You can enhance the decorative effect of a room – and hide defects – by adding coving and a complementary centre to the ceiling. Installation is quite straightforward and it should be no trouble to find a variety which suits your room.

W hen you are planning your decoration scheme, don’t forget the ceiling. Often this simply ends up being painted white and without ornament. Sometimes this may be the right solution but at others a more imaginative treatment can enhance the overall appearance of a room.

You can use colour on the ceiling to make a very tall room appear lower; or change the proportions of a box-like room to make the shape seem more interesting; or even increase the apparent size of a small room. Alternatively, you can add some form of ornament to the ceiling surface. In bathrooms and bedrooms where you will be aware of the ceiling much more often than in other rooms – when you are lying in the bath or in bed – it’s particularly worth making the view more interesting.

Ornamental ceilings can be created either by using cornices – mouldings fixed in the angle between the wall and the ceiling – or more simple coving which links the two surfaces. (There is a clear distinction architecturally, but here both will be referred to as coving.) Ceiling centres – ornamental mouldings fixed in the middle of the ceiling -will provide an attractive focal point.

In practical terms, a nice, neat coving between wall and ceiling, apart from looking more elegant and ‘finished’, will hide the joints between ceiling and wall decorations or hide cracks, wires or pipes; sometimes it may be continued to form a pelmet for curtains or blinds, or to conceal strip lighting. Ceiling centres, used to complement coving, will also disguise a poorly plastered ceiling, hide joins, bumps and electrics and are a perfect foil to attractive light fittings like chandeliers.

Types of ceiling ornaments

It is still possible to find a craftsman who will ‘sculpt’ a decorative coving or ceiling centre for you but this is likely to be prohibitively expensive. It is cheaper to use some form of prepared, preformed coving or ceiling centre.

These come in various materials which break down into four categories; fibrous plaster, plasterboard or gypsum, plastic and wood. Fibrous plaster covings and ceiling centres are available in different styles, mostly traditional. Plasterboard or gypsum covings are streamlined and simple to instail. Of the various plastic types there are covings and ceiling centres made from glass fibre and also ones made from cellular plastics such as polyurethane and expanded polystyrene: these are all light and easy to handle. There are also covings and ceiling centres made from a new plastic resin product that looks like genuine plasterwork and can be sawn, drilled and sanded like wood; and, unlike the other plastics, it is fire-resistant.

Wood covings – a final variant – are particularly effective in a room with walls completely or partly covered in wood cladding where they will provide a feature in keeping with the rest of the room.

Types of adhesives

Manufacturers usually recommend a suitable adhesive – always check with their instructions when buying the coving or ceiling centre. Adhesives come ready-mixed or, for fixing plasterboard or gypsum coving, in powder form – you mix the adhesive with water.

As a guideline, fibrous plaster ornaments should be stuck with a wall panel adhesive or a contact adhesive – it will be easier to manage if an application gun is used. Plasterboard or gypsum coving is fixed with plaster – you can use this to fill any gaps as well. Glass fibre is fixed with the same types of adhesive as fibrous plaster. For polyurethane you will need a ready-mixed paste adhesive which again can be used to fill gaps. Polystyrene should be stuck with a special expanded polystyrene adhesive of.

•— the type used to fix ceiling tiles. Plastic resin ornaments are fixed in a similar way to wood. Choose a wood adhesive such as PVA, synthetic resin adhesive, a multi-purpose type, or even a wall panel adhesive in an easy-to-apply gun. For wooden covings you will need a wood adhesive – this is often used in conjunction with nails or screws.

Any adhesive is only really effective if it is applied to a clean, dust-free surface. New plaster should be allowed to dry out before multi-purpose, wood, or expanded poly-styrene adhesives are used, although the plaster/gypsum filler type can be used on damp plaster.

Always follow the manufacturer’s instruc-tions carefully when using any type of adhesive. If you are using an adhesive which is likely to ‘go off, or harden quickly, work on manageable lengths of coving at a time. With powder adhesives, don’t guess how much water to add, follow the instructions.


– Check coving orientation in box before cutting – the ‘ceiling’ edge should be on the base of the box.

– Lengths with one internal and one external mitre (A) have parallel cuts done in the same box groove; lengths with two external mitres (B) or two internal mitres (C) are cut using both box grooves (one for each end).


– Make the box from timber about 450mm (18in) long and 19mm (%in) to 25m (1 in) thick, with internal dimensions chosen so the coving is held exactly at 90° within the box.

– Mark out the 45’ angles using a combination square or basic geometry.


