Tuesday, June 6, 2006

Tin ceilings evoke an era gone by, a time when Victorian-inspired designs flourished in homes nationwide.

Turns out homeowners still have an affinity for that period, according to local design experts. Interest in tin and imitation tin ceilings is on the upswing for both aesthetic and practical reasons.

Many homeowners love the vintage look of such ceilings, while others see installing a tin ceiling as a way to cover up any number of cracks, crevices and stains.

Tin ceilings can be wildly ornate or feature simple, repetitive motifs. Even the most basic style is a significant step up, designwise, from a standard drywall ceiling, assuming the upgrade doesn’t clash with a room’s overall appearance.

Ceiling manufacturers have noticed the trend and are offering a wealth of options — ceilings forged from tin, copper or even plastic and pre-sealed to prevent corrosion. The latter can be a better choice for rooms exposed to moisture, or if the local contractor isn’t adept at cutting metal into shape.

Cheryl Campbell, owner of the District’s Urban Revivals (www.urbanrevivals.com), says tin ceilings are jumping in popularity, particularly during this time of year.

“I see an increase in activity in the spring. [Homeowners] have home improvements on their mind,” Ms. Campbell says. “Real metal ceilings stand out immediately for their beauty.”

She says her company often works with homeowners in both Georgetown and Northwest but also in Northeast around Fourth and U streets.

“The brownstones rehabbed in Northeast have fixed the water damage, and they’re looking for tin to cover up a multitude of sins,” she says.

Ms. Campbell says tin first grew in popularity during the last quarter of the 19th century. Homeowners of the day sought tin as a way to mimic decorative plaster ceilings without the expense. The ceilings also proved easier to clean, especially when installed in kitchens, where smoke and dirt could accumulate.

Jennifer Motruk Loy, director of marketing with the District-based Core architecture and design firm, says the number of vendors selling tin ceiling products is growing rapidly, a sign of sizable interest from businesses, homeowners or both.

Often, homeowners will see a design motif in a store or, more commonly, a restaurant and consider something similar for their own houses.

“That’s how a lot of these trends develop,” Ms. Motruk Loy says, especially because architects who help shape the restaurants often find the latest materials a step before the general public.

The new flexibility involving tin ceilings is drawing interest, she says.

“We’re able to achieve a lot of different looks with it. You can stain it, paint it or leave it alone and let it age,” she says.

Homeowners also can use it as a wall element or border pattern.

Traditionally, people installed tin ceilings by first nailing plywood across the ceiling and then nailing the tin pieces on top of the wood.

Forward-thinking manufacturers are simplifying the process.

Dan Newberry, a Boston-based executive producer with Bobvila.com, says new tin ceiling kits come with pre-attached fasteners and interlocking tiles to ease the installation.

Purists may prefer the existing methods, but “from a practical standpoint, you wouldn’t notice the difference,” Mr. Newberry says. Consumers may pay more for convenience, however.

These modifications, along with a flexible array of products, are letting more homeowners consider tin ceilings.

What was once a very high-end product is becoming ‘commoditized,‘“Mr. Newberry says. “Prices are coming down.”

A basic white tin ceiling panel, typically measuring 2 feet by 2 feet, can cost about $6, he says.

Homeowners should check online to get a good idea of what a full tin ceiling might cost them.

Bill Schiebel, department head for kitchens and baths with the District’s Home Depot store in Northeast, says homes featuring tin ceilings tend to be antiquated models “trying to bring that old style back into vogue.”

Though tin ceilings are more expensive and time-consuming than a flat drywall ceiling, Mr. Schiebel says the array of tile choices makes it possible for many homeowners to consider them as an option.

Some homeowners might hire a professional to install their new tin ceiling, no matter whether it’s the traditional nail format or one made with interlocking tiles, says Mr. Schiebel, whose chain offers tin ceiling products as special-order items.

“I’d say a moderately experienced do-it-yourself person could probably take it on as a project,” he says.

Ms. Campbell suggests that anyone considering a tin ceiling in his or her home should match the room size with the right panel look.

“In smaller spaces, pick a pattern with a smaller repeat,” Ms. Campbell says. Also, geometric or floral patterns will integrate better with modern furnishings than with a home teeming with antiques or other older designs.

Ms. Motruk Loy advises homeowners considering tin ceilings to imagine the scope of such a project.

“Is it going to require a lot of cutouts? What is the effect you want to achieve? Do you want it painted or stained?” Ms. Motruk Loy asks. “They have to consider the use and overall look they want to achieve.

“If it’s a traditional setting, and you have moldings and hardwood floors, then a tin ceiling may be most appropriate,” she says. “It is the fifth wall.”

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