Decorating to downplay a high ceiling


Q: We recently bought a 20-year-old house with a cathedral ceiling in the living room. Originally it seemed dramatic and spacious, but now the room's height is presenting us with all sorts of design problems. The main difficulty is that our contemporary furniture looks squat and puny in this cavernous space. Is there some way we can make the ceiling look lower? I'd also like your advice on whether to install window coverings higher on the wall than normal.

A: Tall ceilings are actually a typical design feature of homes built in the 1960s and '70s. But in many of these cases, the architects installed average-height doors and windows, which can indeed result in awkward proportions. I suspect that's why you're considering placing the window coverings higher up on the wall.

If you intend to use curtain rods, they should probably be placed at window height rather than somewhere above it. While such an arrangement won't make the windows look better proportioned, it will help a bit in visually reducing the room's height. And since your furniture is contemporary in its styling, the window treatment should be simple. I would choose something like semi-sheer traverse curtains in a color that blends well with the adjacent walls.

Painting the ceiling in a much darker shade than the color of the walls will be an even more effective way of disguising the room's height. The eye is less likely to drift upward when there's little light attracting it from above. And do consider installing a brightly decorative carpet which, again, will lower the room's sight lines.

The right kind of lighting effects will help do the job as well. Track lighting and table lamps, as shown in the photo, illuminate the lower part of the room and thus draw the eye downward. Conversely, torchiers or other types of up-lighting should be avoided because they attract attention to the ceiling.

Accessories and artworks can also contribute significantly to the illusion you're trying to create. For example, a large vertical tapestry was hung above the sofa in the photographed room, which may resemble your own tall space. The aim of extending the lower part of the room upward is further served in this model by the placement of a tree in one corner and a four-panel standing screen in another. You could also add a tall display cabinet to serve as a focal point on a long wall.

As you've probably gathered, the trick is to introduce plenty of visual interest in the lower portion of the room while keeping its upper reaches dark and sparsely decorated.

+ Los Angeles Times Syndicate

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