The default paint colour for any ceiling is flat white. This is what builders do in new homes because it's cheap, easy and fits with any decor. Many decorators and architects have been moving away from plain painted white ceilings, especially in large spaces with high ceilings. Think of your ceiling as a fifth wall, and add dimension, warmth and impact to your house with colour.
Using Color to Define Space
Huge rooms with light walls and white ceilings can look cool and impersonal. Colourful decor and artwork may indeed look best against light, neutral walls and ceilings. However, if the rest of the room is rich with colour and patterns, a white ceiling may seem overlooked. Picking a light ceiling paint version of a predominant colour in your decor pulls the room together. Consider painting a high ceiling a lighter shade of the wall colour.
Having a distinct colour difference between walls and ceilings can actually make the room look larger and higher, even with a dark ceiling. This is because the eye is automatically drawn upward and around the perimeter of the room. Very high ceilings will still look high, even if painted a darker colour than the walls. When walls and ceilings are painted the same or similar colours, this effect is lost.
It is a common misconception that painting a room dark will make it appear smaller, or that painting a ceiling dark will give a cave-like effect. It's not so simple. Cool colours recede, making a ceiling appear higher. Warm colours advance, making it feel lower. To make a high ceiling appear even higher, use a cool colour like grey, blue, cool taupe or spring green. To add drama and intimacy, a warmer, richer tone like beige, warm rose or light brown pulls the ceiling down and makes the room appear cosier.
One more trick to pulling the ceiling down is to echo the floor colour on the ceiling. A honeyed oak floor can translate to a honey beige ceiling, or a light taupe ceiling to match a slate floor.
The amount of light in the room will affect your ceiling's appearance. Many large rooms with high ceilings also have large windows throwing a lot of light on the ceiling. North and eastern-facing windows tend to bring in cooler natural light. Use cool colours to emphasise the size of the room, and warmer colours to make it feel cosier. South and west-facing windows bring in brighter, warmer light; to make the ceilings appear higher, paint them a cool, light colour.
If the room is used mostly at night, or there is little natural light, pay attention to the type of lighting used in a high-ceilinged room. Lamps and sconces that direct light upward highlight the ceiling colour. Spotlights mounted in the ceiling direct the light down, and the colour of the ceiling isn't as noticed.
If there is a skylight in the high ceiling, your choice of warm or cool paint colour will change the quality of the light coming into the room. It is perfectly acceptable to paint the skylight one colour and the rest of the ceiling another.
If there is plenty of natural light in the room, painting the walls and ceilings the same colour will still give the effect of a lighter colour on the ceiling because of how the light comes in, and will unify the room.
Creative Ceiling Color Ideas
For even more drama, use speciality coatings like metallic, suede or sand-textured paints. These usually take a little more work to apply, but increase the "wow" factor exponentially.