Basements and their ceilings are often left unfinished, but they don't have to stay that way. They don't need the polished appearance of your living room, but you don't have to sacrifice function for style. Basement ceilings can be functional and attractive, with inexpensive, readily available materials.

Overcoming Obstacles

Typical issues with basements include pipes, duct work, beams, wires and other fixtures that protrude into the room. You don't have to hide them -- it's fine to disguise them with paint, fabric or plastic.

Paint Everything

Spray everything with flat or matte paint. Rent paint sprayer equipment to speed up the process. Paint sprayers gets into tight spaces you can't reach with a brush. Clean out cobwebs and dust beforehand. Dark colors help to hide obstacles better. Light colors make the room seem larger.

Fabric Ceilings

Heavy-duty fabric is an option when obstacles extend below joists. Use a staple gun to stretch fabric across joists, or allow it to droop for a pillow effect. Roll a dowel around the ends of the fabric to cover the exposed ends. Staple or nail the dowels in place where the ceiling meets the wall. If you're into a utilitarian appearance use a nylon re-enforced poly fabric, stretched and stapled across joists. Big-box stores use this technique all the time.

Soffits and Beams

If you've decided that pipes and ducts have got to go, soffits can hide them. Soffits are basically three-sided boxes placed around items you don't want to see. Make the soffits from plywood after fastening a 3/4-inch fir or pine cleat around the object. Secure the plywood box to the exterior of the cleat sized to fit over the pipes or ducting. You can also create a recessed ceiling when your place the soffits around the perimeter of the room. Attach them parallel to each other across the ceiling for a false-beam effect.

Paneling and Drywall

Thin wood paneling -- typically 1/8-to-1/4-inch thick -- is a common way to cover an exposed ceiling, and it's available in a variety of designs. Fir plywood and hardboard -- it looks like tough cardboard -- or even oriented-strand-board is even more affordable. These cheaper options typically require paint or sealant. Options to paneling include 1/2-inch drywall, which you can purchase with a printed paper finish that looks like wood. You can also use beadboard paneling for a rustic or vintage effect.

The Standard Drop Ceiling

The drop ceiling is one of the most common ceiling options. Sometimes referred to as a suspended ceiling, it consists of a metal grid, hung on joists by a metal frame and wires. Square or rectangular panels attach to the grid. It may be more work -- and cost a bit more than other options -- but nothing finishes a basement like a drop design. Drop ceilings also provide easy access to pipes, wires and ducts because panels are removable.

Cost is dependent on what type of panels you choose. White or light-colored tiles brighten the room by reflecting light that's sometimes missing in basements. Ceiling tiles include acoustic materials, carved wood designs or metal tins embossed with antique or vintage patterns.