WALL COVERINGS are plentiful and varied. But when it comes to ceilings, the choices are few: new drywall, fake stucco, a plaster job, a new coat of paint.

Metal ceilings were developed in the mid- 1800s and were used to cover up hopelessly damaged plaster ceilings. They were a logical extension of the decorative gesso-mold ceiling decorations seen in elegant European homes, but they were more practical to install.

The Victorians used tin ceilings extensively for both commercial establishments (supermarkets, drugstores, warehouses) and kitchens. The paper reproduction pattern seen here mimics one of the designs popular at the turn of the century.

The Art Deco period -- the 1920s and 1930s -- saw the next revival of pressed-metal patterned ceilings used in restaurants and shops.

Tin ceiling tiles are still available but are more difficult for the untutored to install than the paper imitations. For those today who want an old-fashioned look but don't want heavy metal, Schumacher has produced a series of reproduction, high-relief papers. The Waverly line, imported from England and available locally at many wall-cover stores, includes several different patterns, both large and small, that simulate the embossed leather patterns once used on walls and the Victorian tin ceilings. The papers can be used plain (they come only in white) or they can be painted. They work well on clean, new ceilings or can be used to cover over one of those stucco-look ceilings or one with lots of chipped paint. CAPTION: Picture, BEFORE THE PRICE of metals soared, roofs and ceilings on country farmhouses and cabins were often made of tin. Today, the country look is more easily and less expensively achieved. The naow rolls of simulated tin ceiling cost about $15 each.By John McDonnell