Making the Most of Low-Ceiling Spaces

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Each week, Mansion Global discusses a topic with an elite group of designers from around the world who work on luxury properties. This week we explore how to design a room with low ceilings. Basements, low-rise ranch homes, 1980s apartments, and attics often present the same problem: low ceilings.

Rooms with ceilings of eight feet or less often require a little more finesse than their siblings, but thoughtful interior design and decorating is possible in a vertically challenged space. Whether your home has a dark basement or a funky attic with skylights, these recommendations from a select group of design professionals can spruce up a room with low ceilings.

After: Designing a beautiful indoor garden

Create a goal

“Unfinished basements can be a great way to capture more livable square footage in your home without increasing the footprint. But designers need to create a reason to go down to the basement. It can be a wine cellar, an art gallery, an exercise room or a media room.

“The key is to make the space not look like a basement. This can be achieved in basements with low ceilings by not finishing the ceiling with drywall. Instead, expose the floor systems and utilities above and paint them black or white.

“Select large pieces of art, preferably horizontal pieces. Even if the ceilings are low, always hang the art at eye level. If there are no windows, you might be leaning into the darkness and make it more comfortable and cave-like.

The Anthony Wilder Design/Build team envisioned a sleek media room in this low-ceilinged basement.

Stacy Zarin Goldberg

Sean Mullin, architect, and Sydney Markus, designer, at Anthony Wilder Design/Build in Cabin John, Maryland

After: Silver Fox – How to Design a Stunning Metallic Grayscale Room

Create levels in the ceiling

“Working in New York and Florida, I was constantly faced with the problem of low ceilings in condos and co-ops. It depends on the overall space, but I like to create levels in the ceiling. Sometimes having a bottom part, even if it’s 5cm, can make the “top” part seem even bigger.

“I’m currently working on a large project on the beach in Florida. We only have 8 feet 6 inches of concrete to concrete, and I need to squeeze the lighting and level the floors and ceilings in this space. So I have dropped all the ceilings to be as level as possible to accommodate the thin lights and then I created a series of cove details around the perimeter of the spaces By making shallow coves you create a new low point in the room, which makes the overall space appear higher. Electrical work needed everywhere.

“Having the walls and ceilings the same color will help deceive the eye. In this case, I like to use softer whites with more gray tones versus harsher whites with more blue, which allows for a smoother transition both physically and mentally when looking at a room as a whole .

—Joe Human, Designs By Human in New York


Hang Floor-to-Ceiling Window Treatments

“Window treatments will make or break rooms with low ceilings. It just takes a simple trick to get it right: go floor-to-ceiling with drapes (for traditional to transitional spaces) and sheers (for modern to contemporary spaces).

“Another mistake people make is to use all the small pieces of furniture, fearing that larger pieces will overwhelm the room. This is not the case when longer, low pieces of furniture are used. This trick works for practically everything from couches and sectionals to media centers and bookcases.

Designer Devin Shaffer hung floor-to-ceiling window treatments to give the illusion of height.

My Little Bag

—Devin Shaffer, lead interior designer at Decorilla, Online Interior Design Services

After: Make your entrance more welcoming

Install patterned wallpaper for an unexpected touch

“Recessed and wall lights are perfect solutions. The old trick of using a mirror in front of a light source (hopefully a window) also works wonders. Hanging a mirror opposite a light source really helps bounce light around the room. We add as much natural light as possible to the space, especially in an attic with limited windows.

“Keep furniture on the low side, but it doesn’t have to be chunky. Lean toward objects that fill a third of the space. Eight-foot ceilings should have furniture around 32 inches high. A bench seat with a shorter backrest is a “chef’s kiss” in terms of proportions. We often emphasize the depression and create a cozy corner with an applique and a built-in locker. It usually turns out to be the favorite place from everyone.

“We love wallpaper because, especially if it’s a pattern, it instantly transforms a room from floor to ceiling and can really transport you. It also looks unexpected and fun for an attic, which isn’t usually not very decorated. Your eye wanders to the wallpaper and you’re distracted by odd angles. It’s cozy, instead of claustrophobic.

For an unexpected touch, GordonDunning installed patterned wallpaper in this low-ceilinged attic.

Marc Mauldin

Lathem Gordon & Cate Dunning, GordonDunning Interior Design in Atlanta

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