Are High Ceilings Better than Low Ceilings?

Dee's Loft by AJ Photography: My Live Work StudioHigh ceilings bring about a sense of grandeur.  Ballrooms, theaters, arenas, cathedrals, and castles all come to mind.  These are all public spaces but how do high ceilings feel in a residential setting?  How do you feel in a home with a tall ceiling?  Are you impressed?  Do you feel cold?

Many people rave about high ceilings, thinking that they are always better than low ceilings.   Loft spaces with 12′ ceilings and higher may look cool and expansive, but from a design perspective, it’s not easy to work with.  As in all design, it just depends on the situation.  Often people ask for my advice and get upset when I say, “it depends.”  But, truly it does depend on the so many different variables.

In general, us Asians are short in height.  It’s no wonder that standard ceilings in Asia are lower than ceilings in the West.  So low, that often, tall foreigners bump their heads on the hanging pendants in the middle of the room.

In the U.S. the standard ceiling height is eight feet high.  So, is nine, ten, eleven or even twelve feet better?  Does a higher ceiling make the space feel bigger, therefore, better?

The other day, I was in my client’s living room, with a ten foot high ceiling, much higher than the standard eight.  Although still under construction,  it’s taking form.  The ceiling molding has a geometric pattern of rectangular beams that accentuate the fan and chandelier.  It’ really beautiful.  Around the perimeter of the room, a cove, hiding a cord of lights,  emits a wonderful glow reflected on the ceiling.  This creates a really warm ambiance.  As I stood in the center of the room,  I just let myself “feel” the space.   It felt good.   The chi is not overpowering, very welcoming, gentle, and calming:  good chi.

This isn’t always the case for large rooms with high ceilings. If not done right, high ceilings can make a room feel cold and hollow.  There are many variables that can affect this feeling including size of the floor space, lighting, material, and color.   If the proportion to ceiling and area of floor has the right balance, it will feel good.  If the balance is off, you won’t feel comfortable.

bathroom high ceiling

What happens when you have a small area with a high ceiling?  Just imagine a bathroom with a small footprint, no windows, and a very high ceiling.   It would feel as if you were at the bottom of a pit or in a well.  To make a room feel good and comfortable, you can see why proportion of floor size to ceiling is very important.

In feng shui, this a form issue.  The form of this bathroom, is a tall cuboid.  Even with no design knowledge, instinct tells us that standing inside such a narrow shape isn’t too comforting.   There is a lot of open space above.  If your home has high ceilings everywhere, that doesn’t mean your powder room will need a high ceiling too.  It’s okay to lower the ceilings in some rooms.  Yes, it’s possible to make a faux ceiling.  In fact, it’ll make you feel better.  That’s why it’s important to assess each room as a form.

Sometimes, a small room may have a large window that has expansive views.  In such situations, we have a “borrowed view” that extends beyond the room.  High ceiling here can be a welcome in this case.   Just like in the bathroom with all the glass windows.  This room feels like you are bathing outside. This is to show you that every space is unique.   And each scenario will have a different effect.   That’s why I always say, “it depends.”  When in doubt,  stand in the center of the room and check your feelings.  Let your intuition guide you.

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