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Create A "Copper" Tile Ceiling

In the late 1800's it was standard to dress up your ceilings. They were treated as the "5th wall" with paster medallions (or "ceiling roses"), hand painted pictures, boarders and coffers. Then we discovered major developments and put aside architecture, quality, uniqueness and patience in an effort to get into our 3-month-pop-up HOA house faster.

Our ceilings died a rapid, "flat white" drywall death.

The Babe Cave, brought ceiling-sexy back.

Eyes up gentlemen.

Eyes up.

Built in 1912, the Babe Cave was at the end of that glorious era but still constructed in a time of legacy builds and true estates. Reasonably, some sort of accoutrement decked her 5th walls.

Google "ceiling tile" and your first options are single tiles made of either metal, styrofoam or plastic. Sure they look like coffered tin tiles - but they are most definitely not. Their sheer shininess is a dead giveaway.

God Bless you, Craigslist.

The 1920's bakery where the tin ceiling tiles came from

There I found the new owner of a 1920's bakery who was in the process of gutting the building. He had no use for the massive 100+ stack of chipped, rusty, rough-edged tin tiles that he had pulled down.

$500 later (and that's an award-winning bargain) I had rid him of his rubble and drove the 2.5 hours home feeling like I had just robbed someone.

Salvaged Tin Ceiling Tiles from Fuquay-Varina Bakery

The Babe Cave's Master Bath color pallet included copper, white and black. I wanted a copper ceiling. That required thousands of dollars. What I had, was a mountain of jagged tin.

When in doubt - pray.

And then, search Amazon.

A few minutes later, a gallon of Modern Masters Reactive Metal Paint was destine for Wilmington, NC. This paint is incredible, order yours HERE.

At $128.00 per gallon I mildly hyperventilated just like you did after reading that. But rest easy fellow renovation soldiers. It's Worth.Every.Penny.

Modern Masters Reactive Copper Paint

The reactive paint has real copper particles in it allowing you to naturally and legitimately patina whatever you paint. Patina is the blueish, greenish sometimes brown(ish) film that that begins to form on copper as it oxidizes.

You've seen this on copper gutters and old roofs. It's a gorgeous shade that unfortunately, takes time and nature to accomplish.

I, have neither.

But I do have Modern Masters.

The video above takes you through the step-by-step process but print this out and tape it to your work table for easier instruction:

1. Ready the Troops: Lay out all the tiles you will need to cover your ceiling plus a few extras incase you screw up. Wearing a mask (to protect you from any lead paint or chemical exposure) wipe down and lightly sand each tile. Break off any loose paint chips.

Ready to restore! All the tin ceiling tiles cleaned and prepped.

If you are using modern metal tiles (say, from Lowe's) you can skip this step. Same if you bought the plastic or styrofoam versions (just lie to me and say you didn't use those).

2. Prime: Paint if you must but I had 25 huge tile sets to finish and zero patience. I used a spray primer designed for metal to give my copper paint something to hold onto. Buy it HERE.

3. Paint: Stir, not shaken. Once your Modern Masters copper paint is mixed apply a very generous coat. I did not aim for perfection here. These are going into a very old house. They shouldn't look "new."

The first coat of Modern Masters on to each salvaged tin ceiling tile

4. Patina: PRO TIP! You have to hit the tiles with your patina solution while they are still somewhat WET! I screwed this up enough times before calling MM directly. To give the copper particles a chance to patina you have to expose them before completely dry. So while wet, pick your patina poison and splash or spray it on at all different angles and heights to give it a "just happened this way" look.

Do not drench every square inch. You still want some of that beautiful copper color shining through.

Modern Masters sells a very convenient selection of patina solutions based on what color you would like to achieve. They are pH balanced just right for their products and give consistent results. I used these first. However, I had so many tiles that I quickly ran out and began making my own solution.

I used:

~ Vinegar to create a greenish color.

~ Ammonia to create a bluish color.

~ Loads of salt to speed up the process.

5. Get a Tan: Sunlight will destroy almost anything, which is wildly helpful for this project. In the same way it will age your skin, it will age your tiles. Allowing your tiles (now doused in solution) to bake will speed up the patina process.

6. Assess and Address: If after the first round you didn't get quite the look you were hoping for, hit a few spots with a new slap of copper paint. Add new solution. Repeat until happy.

7. Protect: Use the Modern Masters sealant (grab it HERE) to both stop the chemical reaction and protect your work. Two coats and you are ready to install! All these steps are the same no matter what type of tile you purchased.

8. Install: On a house as old as mine I have plaster and lathe ceilings. At 100+ years old I was not about to trust them with the job of supporting all these tiles. I wouldn't even do that with drywall.

Stunning! Patina and sealed, the tin ceiling tiles were finally installed above

Old or new metal tiles, do not haphazardly start nailing them into the ceiling. You will need to find the studs in the ceiling and start there, connecting each neighboring tile as you go.

If you went for plastic, most of those require a good glob of glue and a little push. Less work - but less glory.

Most people think these are original to the house, a sign of an excellent salvage!

Pick your installation site wisely. My bathroom renovation has all the drama of a Babe Cave and the tiles complete the package. Keep in mind, the ceilings in this house are between 10 and 12 feet high so there is ample head room. I would not install a dramatic ceiling in any house with low ceilings - like a ranch. The tiles are eye-catching and cause everyone to look up. In a low-ceiling room a busy stratosphere will likely make the room feel smaller.

Keep in mind if you have crown moulding on your walls you will want to take that down before installation or prepare to add to your crown in a way that will cover up the edges. Metal tiles have a rough edge either from age of from the cuts you will have to make to cover your space. Crown moulding will hide that but butting a rough edge to the crown will look unfinished and a sad ending to all the hard work you did.

The Babe Cave bathroom with tin ceiling tiles installed

In the early 1900's you would have bought curved tin moulding to match your tin tiles. I've yet to find salvaged tin moulding in enough footage to cover a room. If you ever do - I envy the ceilings you walk under.

At this point you will be exhausted but once the last piece of crown is re-applied you can crumple on the floor in fatigue...staring up at a stunning "copper" ceiling that will forever be the object of envy to guests for many years to come.

The Babe Cave bathroom chandeliers light up the salvaged tin tile ceiling

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