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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