Last fall, I was asked to repair a water-damaged ceiling in an old Victorian home. Rather than reinstalling a flat ceiling, similar to the existing one, the homeowner wondered if it was possible to do something more interesting. After a few discussions, we decided to investigate upgrading to a tray ceiling with a tin veneer—a finish more in keeping with the home’s Victorian style.

The homeowner opted for tin ceiling panels with an artisan silver washed white finish by American Tin (shown above). Tin crown and flat, picture-frame molding by American Tin were also installed.

The water damage was the result of ice damming and was confined to the kitchen under the roof-to-wall juncture at an 8-foot-wide one-story bump-out addition (above left). Working with a friend, Karl Lukhaup, I began by isolating the affected 8-foot-wide area of the kitchen with plastic, removing debris through a kitchen window. We demoed the ceiling down to the framing and began to envision the layout of the tray (above right).

Tray Ceiling Layout

The home’s kitchen had been remodeled many times during its 150-year lifespan. The result was a collision of design elements of varying vintages, which we had to contend with; these included multiple ceiling planes, wall cabinets, crown-molding detailing, window trim, and a large island countertop located in close proximity to our planned tray.

Length, depth, and width. Ultimately, we related the length of the new tray’s framed opening to the island unit, extending it 16 inches beyond either end to roughly 11 feet long. We framed its depth to the underside of the roof’s collar ties, which conveniently worked out to be 12 inches and matched a ceiling plane in the kitchen area beyond. We were somewhat limited on the tray’s width. We made the opening 3 feet wide and centered it over the kitchen “galley” below; a tangential goal was to supply generous task lighting to this work area. In addition to framing this opening, we extended some of the wall cabinets to the ceiling to help unify the existing detailing and trim work (above).

With the tray framed in, we repaired the roof area above, flashing the questionable roof-to-wall juncture to prevent leaking from recurring. The wiring was roughed-in and the insulation subcontractor blew in cellulose from below. To hold the blown-in insulation in the cramped “attic” above the tray, the insulation sub attached netting to the underside of the frame (above left).

Nailable substrate. We installed 1/2-inch plywood on the top and sides of the tray to provide a nailable substrate for attaching the tin panels, then drywalled and taped off the ceiling (above right). We later painted with latex paint for our vapor barrier and then installed the tin panel finish.

Ceiling Panels (and Tools)

The tin veneer for this ceiling came in 2-foot-square panels with a ¼-inch-wide nail flange around the perimeter. The nail flanges have raised embossed “rails” and “dimples,” which help align and interlock the panels during installation. For the panel’s style, we chose a more subdued repeating pattern within a 6-inch-square grid. The lightly embossed gridwork pattern was more like wallpaper and helped to de-emphasize the tray’s non-modular opening while also allowing for greater flexibility for locating new task lighting later on.

Basic tools. The tin panels are cut from the back; in this case, shiny side up. The basic tools for cutting tin include straight tin snips, a framing square, and a felt pen (above).

Additional tools needed were right- and left-cut aviation tin snips, a hammer, and a drill with a 2-1/8-inch hole-saw bit (used to cut holes for the lighting after the panel installation was complete). Here, straight snips are used to trim the nailing flange off a half-sheet of tin for the vertical perimeter of the tray ceiling (above left) and left-cut tin snips to cut tin crown molding (above right). Having a few band aids on hand is also a good idea; cuts from burrs on trimmed metal can be an issue handling the tin.