Never paint foamed plastic coving or ceiling centres with gloss or other solvent-based paints as you will create a fire hazard – the painted plastic could rapidly spread flames in a fire.


So you don’t have to remove – and risk damaging – a ceiling centre to get at wiring, remove the existing ceiling rose and rewire to a junction box installed in the ceiling void – access can then be gained from above. —


As with all decorating operations, time and care spent on planning will pay off later, helping you make sure of a successful result. To judge the optimum coving depth before buying, cut a paper template to a likely depth and a length of 1.5 to 1.8m (5 to 6ft) and pin it in the angle between the wall and ceiling where the coving will go. This should be long enough for you to gain an idea of the finished effect. If it seems wrong, (ie, too shallow or too deep), repeat the operation with a template of a different depth until you have the right size.

Having decided on the depth of the coving, the next step is to measure up the ceiling accurately. If it is going to be a difficult shape to deal with – for example, if there is a chimney breast or corners which are out of square – make a scale plan of the ceiling on squared paper. This way you will be able to work out exactly where the joins will come in the lengths of coving and where you will need to cut or mitre the coving for the corners. Use your plan or measurements as a guide for ordering the correct amount of coving.

A ceiling centre is going to be a focal point of interest, and it is essential therefore to choose one which is the right size for the room. They range in size from 150mm (6in) to 685mm (2ft 3in) in diameter; smaller ones suit smaller rooms and larger ones large rooms. To help you decide on the size of the ceiling centre, you can again make a paper template to gain an impression of the finished effect.

Marking up and preparation

You will need to mark guidelines for fixing the coving. You can use a piece of coving to indicate where lines should be drawn at the correct level on wall and ceiling.

The surface must be properly prepared. You will need to make sure all old wallpaper, flaking paint or distemper is removed from between the guidelines. It is also advisable to fill any cracks. Leave the filler to harden and then, if necessary, sand smooth. Bumpily filled cracks could throw the coving out of alignment, making it look distorted. With some types of adhesive you will also have to provide a key, so the adhesive grips properly, by slightly roughening the surface of the wall and ceiling where the coving will be fixed.

For a ceiling centre you can cut a paper or cardboard template round which to draw a guideline before preparing the surface in the same way as preparing for fixing coving. Make the template slightly smaller – by about 6mm (’//iin) – than the actual ceiling centre so areas where paper or paint have been removed will not show when the ceiling centre is in place.

Cutting coving

Measure the coving for length. Remember that corners will have to be mitred and that there is a different technique for internal and external angles apart, and, so they won’t be visible on the finished surface. Punch the nails below the surface with a nail punch, or countersink screws and fill the holes you have created with surplus adhesive or with cellulose filler.

Scrape off surplus adhesive which squeezes out from under the coving. (Sometimes this can be used to fill nail holes and gaps. Otherwise, you will have to use a cellulose filler).

Fixing ceiling centres

Ceiling centres are fixed in the same way as coving. Heavier types may need extra support from nails or screws: make sure the heads are countersunk or punched home and fill the gaps with adhesive or other filler. If the ceiling surface is bad and you want

to use a textured paper to help disguise this, it is easier to paper the ceiling first and then cut out the area to be covered with the ornament rather than fixing the ceiling centre and then papering round it.

Where a ceiling centre is to be used to enhance a central light fitting, you will also have to cope with fhe electrics. As a first step, you will have to remove the existing bulb and lampholder. Where the ceiling centre has a hollow in the middle, it may be possible to leave the existing ceiling rose in place and fit the new ceiling centre over it. Simply pull down the flex through the hole in the middle of the new centrepiece (some already have holes bored; with others you may have to make the hole).

With other types of ceiling centres, which are flatter in the middle, you may have to remove the existing rose and replace it with a terminal connector strip which will fit in the space available before fixing the new ornament. Both these solutions have the disadvantage that if at a later date you wish to gain access to the wiring, you will have to remove the ceiling centre. As an alternative, you can rewire the light so access can be gained from above. Gloss and other solvent-based paints should never be used on plastic.

Colour is a matter of personal choice but usually the ‘bed’ – the flat part of the ceiling -looks best in a colour which can be dark, rich or strong if the room is fairly tall and paler if it is low. The relief decorations can be picked out in white or any other contrasting neutral shade, or in a pale, toning or contrasting colour. Give the ceiling decorations their first coat, then paint the ceiling itself with two coats, taking particular care at the edges and where it meets the ornaments. Apply a final coat to the decorations.

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