An Elliptic Ceiling

This curved ceiling is an exhibit of the “Greek theme” that guides the remodeling of this bedroom to stylistically match adjoining areas of the house (see “A Remodel With a Greek Theme – Stage One”).  Our client handed us a basic sketch that indicated a vision for the design – a 9′ recessed ceiling, an 8′ soffit around the perimeter of the room, and a ledge on the soffit to house rope lighting.

V2 ceiling 1

We proposed the idea of creating a curved “elliptic” ceiling as opposed to a flat ceiling.  This was not initially part of the plan, but we are open to and comfortable with formulating new ideas, coming up with creative solutions, doing things “on the fly,” and working with our clients so that they are informed of possibilities before arriving at a decision.  We all agreed that an elliptic ceiling would add extra intrigue to the room and compliment curves and arches present in the other areas  of the Greek-themed remodel.  One challenge of remodeling done with artistry is establishing and articulating a vision among the stakeholders, while maintaining flexibility to accommodate for evolving visions and new found parameters.  Remodeling by its nature has twists and turns – parameters change as a project unfolds.  We are always seeking ways to work with our clients to improve the remodeling experience for all.  We think on our feet and are not set in our ways. Sticking to a pre-determined way of doing things can be an Achilles’ heel, we believe (I couldn’t help but get a reference to Greek mythology in this article!).

Tear-out and joist framing
The bay window in the bedroom is to be replaced with a beautiful stained glass window at a future point in time (see “An Artsy Window“).  This allows us to tear out the bay window and replace it with a temporary exterior door, providing direct access in and out of the construction area without having to go through living quarters and around corners.

V2 ceiling 2

The ceiling joists are set for a 9’ finished ceiling height, taking account for the thickness of the subfloor, finish floor, ceiling drywall, and “pseudo-plaster.” We use a laser level that projects a level line across the rafters to ensure that the joists fall in the same plane.

Soffit framing
The recessed elliptic part of the ceiling rises to a 9’ apex, while the soffit around perimeter of the room is 8’ tall and extends in 30″ from the walls.  We frame the soffit so that proper fastening for drywall is provided, recessed can lights can be installed, and so a ledge for rope lighting is created.

Elliptic plywood forms
The curved ceiling is shaped by forms cut from sheets of plywood. Trial and error determines which elliptic curve is most desirable.  We make sure our client is satisfied with the shape of the form before using it as a stencil for the others – all the forms are identical. They are cut with a jigsaw. A series of “notches” (about 5) are cut into each form to accommodate lath that spans between forms.

V2 ceiling 7

A computer model helps us envision how it is to be framed

The forms are fastened to the side of each rafter, spaced 24” on center.  The lath provides many points of fastening to ensure the curve is gradual and the ceiling is secure.

Bendable plywood
The ceiling itself is made from 3/8” bendable plywood – plywood with a single face veneer and core plies with all grain running perpendicular to face to allow cross-grain bending. We rip it into 16” wide by 48” long sheets. Working with relatively small sheets reduces the chance of incongruities where they butt together.

V2 ceiling 3

We use a combination of products to achieve what we call “pseudo-plaster” – it has the texture, hardness, and appearance of traditional plaster, but is not as thick and does not contain lime. It can be applied over drywall, but in this particular case it is applied directly over the bendable plywood (with a layer of fiberglass mesh).

V2 ceiling 7

V2 ceiling 6

We dedicate extra attention to corners to ensure that the lines are symmetrical and pleasing to the eye. A carpenter’s eye never lies!

“Pseudo-plaster” is a mix of joint compound, thin set mortar, latex bonding additive, and aggregate (silica sand or mason sand). The proportions can be adjusted for base/finish coats and different textures. The base coat is spread across fiberglass mesh. The mesh reduces the chance of cracks developing, but mainly guides the depth of the base coat.  After the base coat, one or two more coats achieve the desired texture.

V2 bed 4

The final painted product

V2 bed 3



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