the Not So Big House: variety of ceiling heights

High ceilings are often considered more desirable than low ones, but high ceilings are often more impressive than comfortable. What’s important is not the overall ceiling height; it’s the proportion of the ceiling height to the other dimensions of the room that makes it comfortable or not. By varying the ceiling height, spaces are enlivened and individually defined.” Sarah Susanka

I’ve once lived in a home that had a Great Room with a cathedral ceiling, windows twenty feet high. It was a small space. Maybe 12 feet long and 10 feet wide. Somehow they fit a glass, two sided fireplace comfortably between that room and the kitchen. Without that cathedral ceiling the room would have been too tiny; rather, it was curiously cozy. The wintery Rocky Mountain ‘painted’ views out the window certainly helped. Usually, though, these grand heights feel daunting, not intimate for my way of relating.

I’ve also lived in a 1924 Craftsman home that had a dance hall of a Great Room with nine foot high coiffured ceilings. The ceiling was grand. I’d sit back in my beige and floral side chairs and stair up at the ceiling fans dancing together in the crazy hot 40 degree summer. I was on set to Streetcar Named Desire. The ceiling set the stage.

I’m presently, and temporarily, renting a post-war, panel-lovin, tile-ceilinged farmhouse. Those cardboard quality ceiling tiles were bent to move along the hipped roof. It’s a look. Probably an inexpensive one. It does set an ambience. It’s not on the top of my home building material list.

Susanka suggests varying the ceiling heights in our homes. Hallways and walkways can be a foot lower than the main living area. Hallways can provide contrast in height with the spaces they are leading to.

Try extending a dropped soffit around one of the main living spaces at the same height as the hallways. Identify some of the subordinate spaces to the main gathering areas, like the kitchen and informal eating area, and can be given up to a third of the height as the larger gathering areas. But don’t make the entire kitchen a seven foot height or it will feel oppressive. Any ceiling height variety is better than none.

A soffit or lowered ceiling area can provide space for ventilation, but it also creates a cozier alcove to retreat. For instance, under a child’s bedroom window seat, or in a writing room or desk area, main floor powder rooms and hallways.

Ceiling height variety is very much like adding seasoning to food. If the seasoning itself is falvourful, the food it is added to will be tastier as a result. And if the ceiling heights selected are appropriate, the rooms they are added to will be more comfortable“. Sarah Susanka