Recently, I had the opportunity to bend the ears of two professional drywall installers. Our conversation included a discussion about the pitfalls of removing popcorn ceilings, either by a DIYer or a pro. For the sake of this post, I'm not going to go into the whole asbestos discussion. Nope, for this post we're going to talk about paint, because if your popcorn ceilings are painted--according to the pros--you will not be able to remove them. Basically, if it's still the original plaster, it'll come off; if it's been painted, it's pretty much a done deal.
So how do you handle a painted popcorn ceiling? According to these two guys the thing to do would be to scrape/sand it down a bit and then re-texture it to something more pleasing, because getting it totally smooth would be next to impossible--even for them. They also told stories of clients actually replacing the painted, pop-corned drywall to get the smooth look they desired. Both options made me think people who dislike the lumpy texture might want to learn how to love--or at least not hate--their popcorn ceilings.
So how do you learn to not hate a popcorn ceiling? First is to address your lighting. Flush ceiling lights cast light straight out and over that popcorn and create tremendous shadows making the lumps look even more lumpy. A better option is to switch to more directional alternatives. Namely, fixtures that point down instead of out.
(Both of the next two images came from blogs owned by people who hate their popcorn.)
This next one happens to be my hallway, but as you can see, the popcorn is considerably less in-your-face with my directional light fixture versus the flush mounts in the previous up-close pics.
The metal shades (compared to the 'better' picture above) also help keep the light from bouncing off the ceiling.
If you can't or don't want to change out your light fixtures, consider using bulbs that cast softer light or, when appropriate, try using silver bottomed bulbs, which work particularly well for keeping light from casting up/out. Experiment with them in things such as wall sconces and even table lamps, if you really want to tone down the up light effect.
Another thing that will tone down a painted popcorn ceiling is actually more paint. Nothing draws the eye up more than dirt and stains on a ceiling. A cobweb brush and fresh coat of paint will take there of those. (Of course, you'll want to address the cause of the original stain too.)
We've talked about drawing the eye up; now let's talk about drawing the eye down and away from the popcorn. Adding color or other eye catching elements to your decor will do just that. The owners of this next room actually chose to keep their glitter popcorn ceiling when remodeling their home.
There is, of course, an absolutely 100% effective way to learn to not hate your popcorn ceilings. Stop looking at them! Seriously though, can you picture the ceilings in all your friends and family member's homes? I know my in-laws have smooth ceilings. One of my sisters has popcorn, but I only know that because we talked about them on the phone the other day and she mentioned it. The rest, I have no idea. The point is, most people probably won't notice what your ceilings look like unless they're dirty or stained. More important are those things that should command attention like your furniture and accessories.