Although many people focus on square footage when it comes to designing expansive and stately homes, ceiling height can have a direct effect on how a house looks and feels. High ceilings evoke a feeling of grandeur and hard-to-resist elegance and impart a coveted bright and airy feeling. Newly built homes often feature nine-foot ceilings, but an open entryway and lofts can have ceilings that reach anywhere from 10 to 12 feet.
However, if you live in an older home, you may have inherited ceilings that are eight feet high or less, which are considered low. Historic homes tend to have low ceilings and small rooms to compensate for the lack of insulation material used when they were built, which made it easier for them to retain heat. While homes with low ceilings have the benefit of feeling cozy and intimate, they can also feel cramped and claustrophobic.
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But if you have a home with low ceilings, don't despair. There are many ways to create the optics of height by implementing lengthening decor ideas and paying attention to scale. For instance, a lower ceiling may require furniture that sits closer to the ground. Lighting can be installed to evoke the feeling of height by using wall sconces and table lamps in lieu of dangling overhead fixtures. And don't underestimate the power of paint, wallpaper, and vertically-oriented prints to help create the illusion of higher ceilings. Read on to discover clever and easy-to-implement ways to trick the eye and make the ceiling look higher.
14 Low-Ceiling Design Ideas
1. Purchase low-profile furniture.
You don't need to sacrifice stylish furniture in the name of a low ceiling, but you do want to be mindful of proportions. Select low-slung furniture, and stay away from anything too ornate (which will add visual clutter) to compensate for the absence of headroom. This cozy living room by Jersey Ice Cream Co. uses an abundance of neutrals, wood tones, and low-profile seating to create an approachable and stylish space even when it has a low ceiling.
2. Forgo traditional upper cabinets.
Although upper cabinets can add visual interest — and they pretty much ensure that you'll have plenty of room to stash your seemingly endless amount of kitchen-related gadgets and appliances — when paired with a low ceiling, they can make your culinary space feel cavernous, dark, and small. Forgo upper cabinets in favor of one large bank of cabinetry and then either add open shelves or, as demonstrated in this Scandi-inspired kitchen, leave the walls bare and paint them white to maximize the open feeling.
3. Or extend cabinets to the ceiling.
If the thought of eliminating kitchen storage makes you want to run for the hills, consider upper cabinets that go all the way up to the ceiling. This little trick will add the illusion of height by extending the vertical sight line. Here, a spatially challenged cook space has an abundance of storage and manages to keep the look bright and expansive thanks to an all-white palette and high-reaching upper cabinets.
4. Use architecture to your advantage.
Don't overlook opportunities to add the feeling of height by making architectural features work in your favor. In this bohemian living room by Jessica Helgerson, a tapered fireplace flanked by a pair of recessed niches that narrow to a point, all draw the eye upward and distract from the low ceiling. An earthy color palette and textured materials give the space a welcoming and cozy feeling.
5. Turn the ceiling into the focal point.
The ceiling, sometimes referred to as the fifth wall, is an oft-overlooked opportunity to infuse a room with color, pattern, and interest — especially in rooms where height is an issue. Capitalize on the situation and make the best of it à la this cheery bathroom by Raili CA Design. The team applied a statement-making floral wallpaper behind a pair of vanity mirrors and carried it onto the ceiling, turning it into the focal point. Vertically applied shiplap accentuates the elongated feeling and adds even more charm.
6. Keep things tidy.
A clutter-free home has many health benefits — reduced stress, increased productivity, and better sleep, to name a few — and it also has aesthetic perks. Too much stuff can make a room feel cramped and congested, especially when a low ceiling is involved. In addition to being tidy, this pared-down living room expands the space even more with the help of a glass-topped coffee table, a rug in the same color family as the floor, and crisp white paint on the walls and ceiling.
