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Keep an Open Mind About Open Ceilings

The basement is often an underutilized space in most homes. All that untapped potential sitting down there next to the easy bake oven you haven’t seen or used in 30 years (let’s be real). To begin the transformation of your basement into a finished lower level (as we designers like to call it), let’s consider the idea of an open ceiling basement.


One of the limiting factors in tackling a basement remodel is the short ceiling height. Usually, a person of average height can just barely walk upright without banging their head on a joist or duct drop (ouch!). A layer of drywall brings the ceiling down that much further, and chances are that the ceiling will not be totally flat. Most likely, there will be drops to accommodate ductwork or piping that doesn’t fit snugly between the floor joists. Thus leaving it open really is the best way to go.

Easy Access

Drywalled ceilings conceal not-so-pretty pipes, ductwork, and wires in basement ceilings, which is an appealing option to most homeowners. On the downside, it makes future access to these systems difficult, leading to drywall removal and replacement if something goes wrong with your plumbing, electrical or HVAC systems embedded therein. Leaving the ceiling open allows for easy access as needs arise. You may want to leave it open for that future kitchen or bath remodel you’ve had your heart set on.


Black vs. White

Okay, so you’ve chosen to go with an open ceiling—congratulations! We are pretty much split in the design office regarding black ceiling basement versus white open ceilings. They each have their plusses and minuses.

Black paint gets good coverage, making everything disappear. The unflattering bends and bumps fade away into the darkness. The concern everyone has: Will the dark color make it feel like a dark mass is caving in on my family, burying them alive? We have done several black open ceilings, and everyone has been pleased as punch! Pairing the dark ceiling with light walls is a great stark contrast, making the ceiling feel like it’s floating thus avoiding the whole buried alive scenario. See the above photo for a snazzy basement we finished. Ceiling is Peppercorn by Sherwin Williams.

When you choose white, you have to buy into the imperfections. The sappy knot in the wood joist is going to show through. The shadow play that is nonexistent in a black ceiling is front and center in a white application. Lighting a basement properly can be challenging, because we all love natural daylight and there’s not much of that underground. White ceilings help bounce around the artificial lighting, making it feel brighter. Check out this white ceiling in a basement remodel that we did for an A-list client.


You can’t go wrong with an open ceiling. It’s practical and cost effective, and painting it one uniform color really makes the ceiling blend in. A black or white open ceiling allows the cool design features of your lower level (no longer a boring basement) to stand out.

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