How to Choose the Right Ceiling Medallion

White medallion light fixture hanging from ceiling

The Spruce / Sarah Crowley

A ceiling medallion is a decorative detail that's generally round in shape and whose purpose is to add visual interest and draw attention to a hanging light fixture, such as a chandelier. These ornamental features first started to appear in the early decades of the 19th century, mainly in wealthier Victorian-style homes where they were used in large or important gathering rooms, such as a formal living or dining room.

The medallions' appearance and the materials that they were made from varied greatly. Some were plain, simple round disks while others were highly detailed with elaborate carvings inspired by flowers and leaf motifs or classical Italian and Greek designs. The wealthier the homeowners and the grander the estate, the more luxurious the ceiling medallion designs. As for the materials that were used to make them, most were made from papier-mâché. Plaster, plaster of Paris, and wood were also commonly used by the artisans who created them. Unlike the medallions made today, those in the past weren't mass-produced in factories: they were one of a kind pieces and true works of art.

The purpose of ceiling medallions was the same in the 19th century as it remains today; first, they are used for a visual purpose—to accentuate the ceiling's focal point, a hanging light fixture, and to add a decorative element and an air of grandeur to a room. Second, they have always been used for a practical reason as well. Back in the day, one of those was to hide soot and dirt around the light, which isn't necessarily a need today—though hiding an electrical box and wiring still certainly makes sense as a reason now.

If you're thinking about adding a ceiling medallion in your own home, here are some things to consider when choosing what type would best suit your space.

Consider the Style

The first step to choosing the right ceiling medallion is considering the style of your home. A highly ornate Victorian-style medallion is probably not the best choice for an ultra-modern condo with sleek lines and cool materials. Consider the style and architecture of your home, the furniture and decor that you have, and the light fixture that you will be using with the medallion. As you do that, it'll give you clues as to what type of ceiling medallion you should be looking for.

If you live in a more traditional home that has elaborate chair rails and crown moulding, or even historical architectural features, an ornate medallion will complement those elements well and won't look out of place or clash with everything else going on in the room. And, on the other hand, if you live in a more contemporary house and aren't going to be hanging a big crystal chandelier, it's best to use a simpler medallion design. This doesn't mean that it needs to be completely plain, just feature less detail and cleaner lines than a highly traditional medallion does.

Consider the Size

When trying to figure out what size ceiling medallion you need, consider not just the size of the room it's going in but also the light fixture that it will be used with. In simple terms, the larger the size of the room and height of the ceiling, the larger the light fixture that you need, and therefore, the larger the ceiling medallion can be. But, let's get a little more specific.

To determine the ideal diameter of a medallion for your space, you'll need certain dimensions. First, measure the length and the width of the room and multiply those numbers. That will give the square footage. Once you have that number, divide it by seven; that number is the diameter of the ceiling medallion that you need.

This is a good rule of thumb, but besides the size of the room, make sure to measure your light fixture as well. You want the diameter of the medallion to be about the same size as the diameter of the light. If you're working with a particularly large room that has an exceptionally tall ceiling, another option is layering two different sized medallions together to create extra drama and add even more dimension, or use multiple medallions with multiple lights. Talk about a statement!

Generally, medallions that you can purchase are white, and you can certainly leave them that way to match your ceiling for a clean and elegant look. If your ceiling is painted a color, you can keep the medallion white to add another level of contrast or paint it the same color for a more muted and incorporated look. There are so many options you could go with, and if you choose the right ceiling medallion, it'll elevate and refresh your space in a beautiful way.