Defining space with ceiling design

By Annie Schwemmer and Ann Robinson

For the Deseret News

Published: Monday, Oct. 22 2012 4:41 p.m. MDT

AFTER: This renovation incorporated several different ceiling treatments that help to define the individual spaces in great room: A vaulted ceiling with painted beams and tongue-in-groove finish in the kitchen; a slightly lower ceiling with stained beams and tongue-in-groove finish in the dining room; and a picture rail painted the same color as the existing ceiling was added in the family room.

Kevin Bunnell, Renovation Design Group

One of the main goals of architecture is to clearly and beautifully define and differentiate space in a home. While adding a wall is one way to do that, it is not the only way. Today’s families want houses that accommodate their lifestyles, which tend to be less formal than they were in the past. Architecturally that translates into more open floor plans. However, even within the openness of a great room, it is nice to set the individual functions of the kitchen, dining area and sitting room apart and define them in the design.

Using the ceiling is a great way to define space in an open floor plan. Adding exposed beams, lowering or increasing the ceiling height, adding variation to the ceiling finish materials, or the strategic placement of light fixtures are all effective ways to define space.

Beams: Often when opening up an area, a bearing wall needs to be removed. This can be done with the addition of a beam to take on the load the wall was carrying. A beam can in turn play a key role in defining space in a home.

Whether or not this beam should be exposed depends on where it is in relation to the new area. If an exposed beam will appear random, then it can be tucked in the plane of the existing joists, above the existing ceiling. This is more expensive but sometimes necessary to define your space better. In other situations, exposing the beam is a great way to define space, and you can capitalize on the effect by the adding other decorative beams.

Varied ceiling height: The typical home has approximately 8-foot ceilings throughout. One way to make these 8-foot ceilings appear higher is by strategically lowering parts of the ceiling 6-12 inches. Lowered portions could be appropriate over circulation pathways or over sitting areas, which benefit from a cozier feeling.

Vaulted ceilings give drama and excitement to spaces. But vaulting a ceiling can be an involved and expensive process. Older homes were generally constructed with individual roof rafters, which lend themselves to removing the ceiling and capturing the space found in the attic. In newer homes, roofs are more commonly created with prefabricated trusses, which have to be retrofitted or removed and replaced with individual rafters in the areas you wish to vault.

Finish material: Ceilings can be dressed up to impact the feel of a room. You can contrast the ceiling finish with the wall finish by adding paneling such as bead board or tongue-in-groove wood, changing texture or color, or adding a pattern of trim or beams. One trick to make a room feel taller is to add a trim band on the walls about a foot below the ceiling and paint the portion above the trim the same color as the ceiling.

Light fixtures: A chandelier in effect lowers the perceived ceiling and defines a certain space, usually over a dining table, game table or counter. The pattern of general ambient lighting, such as recessed lights, gives order and definition to a space. Up lighting tends to make a ceiling feel taller, while track lighting will emphasize things below it on the wall.

As you walk around your house today, we hope you glance up now and again and start noticing the role your ceiling can play in defining the space in your home.

Ann Robinson and Annie V. Schwemmer are the Principal Architects and co-founders of a residential architectural firm focused on life-changing remodeling designs at RenovationDesignGroup.com. Send comments or questions to ask@RenovationDesignGroup.com

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