Today, I’d like to offer high praise to the low ceiling. I certainly realize this commendation could be perceived as real estate blasphemy. After all, you never see property ads excitingly touting shallow ceilings as a desirable amenity.
The origins of the architectural low ceiling (especially of the 8-foot-high-variety) can be traced to the development of the ranch house of the 1950s and 60s. A number of industrial advances paved the way for this new normal. The advent of central air conditioning suddenly made traditional high ceilings inefficient and obsolete. Also, the standardization of framing lumber lengths (i.e. 8 foot increments) made this cramped but streamlined ceiling height a cost efficient standard. Over the last few decades, however, the 8-foot-ceiling has become a real estate coffin nail. The advent of the McMansions then swung the pendulum dramatically in the other direction. These pompous beasts bombarded us with double height everythings – two story foyers, two story living rooms, two story powder rooms, ad nauseam. All of the sudden, we went from living in shoe boxes to living in milk cartons.
Good design is about balance. We all know that a gluttony of anything is unhealthy. Space and proportion is no different. Often in our work, when we make a grand gesture, we follow it up with a humble one. Every soaring or vaulting space needs a cozy companion alongside it – think of it as an architectural Mutt and Jeff.
So I extoll the virtues of the depressed ceiling. Think of the best English pub you’ve ever been in and the indescribable emotional compression you found therein. These types of looming canopies are perfect for intimate dining or gathering as they tend to act like an umbrella and quieten the spirits. For those unsold on the concept, I offer multiple examples – and these are all much lower than the dreaded 8 feet.
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I absolutely adore this post and couldn’t agree more. Sometimes embracing the coziness of a small space is just the thing to do!! Little nooks and crannies are often the most memorable of spaces and are certainly the inviting little retreats I crave. Thanks for giving this endorsement of low-ceilinged rooms!
Well said and exemplified. So seldom expressed. Thank you
Think of Bandera restaurant in Old Scottsdale
Thanks so much for the lovely post on low ceilings! I too have a 70’s ranch style home (in Texas, of course) and have changed several areas over the years (living room and master bedroom) to the higher ceiling since theyiappeared so cavernous. I must admit that having a few rooms left with the low ceiling height (8′) and just dressing them up with special woods or paint effects (like in your pictures) makes them unique and cozy!
I love this post. We have a house that has 8′ ceilings as well as a high ceilinged living area. I’ve noticed that when we entertain, people tend to gravitate to the rooms with the lower ceilings. Our dining room is one of these rooms and everyone lingers, which is wonderful. Thank you for explaining the architectural perspective and history of this particular feature.
We are currently exploring ideas for our next home and one of the items we have decided to included was gleaned from Frank Lloyd Wright. He created a sense of enclosure when you entered into one of his foyers with a lower ceiling which then opened up to a main area of lofty heights. I find it amusing that in the late 1980’s when we were building one of my must haves was a open two story foyer with a grand staircase. Now I am completely obsessed with the exact opposite. I believe lower ceilings provide a cocooning effect of comfort and security. Your homes above are simply brilliant.
Beautifully written. . . excellent photos that prove the point. It is very difficult to create an entrance that says “welcome” when the architecture says the opposite.
Thank you for this post.