The key to integrating a ceiling into a room's overall design is understanding the space, Nashville, Tenn., interior designer Beth Haley says.
"When designing spaces, think of the entire room three-dimensionally. If left untreated or ignored, then the emphasis will be on the ceiling," she says. "It will become the big white elephant. The ceiling should be the icing on the cake."
Bring It Down to Your Level
Homebuyers love high ceilings for the sense of space and openness they lend to rooms, but one problem is how vaulted and cathedral ceilings seem to swallow everything else in the room, making the room tiny in comparison. Haley says the key to avoiding this design disaster is to emphasize the opulence and drama of the ceiling while maintaining a relationship with the room below. She suggests using architectural features to play up the room's height, while bringing the interest of the room to eye level.
Architecural Features Emphasize Space
"Divide the space with architectural features or add texture," Haley says. Some of her suggestions for making a high ceiling a win-win design situation include adding wooden beams, coffered ceilings, beadboard, cabling, artwork, faux finish, wallpaper, woven woods, upholstered acoustical panels or floating screens. "You first need to define the style and feeling you wish to accomplish, then select the appropriate feature," she says, adding that the real key is emphasizing the space while considering the viewpoint, literally and figuratively, of the occupants below.
Echoes in a Tall Room
One problem homeowners don't always think about in rooms with high ceilings is challenging acoustics, designer Susan Nilsson, owner of Ashville, N.C.-based Susan Nilsson design, says. In multi-purpose areas, like great rooms, that have high or two-story ceilings, not accounting for acoustics can make occupants feel like they're trying to converse or watch television in an empty auditorium.
One way homeowners can account for this problem is bringing the sound down to them. "Don't allow lighting or sound to be directed down from the ceiling," Susan says. If you use a high-ceiling room for entertainment, wire it for surround sound and install speakers into walls.
Let the Light Shine Down (and Up)
Jeffrey Heath, general manager of the lighting division at Connecticut-based home retailer Klaff's, says the key to lighting a room with a high ceiling is to mix and match. "In any room, especially rooms with high ceilings, you need to get light from a variety of sources," he says.
Haley says lighting is just as elemental to a room as walls and floors. "Lighting should always be considered in the initial design process. As an afterthought, it can be expensive and a hassle," she says, adding that for ceilings with architectural interest, lighting is really what can make or break a room. "Lighting can also be used to lift your eye from the floor to the ceiling, creating drama to that great architectural ceiling."
Don't Be Low About Ceilings
Most designers will tell you that the easiest way to change the whole look and effect of a room is by using carefully chosen paint colors. When it comes to ceilings, they sing the same tune. Haley recommends going with darker colors in large, soaring rooms for a cozier feel, but says any paint scheme you choose will work as long as it's part of an overall design scheme. "Thought-out paint schemes, whether warm, cool, dark or light colors, are going to define a space and give it purpose," she says. "Color gives depth and allows you to push and pull elements to create the overall feeling and style you want to achieve."
Low or strangely angled ceilings can make a room seem small, dark and generally unwelcoming. "Paint the ceiling a lighter color to create the illusion of height," Mary Rice, vice president of marketing for BEHR Paints says. She adds the sheen of your paint also matters when dealing with low-slung ceilings. "Painting low ceilings with semi-gloss paint will make them seem higher, as well."
Lighting is an important player in the design scheme when trying to give a greater sense of vertical space. "You can create the illusion of natural light and higher ceilings by designing your own sky lights," Haley says. "Install lighting hidden by a cove trim or soffit. The will give the appearance that the rooms lifts, or has natural light."