When I was a kid, my cousins lived in an old colonial house in Connecticut. On a visit, one of them told me the ceilings of the house were made out of canvas. I didn't believe him. He grabbed a broomstick and pushed the tip against the ceiling. It moved upwards, like fabric. Then my uncle walked in and yelled at him (apparently canvas ceilings are very expensive to fix).
Fabric ceilings have evolved a lot since colonial days, gaining both illuminating functionality and greater aesthetic options. One of the leaders in the space is a UK-based company with a distinct competitive advantage: Like Xerox and Kleenex, the company's name is what laypeople refer to the entire product category as, Stretch Ceilings.
The company, which primarily targets commercial clients, sells systems that can incorporate lighting and graphics. They produce a variety of extruded plastic or aluminum tracks that are installed around the perimeter of a wall or otherwise suspended below the existing ceiling, and a lightweight PVC fabric is attached to the track.
The resultant stretched ceilings can then be dotted with canister lighting, as seen in this residential application…
…but the larger opportunity is to use the ceiling itself as a light fixture. Since the PVC fabric can be produced as thin as 0.2mm--offering light transmission around 75%--the entire ceiling surface can be made into a massive lightbox.
Alternatively, designers can get creative with the shapes of the lighting.
The fabric can also be printed upon.
With a more complicated supporting structure, the fabric can also be curved, albeit with limitations.
Lastly, the fabric serves as a vapor barrier, making it an ideal ceiling surface for spaces subject to humidity.
You can check out more applications for stretch ceilings here.