mop on an extension pole to dust the ceiling periodically.
  • Check for cracking or sagging and repair promptly to avoid more significant issues.
  • Replace any burned-out bulbs or damaged lighting immediately
  • Repaint if the ceiling starts looking faded or yellowed over time

With periodic upkeep, your tray ceiling will look fantastic for years!

Ready to install your tray ceiling

Bringing It All Together

Friends, we’ve covered a lot of ground here on tray ceiling design. Let’s recap:

  • A tray ceiling adds architectural interest, opens up a space, boosts home value, and improves acoustics
  • Use colors, lighting, textures, and architectural details like molding, beams, and metalwork to create a gorgeous tray ceiling that matches your style.
  • Specialty paint techniques, wallpaper, wood, and metal offer endless possibilities for decorating tray ceilings
  • Hire a professional for installation unless you’re an experienced DIYer
  • Maintain your tray ceiling so it stays beautiful for the long run

You can craft a showstopping tray ceiling with the correct designer sensibilities that make any room sing. I hope you look at your ceilings in a new light and maybe add a tray! What’s your dream design for a statement ceiling?