7. Add floor-to-ceiling shelving.
Bookcases or shelving that extend to the ceiling can help emphasize the height of a room. For instance, in this cozy setup, the built-in shelves help to draw the eye up and lengthen the room. Plus, the bookcases are tall and skinny, which also helps to trick the eye and add height.
8. Say "yes" to glossy paint finishes.
Reflective surfaces including metal finishes, mirrors, and tiles allow both artificial and natural light to bounce around, creating the illusion of depth. As seen in this sunroom by Jean Stoffer, a high-gloss paint finish can have the same effect. And while using a dark color might seem counterintuitive when it comes to interiors with low ceilings, an ebony hue can actually trick the eye into seeing a "void," making it feel like the walls are receding. The glossy surface coupled with the large windows give this elegant space a feeling of openness.
9. Make vertical stripes your friend.
When working with low ceilings, focus on creating the illusion of height with vertically oriented details. For example, this high-contrast bedroom by Sam Allen makes good use of black and white stripes painted on the walls (wallpaper would also work). The designer doubled down on the look with a headboard upholstered in a coordinating fabric so as to not break up the flow of the lines.
"One trick we use for low ceilings is to outfit the space with vertical lines. This applies to the walls, where wallpaper with vertical stripes or patterns works well. Also tall, thinner plants give the illusion of higher ceilings. And finally, in a bedroom, a four poster bed with thin posts can be a great way to open up the space," says Lance Thomas, owner of Thomas Guy Interiors.
10. Install flush mount ceiling lights.
If you have a low ceiling, don't waste precious inches with light fixtures that suspend or hang low. They'll not only give the appearance of a lower ceiling, but also, you run the risk of bumping into them. Instead, consider table lamps, wall sconces, and flush mount ceiling fixtures. Heidi Caillier installed an ornate flush mount in this timeless living room, which adds a welcome dose of glamour and sculptural appeal despite its small size.
"When designing a room with a low ceiling, choose shorter height light fixtures. As a reference, chandeliers should be placed 30-34 inches above the dining table for an 8-foot ceiling height and 32-38 inches for a 9-foot ceiling. When hanging a fixture in the bedroom, the same rule applies," says Shoshanna Shapiro, owner and principal designer of Sho and Co. "Ceiling height will dictate the size of the light [fixtures] you can select. Your fixture in the bedroom should not hang directly over the bed if you can help it but rather be centered with the overall room. Make sure the bottom of the fixture is at least 80-84 inches high so people can walk comfortably underneath."
11. Opt for something oversize.
Alternatively, lean into a low ceiling with an oversize pendant that will infuse drama and serve as a conversation piece. Leanne Ford demonstrates how you can indeed go big with your lighting idea, even in a room with lower-than-average ceilings, when you stick to a neutral color scheme and install a fixture that has some transparency and blends seamlessly into the background.
12. Hang curtains high.
Give the perception of higher ceilings by installing drapery and curtains as close to the ceiling as possible. Certain types of hardware, like a track, can actually be hung from the ceiling to create a lofty feeling. This elegant living room showcases French return curtain rods, which allow the fabric to fold beautifully against the wall, resulting in height-enhancing vertical pleats.
13. Get creative with paint.
When dealing with rooms that have low ceilings, use paint to your advantage by applying it in creative ways. Raili CA Design did just that to achieve the appearance of height in this playful bedroom by using a broad swath of sky blue paint with white walls. She continued the color blocked accent wall onto the ceiling, which successfully draws the eye up. The series of colorful swim fins hung above the bed imparts a youthful coastal vibe.
14. Consider wall treatments.
Wall treatments — including board and batten, shiplap, and V-groove paneling — don't take up much visual real estate which makes them the perfect way to add dimension and character to any room that's short on square footage and height. Like paint, they can be applied in various ways and, when vertically oriented, they have the ability to create a lengthening effect. This farmhouse living room by Graystone Custom Builds showcases shiplap-clad walls, crisp white paint, and evenly spaced ceiling beams which amplifies the illusion of depth.