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  • Susie

Original wood ceilings can be beautiful or claustrophobic, sometimes both!

Updated: Aug 15, 2020

Our current house we're renovating here in Auckland, New Zealand is over 100 years old. In fact, it was built in the 1910s and is a classic weatherboard villa which still retains some amazing traditional features. One of the most impressive are the 3.4metre high ceilings (yes, seriously), which we definitely fell in love with.


But, being unpainted, they were dark, a little foreboding and strangely claustrophobic, despite being so far above us. Most similar houses have long since painted them and we expected to do the same, but only after we lived under them for a year to be sure. It was amazing how much light they sucked out of the rooms.


This batten style was very common in that time, and the wood is always Rimu or Kauri, both NZ native timber. It's impossible to tell if these ceilings are truly original as in 'built with the house', but either way they are impressive. They are in the hall and 3 rooms.



Left: Blue our kelpie is showing you the ceiling when we moved in, as well as highlighting another issue we have in the house - the wood effect! It's wood, on wood, on wood and it's just too much.


Middle: See the high-sheen gloss varnish? This has not withstood the years as well. Middle: In the lounge, smoke from the fire had given this a cloudy look.


Right: One ceiling had been painted (20+ years ago) so showed us an idea of how they could look, although it had yellowed with age. Note the air gaps round the edges.


These air gaps which go all around the rooms where the ceilings met the walls, were awful for 2 reasons - draughts & visuals. We're told they existed to let smoke from the fire out of the room (& so I guess prevented carbon monoxide poisoning!), but of course this makes for very draughty rooms today. If you look closely above you can see how we got desperate enough to spray expanding foam in the worst spots in an attempt to stop the draught, with only limited success.


So before we did anything else, the gaps had to go.


Left photo: our first builder did this trim, but no painter would touch it because too much filling was required, so we got another builder to do the trim on the right photo. Although a complete pain at the time, this new trim has made a huge difference in the finished product.


Although I do a lot of the painting in the home (working my way around all that wood trim and skirting will keep me occupied for years), this was a job too far, too big, too high and too scary for a home painter, so we got in professionals to spray.


We lived through the spraying, but had to move every piece of furniture out. It was so disruptive, we regretted not doing this before we moved in, but then we may not have been sure about it.


Left & Middle: it's a bit Breaking Bad, isn't it?!

Right: One undercoat later and every crack and gap shows, needing repairing


The ceilings were in pretty good condition from a distance, but of course we heard a lot from our painters about how this was not the case up close, especially as they filled the gaps down every one of those battens, and where the ceilings had bowed over the years...


This project has made the largest contribution to uplifiting our house and our ceilings are ALWAYS admired from every visitor. We have ZERO regrets and are THRILLED with them as they have literally brought so much LIGHT into our lives.


Look at them, they really are things of beauty now:

An oil-based stain blocking primer went on first, before 3 topcoats of a black-white white which is great for hiding imperfections in ceilings like this.


By far and away the biggest difference was in the living room which is our darkest room (second photo taken today on a winter's rainy morning):

This room always used to make me feel uneasy and I avoided using it. It felt like a dingy cave, despite being large because it was once 2 rooms. I think it was the size of the ceiling that made it bear down on us so ominously, and the terrible, useless lighting that seemed to do nothing.


We've done a lot of work in here to change that feeling - removing the 80s green carpet & the useless small shelves, painting all the wood trims and LED downlights that project light right down to us. We also worked on the scale and proportions of the fireplace wall as we installed new shelves and a gas fire (read all about it here).


Just last week we relocated the doorway about 2metres along its wall. It sounds crazy (& my husband was far from convinced) but it was in the middle of the room as a leftover from when they joined the two rooms, and now it is at the back of the room so you enter behind the sofas and can finally see the size of the room.


It's not yet finished, but already our family are hanging out in this room all the time, and it's on its way to becoming a favourite hangout.