A garden mural in Pompeii was the inspiration for this architecturally challenging barrel vault and groin ceiling in the private residence of Winnie and Edwin Sy. Ali Kay chose a distinct warm gold color palette for this ceiling that was recognized as Best Wall Treatment by the Texas Gulf Coast ASID.

CHATTANOOGA. We’ve noticed a delightful trend that has everyone in the design world looking up. Custom ceilings have architects and interior designers tapping into their imaginations.

Entries and staircases capped with classic domes, coffered grids, barrel vault ceilings, and even plain, flat ceilings are the new focal points in many homes.

Bringing color to a ceiling has been trending for a decade, but designers are hiring fine art painters to take that idea to new dimensions.

Artist Ali Kay often travels with scaffolding to reach her canvas, bringing her degree in fine art to create custom wall and ceiling murals for her clients. The artist gives each room its ‘atmosphere.’

“My work brings a new energy to new construction or renews historic properties,” said Ali, whose studio is aptly called Positive Space. She works with both commercial and residential clients.

Ali’s fine art interior murals have frequently been recognized by the Texas Gulf Coast American Society of Interior Designers. She now lives in Tennessee and has her art studio at Chattanooga Work Space. She holds a degree in Fine Art from the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee.

Large scale tulip mural by Ali Kay takes this guest bathroom from charming to stunning.

Ali is skilled at trompe l’oeil, the artist technique of visual illusion. In French, the approach literally means ‘deceives the eye.’

Several of the ceilings and murals Ali has painted have the viewer remarking that the flat canvas becomes remarkably three-dimensional.

Trompe l’oeil is one of the most ancient painterly approaches, dating back to Greek and Roman times. It flourished later during the Baroque period of Europe and the Near East and is experiencing a modern day revival.

The process of creating a mural is done thoughtfully to avoid being intrusive to her clients. She visits the space for inspiration and measurements, but often completes the fine art painting on large canvas fabric in her art studio. She ships the final work to clients in Houston, Atlanta, or anywhere in the US, and directs professional art installation teams. This process ensures her client has minimum disruption in their home.

Of course many clients struggle with a vision for their space, but recognize their architecture needs some embellishment. Ali Kay can walk into the space and make suggestions, sharing her strong portfolio of solutions to transform the atmosphere of any grand public entry or private suite. “I do not have a narrow niche of design expertise, so I can offer wide ranging styles that best fit the homeowner’s idea of beauty, whether that is a theme from nature, or architecture.”

Vintage appeal by Ali Kay


Ali Kay, Positive Space: Decorative Painting Studio

residential | commercial
Member, International Decorative Artisans League

Peter Kim, Anything But Plain: Decorative Painting and Plasters
Houston, Texas

Chattanooga Work Space
Offers Open Studio nights the first Friday of each month, creative workshops, and an annual design industry expo in July so interior designers can meet with local artists.

Close-up of the barrel vault ceiling, recognized as Best Wall Treatment by the Texas Gulf Coast ASID.


Dome painting with a subtle color and classical motif brings attention to the stunning architecture of this Houston home.

Dining room ceiling by Ali Kay


In addition to ceilings, Ali Kay has completed many award winning wall murals such as this background for a grand piano in the home of Gary and Jan Smith. This project received honorable mention by the Texas Gulf Coast ASID for Best Wall Treatment.

This 30-foot high rotunda dome has four ‘real’ windows, though Ali Kay’s trompe l’oeil technique gives the intricate moldings and other windows the same sense of dimension. She had to build a large platform to complete this grand entrance project at the home of designer Tania Shaheen in Houston. The project earned honorable mention from Texas Gulf Coast ASID for Best Architectural Element.

Detail of the rotunda dome featuring Ali Kay’s trompe l’oeil technique.

Though this ceiling is trompe l’oeil and not actually fabric, it certainly evokes the details of folds and shadows. This effect is a result of a carefully made model that Ali Kay created from actual fabric and photographed to gain this level of authenticity or realism. The project received Best Use of Textiles by the Texas Gulf Coast ASID.  The project was completed as a collaboration with Anything But Plain decorative painting and interior designer Beth Lindsey.