High ceilings are a beautiful feature within a home. Not only do they appeal to the eye, they lend a sense of grandeur, spaciousness and freedom. I am spoilt to live in a character ‘Queenslander’ with 3-metre-high ceilings, but unfortunately this is not the reality for all of us. Most of us live in homes with modern ceiling heights that make our space feel smaller and restricted. With the right design tricks, you can create the illusion of a high ceiling and a more open and inviting living space.
TIPS & TRICKS FOR RENOVATORS
RAISE THE CEILING
I could cry at the number of renovations I walk into where the house has been raised only to the minimum required height. Nothing, will give your space more impact, make it feel more open and dramatic than a high ceiling. In my opinion, the added height is worth every cent. If you just can’t get the height you are after consider exposing the structure to add height.
There are two options to increase the perceived height of your space when it comes to architectural details when renovating or building:
The first option is to minimise architectural detail like cornices where possible to create a clean simple line that is as high as possible.
The second is to select a moulding that is more vertically orientated (there is less horizontal coverage on the ceiling and more on the wall) to lead the eye upward.
DOORS & WINDOWS
To emphasise ceiling height use full height windows wherever possible. The same also applies for doors. Full height doors make the ceiling feel taller. This trick works perfectly in more contemporary homes. In traditional homes a transom (window) or breezeway above the door adds light and emphasises the height of the space.
Extending a fireplace surround right up to the ceiling will not only create a focal point, but the illusion of something grand to emphasise your room height.
TRICKS TO CREATE THE ILLUSION OF CEILING HEIGHT
If you already have a standard 2.4 metre ceiling, here are some great tricks you can try to give the illusion of a higher ceiling.
EXAGGERATE VERTICAL LINES
Take a cue from fashion. You can exaggerate the feeling of height by using vertical lines rather than horizontal ones wherever possible. Some examples are vertical stripes in paintwork or wallpaper, a four-poster bed or items such as tall mirrors that reflect light and make a space feel bigger.
Install Vertical Panelling
This is my favourite way to transform a low ceiling height. Installing vertical panelling (like VJ board panelling) is a brilliant way to add verticality without too much drama. This absolutely works to make your ceiling appear higher and is a more subtle alternative than paint or wallpaper stripes. It has the added bonus of making a once flat room come alive with interesting texture.
Full Height Joinery
Install your kitchen cabinets all the way up to the ceiling. It doesn’t matter if you can’t access the top-most cupboards on a regular basis, the aesthetic effect and feeling of ‘height’ is well worth the investment.
Floor to ceiling curtains also create the illusion of a high ceiling if installed correctly. Hang them as high as possible (or better still, recess the curtain rail within the ceiling space itself) to elongate a room and enhance the feeling of height. This draws the eye upwards and fools the brain into thinking that the window is bigger than it actually is.
Sheer curtains allow the room to appear even more airy and bright as natural light can shine through and illuminate the ceiling.
If you have tall windows you can opt out of window treatments all together. Revealing as much of your windows as possible and therefore allowing maximum natural light to enter the space will ultimately make the entire room feel bigger. Windows expand the feel of any space so omitting curtains altogether will only increase the feeling of spaciousness.
Indirect up lighting to flood the ceiling with light from the walls can aid in making a ceiling appear higher. Avoid low hanging pendant lights.
Artwork & Accessories
A floor to ceiling bookcase or vertical frames on a wall will also draw the eye upwards, creating the illusion of a high ceiling. Hanging artwork slightly higher than you usually would also tricks the eye into looking upwards. Essentially, anything that encourages the eye to look up will help your ceiling feel higher.
USING PAINT TO GIVE THE ILLUSION OF HEIGHT
No surprises here! A light or white matt ceiling is often the default choice and for good reason. A light colour visually raises the height of the ceiling itself. The matt finish makes the ceiling visually disappear, hiding flaws and putting the emphasis on the room itself. The white bounces light around the room and also provides a stunning contrast with any wall colour.
The image above appears to have a low ceiling even though it would be approximately 3m high. The blue colour makes the ceiling advance and come down on top of you. In this instance it gives a cosy vibe to the room.
The black ceiling works in the space below because the cornice is painted in the wall colour. This black ceiling makes a space that would otherwise appear quite light and vast, feel more intimate.
Minimal Paint Schemes
Painting your walls, architraves, cornices and ceiling the same colour will blur the lines of where your walls end and your ceiling begins. If your wall colour is a darker shade of white or pale grey, try reducing the colour by 50% for the ceiling. This will ensure the ceiling still appears lighter and brighter.
A dark colour for flooring can provide contrast and make the ceiling and walls appear lighter and brighter again.
Painting Decorative Features
Colour is a useful tool to manipulate the perception of height of a room. Typically people paint their cornice white, along with the ceiling. When the walls are a darker tone this automatically lowers the height of the room.
If you want to increase the illusion of height, I recommend that you paint your cornice the same colour as the walls. This tricks the eye into thinking that the ceiling starts higher, exaggerating the feeling of space within the room. To take it one step further, you can also consider painting the skirting the same colour as the walls too. This creates a longer line and feeling of verticality – and hey presto, you have height!
Keep in mind that contrasting white trim is also a really great look. It makes any colour pop and highlights heritage features. I usually recommend this approach in a modern home where the cornice is not usually a great feature anyway.
If you have an older home with picture rails, your ceiling will appear so much higher if you paint the entire wall in the one colour. Take a careful look at the pictures below. You can see that by bringing the ceiling colour down the wall to the picture rail, it dramatically lowers the height of the room. Often you can get away with this in an older style home with high ceilings.
Try and become aware of how each decision you make with paint will affect the overall feeling of the space.
So, let’s embrace verticality! Understand the importance of ceiling height when renovating. Nothing will create a light, airy, spacious feel than an elevated ceiling. And use these clever tricks to create the illusion of a high ceiling if you aren’t blessed with high ceilings to begin with. I’d love to hear how you’ve given your space a lift.