If you’re inside a building right now and look up, chances are pretty good that you’re staring at either plaster or at mineral fiber panels. However, if the building is very old or very new, there’s a chance that what you’re looking at is a metal ceiling, one composed either of metal panels or else of metal strips that form a fascinating three-dimensional wave or slope.
Metal ceilings add beauty and character to a room and have been doing so since the 1800s. Though these ceiling plates look expensive and ornate, they actually originated as an alternative to plasterwork panels that were time-consuming and heavy.
Here is a quick look at the history of metal tile ceilings:
Metal ceilings originated in early 19th century Europe. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, ceilings were constructed of elaborate plasterwork which was heavy, cumbersome, difficult to install, and typically only something the wealthy could afford. Things changed after the Industrial Revolution took over Europe. The Bessemer Method was invented, which made turning iron into steel possible, allowing manufacturers to create lightweight ceilings that were customizable and easy to install. Originally, they were called “steel ceilings” because they were large 2×4 panels of steel that were stamped with an embossing plate.
In addition, metal tiles were durable and manufacturers could offer them in hundreds of different styles, so both supply and demand boomed over the next five decades. Unfortunately, World War II ended up shutting down the metal ceiling industry, and for one simple reason: every spare bit of steel was needed for the war effort. Afterward, everyone got caught up with cheap suburban housing and no one gave metal ceilings a second thought.
Metal Tile Ceilings Move to America
The novelty of tin ceilings took off right around the 1880s, and manufacturers created ceilings in hundreds of different patterns and designs. They took a bit longer to catch on in America but by the first few years of the 1900s there we 45 manufactures in the United States, mostly located in the country’s industrial hubs like Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York.
The Benefits of Tin Ceilings
The allure of tin ceilings came not only from their beauty but from their cost-effectiveness as well. The advent of metal ceilings and the way they could be imprinted with designs meant that consumers could have a customized ceiling at an affordable price. It was also soon discovered that metal ceilings offered more durability and even some fire protection. Fire protection was an important concern back then, as everything from lighting to heating involved an open flame. Eventually, manufacturers realized that “steel ceilings” could be plated with a layer of tin to help resist corrosion. This was where the term tin ceiling began.
Metal Tile Ceilings Making a Comeback
The tin ceiling craze began to dwindle after the 1920s, so if you own a home with an original tin ceiling, you are very lucky. Metal ceilings seem to be making a comeback lately as Americans are once again realizing they can have customized beauty for an affordable price. What better way to decorate your fifth wall?
Recently, a surge of interest in interior design has led to more and more homes branching out beyond the suburban standards of pastel shades and boring wallpaper. At the same time, more and more people are beginning to realize that home improvement doesn’t have to end with the walls.
Despite the downturn in customers, many metal ceiling manufacturers who got their start in the 19th century are still around to this day, and they still have the forms they used to stamp out tiles a hundred years ago. These days, you can get ceiling tiles in dozens to hundreds of different styles ranging from Classical to Victorian to modern. The range of colors and metal finishes you can choose from is just as vast – they go far beyond the simple tin plating the industry started with.
Metal ceilings are useful, both practically and decoratively. While they were taken out of the game for a while thanks to war and to getting lost in the shuffle afterward, they’re back now, and they’re showing everyone why they deserve to regain their lost popularity.