|Pressed metal ceiling in the lounge, Brain Watkins House|
Image courtesy of Shirley Arabin
Historically, tin ceilings were introduced to North America as an affordable alternative to the plasterwork in European homes. They gained popularity in the late 1800s as Americans sought sophisticated interior design. Durable, lightweight and fireproof, tin ceilings were appealing to home and business owners alike as a functionally attractive design element that was readily available. As the century progressed and settlers in both New Zealand and Australia began to afford to build houses that were not just utilitarian in design the popularity of the tin ceiling grew.
The lounge at Brain Watkins House is part of the rear extensions that is estimated to have been built c1900 and Joseph Brain installed the tin ceiling and the chandelier hanging from the centreflower as it was called.
It was between 1839 and 1901 that thin rolled tin-plate was being mass-produced. Sheets of tin were stamped one at a time using rope drop hammers and cast iron molds. Using this method of production, metal was sandwiched between two interlocking tools. The top tool, or "ram," was lifted up by a rope or chain, then dropped down onto the bottom die, smashing into the metal that was underneath and permanently embedding intricate patterns into the tin. Tin ceilings were traditionally painted white to give the appearance of hand-carved or molded plaster. They were incorporated into residential living rooms and parlors as well as commercial businesses, where painted tin was often used as wainscoting.
Tin ceilings are not actually tin. They are steel coated with tin, much like a tin can. It can look like plaster without the weight. Besides being vermin proof they were also easy to clean when ash and smoke from open fires settled on the ceiling. In some houses the bathroom walls had tin panels. The ceilings were often painted in distemper or Kalsomine, a brand name. It could be tinted in pastel shades so it was possible to pick out the pattern with paint.
Evans, I. The Federation House Flannel Flower Press. Mullimbimby NSW 1986.
Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tin_ceiling [15 Aug 2015]