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Tricks to lower a ceiling

The Baltimore Sun

We recently moved to an apartment in a converted industrial building. Its tall ceilings make our retro modern-style furniture look out of scale. Short of buying a whole new set of furnishings, are there ways to make this space feel more like a family room and less like a train station waiting room? We also don't want to undertake major structural changes, such as lowering the ceiling.

Most of us think of camouflage as a military tool intended to fool the enemy. Designers of interior spaces also regard camouflage as a means of fooling the eye -- but for entirely peaceful purposes.

Our aim is to alter the perception of a space or to deflect attention from one unfortunate architectural element or another. Paint and lighting are generally the least expensive ways of achieving a camouflaging effect.

A narrow hallway, for example, can be made to look wider by placing or directing lighting on one wall. Conversely, long rooms appear shorter when an end wall is painted in a bright color.

Yours is a somewhat unusual problem. Most readers with ceiling issues want to know how to visually increase a room's height. I typically suggest vertically striped wall coverings or various effects that can be achieved with paint. And in your case too, paint and pattern can be of help.

Whatever the current color scheme of the room in question, consider painting the ceiling and the upper parts of the walls in a darker but compatible color.

For example, if the room is done with gold, terra cotta and beige, the ceiling could be painted brown along with the walls down to a height of about nine feet above the floor. The rest of the walls could then be painted in a light beige or a pale, stone color.

Another idea is to paint the walls in related tones of one color, creating a pattern of thick horizontal stripes. You'll find that paint jobs of this sort will make the ceiling seem lower. And that in turn will create a more intimate feeling for the room in which your low-slung furnishings will look more in scale.

You should likewise consider installing track-lighting fixtures. Aim them at the lower portion of the walls while also using task lighting to illuminate a collection of photos on a tabletop. That too will help lead the eye downward and away from the ceiling.

It won't feel like a train station waiting room any longer.

Rita St. Clair is a Baltimore-based interior designer. Readers with general interior design questions can e-mail her at

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