High ceilings are a highly desirable architectural feature. But why? And what’s so bad about normal ceiling heights?
We like high ceilings because of their association with grand interiors or properties from certain periods, such as houses from the Georgian era. Walking into a hotel lobby with lofty ceilings will add anticipation of just how luxury your guest experience will be. And a cathedral’s vaulted ceiling will raise your eyes, and thoughts, to heaven.
But likewise, high ceilings can make a room feel cold or empty. The room may lack warmth or make you feel uncomfortable and exposed. A large foyer in an office building can feel intimidating or clinical. Or maybe the room just lacks the appropriate proportions to warrant a high ceiling and therefore feels ‘wrong’.
There have been several studies that have looked at our relationship with ceilings height. One suggests that we find high ceilings more beautiful because we associate them with freedom. Whereas lower ceilings seem to stimulate better decision making perhaps in response to feeling confined and in need of an exit strategy.
This is all because of a concept called ‘priming‘ which activates different thought-processing in the brain. In other words, ceiling height can change how we think.
The upshot of this information is that both high ceilings and ceilings of a normal height can be beneficial to a workplace or retailer, depending on how you want to workers or customers to behave.
Use ceiling height to create different working environments or to influence how we want our customers to behave.
Hotels may want to promote a sense of freedom and escapism for their customers, with high ceilings inspiring the possibilities of their stay. Retailers may also want their customers to feel inspired but would a more typical ceiling height encourage decision making and lead to a purchase better?
An ideal office environment would offer different spaces for when a worker needs to be creative and expansive in their thinking, perhaps problem-solving with colleagues. But when that report’s deadline is looming, getting your head down in a lower-ceiling environment could help improve focus.
How to make your ceiling look higher
- Draw the eye to the highest point by hanging curtains/blinds at the top of the wall, not just the top of the window.
- Choose furniture with a low profile. Avoid high back sofas and chairs. Low-profile will create a greater expanse of space between the top of the furniture and the ceiling. Conversely, you can include high profile pieces such as a tall shelving unit. This contrast of height with your low profile seating will also create a similar sense of expansive space.
- Paint your ceiling the same colour as the walls. Lighter colours work better but so do gloss paints as they will reflect the light making the ceiling feel higher.
- Avoid clutter and overfilling a room as this detracts from the sense of space.
How to make your ceiling look lower
- Use darker colours on the ceiling. If you combine this with a picture rail at you desired ceiling height, paint the walls the same colour as the ceiling down to this rail.
- Hang suspended lighting at lower heights to bring the focus down from the ceiling height. You can use this same trick with hanging/trailing plants.
- Bigger furniture will fill a room with a high ceiling and give a better sense of scale.
Plants are a great way to emphasise an area that you want to draw focus to. You can use tall plants to raise the eye-line or to create contrast with low-profile furniture. Wall-mounted displays can also define the height of a room and hanging plants can be used to create a floating ceiling at whatever height you wish. Floor-standing pots with bushy foliage are a great way to keep the focus lower.
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