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What are Tin Ceilings?

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  • Written By: S. Mithra
  • Edited By: L. S. Wynn
  • Last Modified Date: 28 October 2016
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In the mid-19th century, tin ceilings were innovative, middle class America's response to the decorative plaster ceilings of wealthy Europeans. Easy to mass produce, light, detailed, and superior to plaster in many ways, these panels of embossed metal covered countless ceilings of houses, hotels, and businesses. In the late 1900s, interest in tin ceilings was piqued with the popularity of renovation architecture, resulting in modern reproductions of pressed tin.

Decorative plaster ceilings were beautiful but not very practical. They were time intensive to mold, heavy to ship, and difficult to apply to the wet expanse of an unfinished ceiling. The advent of 2' x 2' (60 x 60 cm) tin panels, impressed with a relief design, meant easier installation, finer detail, and less expense. Aluminum, stainless steel, or copper sheets of metal absorb sound, retard fire, resist moisture and mildew, and last longer than plaster or drywall. They can be nailed into wood in easy to handle squares. The panels can form a border, outline crown molding, or center a ceiling medallion.

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After the peak of the tin ceiling trend in the 1890s, later generations covered the ornamentation with drywall or drop-ceiling acoustic tiles. Therefore, when restoration experts began returning homes to their pre-turn-of-the-century grandeur, they uncovered preserved tin. Perhaps it has to be mended, stripped, or repainted, but it withstands the passage of time very well. Some homeowners scavenge and restore original tin from commercial buildings to install at home if their ceiling was damaged beyond repair.

With reinvigorated interest, companies began recreating pressed tin panels in replicated patterns. Not much has changed in terms of technology. Our nostalgia for that era of American design brings us the original metal in silver, copper, or "antiqued" finishes. Minimalist, or customized, designs complement modern architecture, as well. Some still prefer to paint the surface white to trick the eye into seeing plaster. For those on a tighter budget, wallpaper with a relief texture glues on the ceiling to imitate tin.

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