Apply restaurant design to improve Hawaiian condo's suspended ceiling — SFGate

Apply restaurant design to improve Hawaiian condo's suspended ceiling - SFGate

Apply restaurant design to improve Hawaiian condo’s suspended ceiling

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Q: I have purchased a vacation condo (in Honolulu) that has a suspended ceiling (metal frame with fiberboard inserts). I have learned that above the suspended ceiling is a concrete ceiling along with vertical plasterboard around closets, cabinets, etc. I would like to remove the suspended ceiling and open the space, but there are some pipes hidden by the suspended ceiling that would become visible.

I am wondering if you have any alternatives for dealing with this kind of suspended ceiling (e.g. different kinds of suspended ceilings, removing the suspended ceiling and framing off the pipes while allowing for future access in case of a leak, or just removing the suspended ceiling and opening the space up and leaving the pipes exposed).

Tom La Belle, San Francisco

A: As crazy as it may sound, restaurants can be a real font of inspiration for alternatives to suspended ceilings. As commercial spaces that are generally located within larger buildings, they often face the same issue of how to deal with a welter of ugly overhead pipes. Designers who have dispensed with the effective, but drab, suspended ceiling have turned to a variety of cloaking methods.

One charming solution is to finish narrow fire sprinkler pipes to look like lengths of bamboo. This works well if the ceiling above is painted in greens and browns to mimic a natural setting and further distract the eye from the pipes.

Some restaurant solutions dispense with any attempt to hide overhead plumbing. Their trick: Paint the ceiling and the pipes a dark color. Just as we don’t focus our attention on a restaurant’s ceiling, you and your guests will very probably be drawn to the expansive view of Punchbowl Crater from your condo’s lanai rather than affix their attention on a dark ceiling.

One practical point we don’t know is how far down the pipes hang from the concrete structural ceiling. Obviously, if large plumbing pipes are dangling at various angles through the space, it will be harder to disguise their presence. If the pipes are simply too large and numerous to leave exposed — and the only way to know will be to remove the suspended ceiling and see what the room looks like — you might consider a tropic-themed replacement ceiling mounted on sturdy joists.

Again, turning to restaurant designers for ideas, we’ve all seen narrow-spaced wood planks or batts used to evoke Japanese or Asian design patterns. Other designers have created a low-cost «ceiling» with bands of hung fabric. The main point here is that a suspended ceiling need not be solid to cloak the pipes; once the concrete ceiling and the pipes are painted the same dark color, the eye has little incentive to gaze through an attractive lattice seeking obscure plumbing lines beyond.

Apply restaurant design to improve Hawaiian condo's suspended ceiling - SFGate

Depending on the size, location and number of pipes that will be exposed if you remove your suspended ceiling, you may decide that they need no cloaking beyond being painted the same color as the ceiling. But if you decide that some sort of cover is required, you might find that visiting restaurants in Honolulu (just to look at the space, mind you, not necessarily to dine) might turn up an example that you’d like to mimic in your condo.

You might even want to consult with a designer who specializes in restaurant design for ideas.

As for cost: A coat of paint is the cheapest, while an Asian-style ceiling of narrowly spaced lengths of wood would be rather costly, though undoubtedly beautiful. The good news is there are solutions for just about any budget.

As always when mulling renovations in a condo, start by finding out what modifications are allowed in the covenants and building by-laws. Have a dilemma?

Send a description of your interior design dilemma to or Home&Garden, The San Francisco Chronicle, 901 Mission St. San Francisco, CA 94103. Include your city, daytime phone number and, if possible, photos or a sketch of your floor plan. Selected questions will be answered in this column.

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