Dealing with High Ceilings in Small Spaces

High Ceiling Small Space
A high ceiling in a small space can look awkward, but there is a ways to limit the "visual height".

High Ceilings in small spaces can be disconcerting. High ceilings in most rooms of a house rooms are great. But high ceilings in small spaces can create the dreaded “elevator shaft” effect. That’s what you can end up with in small rooms with high ceilings. 

In high-end houses, ten-foot high ceilings, and above, have gotten to be standard. High ceilings make rooms feel larger and more spacious. But in small rooms, such as a powder room, a room that might only be 6’x6’, a ten-foot ceiling or higher can make you look for the elevator “down button.” Did you know you can use mouldings and colors on a wall to make tall spaces appear more human sized? I recently received this question from a reader:

Question about High Ceilings in Small Spaces:

“We have a powder room with ceiling 12 feet high. What suggestions do you have so it doesn’t look like tunnel?”

My Answer: 

“Good question. You could use a trick people used in old houses with high ceilings in small spaces to make the room be more appropriately proportioned for people. These old houses, especially southern houses, had high ceilings to let the summer heat rise and make the rooms more comfortable. But often, the very high ceiling would make the room be too tall and “out of scale” for people.

But they devised a clever solution to the problem. What they did to limit the “visual height” was to place a piece of crown moulding with a small shelf on top, kind of plate rail arrangement, at the desired visual height of the room. The wall below this “cornice” was painted the wall color or wallpapered. They painted the wall above the cornice the ceiling color. There was no moulding placed where the wall eventually met the ceiling. This little trick would make your eye “stop” at the cornice and the uppermost portion of the wall would visually blend in with the ceiling thereby causing the viewer to perceive the room to be at a lower height than it actually was.”

Try this at Home

If you have an “elevator shaft” room with a high ceiling in a small space, in your house, you might want to try this tip to see if you can bring that elevator down a few feet into a more visually comfortable position.

I hope this information is helpful to you. You might want to get yourself a copy of my best-seller, Designing Your Perfect House. It is chockfull of valuable tips and advice that will save you many times the cost of the book on your house building or remodeling project. You might also like The Well-Centered Home: Simple Steps to Increase Mindfulness, Self-Awareness, and Happiness Where You Live. It will show you how to make your home a happy place.

Bill Hirsch | Architect

Bill Hirsch

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