Hi, guys, Mandi from Making Nice in the Midwest here! Recently I was really impacted by this Don Draper quote that came across my Pinterest feed: “Make it simple, but significant.” Lately I’ve been attempting to live out this mindset in how I decorate our home, and seeing that quote was a powerful way of putting what I’ve been feeling into words. I think having less things can be challenging for certain people (like myself), but really cutting back and focusing on the impact of simple and beautiful things can make a home environment more enjoyable to live in.
We’ve been updating our little mid century ranch little by little, and most recently purchased a beautiful vintage-inspired light. Before installing it, I thought we had a great opportunity for a simple but significant decorative element on the ceiling. Making our own custom ceiling medallion was an easy way to add character to our living room and infuse our home with more of our style and personality—but in a simple way. I borrowed my dad’s jig saw for the task, and even though I was intimidated to use this tool for the first time, I was really surprised at how easy this whole project ended up being! I’m pretty proud of this little ceiling medallion, and love how it balanced out our large globe light, really giving the entire seating area a great presence in the space. Check out my instructions below to learn how to make your own starburst ceiling medallion with a piece of plywood.
-one 30″ square piece of .5″ baltic birch plywood (I recommend baltic birch because it has strong layers and more layers than other types of plywood, which help prevent warping and are less likely to chip. You do not need a table saw—you can find a smaller piece of lumber and have it cut to size at the lumberyard.)
-power drill + standard drill bits for installing your light kit
-spade drill bit or circular drill bit for cutting a hole in the medallion
-T-square (You can also use a long yardstick, though a T-square will make drawing straight lines quicker and easier.)
-sandpaper (around 180 grit is fine for this project)
-primer and your ceiling paint or a flat white spray paint
-optional: wood glue
Step Two: Using a ruler, find the center point between the middle line and corner of the square (this would be dividing the edge equally into four parts), and mark the point with your pencil—all the way around the perimeter of the square. Then connect each line with the one drawn diagonally from it, as shown in the image below. Use the T-square or yardstick to connect the dots.
Step Three: Once you have connected all of the marks drawn in step two, once again find the center point between each of those lines, and connect those marks to the ones diagonally from them. This will give you a lot of lines, as shown in the image below.
Step Four: After you have completed all three rounds of marking points and connecting them, you can draw the starburst design. To do this, measure out 13″ from the center point and mark those points on every other line, beginning on the middle lines (not the diagonal ones) that you drew in step one. On the lines between the ones marked at 13″, you will measure out 11″ from the center point and mark those points. Then, you will connect all of those marks you just drew with a straight edge or ruler, except the middle lines that you first drew in step one (not the diagonal ones), which you will connect all the way to the edge of the board, measuring out 15″ from the center point. This will give you the four long points of the starburst pattern. Refer to the image below if I’ve just managed to confuse you with my directions!
Step Five: Use the jig saw to cut out the starburst shape. In order to use the jig saw, you will need to rest your board on the edge of a work surface, and cut the part of the board that is hanging over the edge while you firmly hold the other side of the board in place on the table with your other hand. I can tell you that my wimpy arms were actually sore the next day from firmly holding the board with my left hand while my stabilizer muscles on my right arm kept the jig saw carefully moving along the lines I had drawn. You will need to come into each line from the outside of the board, getting started along a path that will take your blade in the same direction as the lines are drawn. After you cut one line, pull out the saw and begin to cut the next line from the outside of the board into the corner where two lines meet. Be careful not to cut further into the corners than you need to go, or else you will need to fill in the overcut marks with wood filler, as I ended up needing to do. Annoying—and unnecessary if you’re careful!
If you’re intimidated working with a jig saw, cut that out! (Too good of a pun to ignore—sorry!) I like to think of a jig saw as a louder, more invigorating version of an X-Acto blade. Just wear safety glasses, a mask over your mouth and nose, and protective covering on your feet for when the wood falls down as you cut. Working with a jig saw isn’t difficult; it just requires two arms and a steady hand. Don’t drink too much coffee beforehand!
Step Six: Now that the shape has been cut out, you just need to cut a hole in the middle of the medallion for your electrical wires to go through. I did this using a spade drill bit with my medallion resting on top of the scrap pieces of wood that I cut away in step five. Just make sure you either have scrap wood under the hole you are cutting, or else that there is nothing below there for quite a few inches. You may be surprised at how far the drill falls down after the hole is cut because of the pressure you need to cut the hole. A trick to avoid splintering is to start drilling the hole from one side of the board and then flip the board over and drill from the other side once the tip of the spade drill bit begins to peek through.
Step Seven: Sand the edges of the wood where you cut, and wipe away any dust with a damp cloth. A rotary power sander makes this step really easy, or you can just use your hands and some sandpaper.
Step Eight: Prime and paint the medallion. I sprayed three heavy coats of primer and then lightly sanded it down with 320 grit sandpaper after it had set up for a few hours. This gave me a nice smooth finish for my last two coats of flat finish white spray paint. I used flat paint because it reflects less light, therefore hiding little imperfections on the surface of the ceiling medallion.
While I am comfortable with using power tools, I am not yet comfortable with wiring the lighting in our home. So my dad kindly lent his expert hand at taking down our old light fixture so I could attach the medallion to the ceiling in preparation for him to install the new fixture. You can use a strong construction adhesive to attach the ceiling medallion (duct taping the cured medallion to the ceiling while the adhesive dries), or you may choose to screw it into the wire box that’s already in place in your ceiling. A benefit of screwing the board into place is that you can easily take it down without needing to repair the ceiling, but if you attach it with adhesive instead, you are able to get a perfectly flush mount, which can then be sealed around the edges with caulking. The choice is yours! But regardless of how you attach it, the birch plywood material of the ceiling medallion allows you to easily attach your lighting hardware by screwing it into place.
If any of you are curious about our new light fixture, I waited to get the light installed before I bought a bulb for it, because I wanted to see how dramatically the amber coloring of the globe would affect the color of the light from the bulb. Turns out, it’s pretty dramatic, so I did a little hunting to find the perfect bulb for this light. I wanted a larger G40 style light which would look like a globe light inside of this large amber globe light, and also the larger frosted style of the G40 bulb would give off a gentler light than the small standard bulb you see inside of the fixture now. But finding a large G40 style compact fluorescent bulb proved to be difficult, especially since I was also looking for a lesser common cool color to balance out the warm tone of the light fixture. I ended up finally finding a G40 cfl bulb in a cool 5100K temperature online, and ordered one, hoping it will give us the perfect light for our space. We’ll see! But for now I’m just so happy to have such a special looking medallion and globe light installed in our dining room. Things are starting to really come together! –Mandi
Credits // Author and Photography: Mandi Johnson