Ceilings – A new perspective

Just a few years ago the conversation between fit-out specialist, designer, end-user and client about ceilings would have been a short one, particularly in the commercial office sector. It wasn’t quite the Henry Ford line of ‘You can have whatever colour you want – as long as its black’ but it wouldn’t have been far off.

Ceilings were suspended and white. Maybe off-white. Tiles could be slightly bigger or slightly smaller whichever you preferred and there was a choice of manufacturing material. Mineral fibre or occasionally fibreglass. In short there wasn’t much choice. Nobody really considered the ceiling in the design. It was there to cover the slab soffit, untidily fixed and unsightly services and maybe absorb a bit of sound.

It’s all different now. Thanks to energy efficiency and the trend for open soffit ceilings as well as the study of the effects of acoustics and lighting on comfort and productivity, the possibilities for ceiling design is limitless – almost.

What is sure though is that clients, designers, acousticians and illumination engineers have taken on this brave new world and run with it. They have woken up to the myriad of finishes and colours, materials and contrasts that are available and applied them across all solutions including tiles, baffles, panels, cooling and lighting systems. This has encouraged manufacturers to produce a wider range of solutions in stock and as well as attractive, top of the range bespoke designs.

There are some great examples of ceiling systems that fully utilise the flexibility of materials available and quality of design excellence to which some clients are prepared to stretch. It went beyond the limit of what we thought was possible and pushed ceiling design and installation on to the next level.

Educated clients rightly expect the very best and are prepared to invest time and money into the design are few and far between – but that’s not to say those on tighter budgets shouldn’t expect similarly architecturally striking designs. There are plenty of products by various manufacturers that can deliver them and seemingly everyone is better educated about ceiling systems and what can be achieved now.

Different sectors will want different solutions and the key is to be flexible enough to be able to deliver those solutions, sometimes within the same office and part of the same contract. Firms working in traditionally staid industries such as law for example might recognise that it needs the chic, trendy clear soffit ‘industrial’ look for its main staff floors to attract younger workers who expect that working environment.

But in its client areas and meeting rooms the old, traditional look of wood and panelling is still expected. Their clients find it comforting. The delivery of a mixed scheme like that means that ceiling systems bought off the shelf may have to be mixed and matched to suit each client. It means manufacturers must be able to cope with a wider offering than they have at any time in the past, a challenge they have met ably so far.

For contractors and fit-out companies the supply chain needs to be flexible enough in what it can offer. Delivering that flexibility is key for all.