If you regularly read our column you know that we are third-generation contractors. You also might recall that we grew up in a home built by our grandfather at the turn of the 20th century. The home was Mediterranean-style construction, plaster in and out, with spacious rooms and high ceilings. Not only were the ceilings high, in some rooms they were coved at the perimeter and had decorative cornice or picture mold. Other rooms, such as the living room and dining room, had intricate plaster moldings that bordered the ceiling and ornate ceiling medallions used as foils for chandeliers.
Artisans have been affixing plaster decorations to walls and ceilings for centuries...mostly in imitation of Greek and Roman bas-relief. In modern times, the practice peaked in the early 19th century when Greek Revival architecture reawakened an interest in classical ornamentation.
Today, plaster moldings again are popular...either to give authenticity to a restoration or just add interest to an otherwise flat wall or ceiling. The designs offered range from chaste Greek-key borders to Baroque ceiling medallions.
Although plaster ornamentation still can be had...during a recent trip to Europe we witnessed local artisans create it on site...wood and plastic alternatives now can be readily found at lumberyards, home centers and hardware stores. We prefer the plastic material because it is lightweight and easy to work with. They are constructed of a foam or urethane core and vinyl-like finish that takes paint beautifully. When finished, the plastic medallion can't be distinguished from the real thing.
For dressing up a ceiling, decorative medallions are very popular. We believe this is because they are reasonably priced, easy to install and are so attractive. Ceiling medallions come in various shapes and sizes. They are round, square, oval, rectangular and triangular. You can have a hexagon, octagon or even a star. And although a decorative ceiling medallion is often used as a "rosette" or foil for a chandelier, it is equally popular as a focal point of a room's ceiling. In either case, you will be amazed at just how easy it is to install one.
When installing a ceiling medallion where a light fixture exists, the fixture must be removed and reinstalled after the medallion installation is completed. Begin by turning off the power to the light fixture at the breaker panel or fuse box. Don't rely on the light switch since the power for light might originate at the fixture rather than the switch. We learned that lesson the hard way.
With the power off, carefully remove the light fixture...usually held into place with a couple of screws and-or a nut on a short length of threaded tubing. Lower the fixture canopy and carefully disconnect the wires. Use the opportunity while the fixture is down to give it a good cleaning and polishing.
Place the ceiling medallion upside down and cut a hole in the center, using a drill or fine-tooth saw. The hole should be large enough to allow wiring and one or more threaded bolts to pass through, yet small enough to be completely covered by the fixture canopy. Next, apply a minimum of a 1-half-inch bead of adhesive along the outside edge on the underside of the ceiling medallion. Place the medallion into position on the ceiling immediately after applying adhesive. Use four 1-and-5-eighths-inch paneling nails equally spaced on the medallion to hold it in place while the adhesive sets up. Later, countersink the nails using a nail punch, and conceal the nail heads with spackle.
Instead of paneling nails, the medallion can be fastened to the ceiling using construction screws. As you would with paneling nails, countersink the construction screws and conceal with a patching compound.
Apply a bead of caulk at the perimeter of the medallion and smooth, using your finger or a damp sponge. Once the caulk has dried, the medallion is ready for paint. For best results, prime the medallion with an oil-base primer and finish with one or more coats of latex in the color of your choice.
Complete the job by reinstalling the light fixture. Reverse the steps used to remove it. Due to the added ceiling thickness, longer screws and-or threaded tubing might be needed to properly anchor the light fixture. Reconnect the wires using approved wire connectors, reinstall the canopy and turn on the power.
Step back, admire your work, and ponder what room you next will enhance with a ceiling medallion.