Over and Above
Judith Davidsen -- Interior Design, 3/1/2007 12:00:00 AM
More than any other surface in a room, the ceiling is symbolic. It's an indoor version of the sky—not quite the dome of heaven but still protective and, in the right hands, inspiring.
A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction, a 1977 guide to planning and building, recommends high ceilings to increase formality and low ceilings to promote intimacy. Jeremiah Goodman, the artist who illustrated the rooms on so many of this magazine's covers, purposely left the upper reaches of rooms indistinct, because our society equates high ceilings with elegance. Modernism, on the other hand, considers a flat, lower ceiling more democratic.
High ceilings dissipate heat in hot climates, but some feng shui practitioners believe that high ceilings make it difficult to focus or to sleep. (Also that slanted ceilings cause headaches.) Low ceilings give children something to jump at—with a reasonable chance of hitting it. However, in Fyodor Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment, Raskolnikov says that low ceilings, "cramp the soul and the mind." Then again, he considers himself far enough above social norms to feel perfectly justified in murdering a nasty old pawnbroker.
According to a 1970 article in this magazine, a ceiling should be 9 feet high, about one and a half times the height of an average man. The ceiling can also be the best place to go for noise control, at least in theory. Architect Jeffrey Beers told us in 1989 how he'd conducted an acoustics study at a restaurant his firm had done. After all that trouble, he discovered that many owners prefer noise, because it makes a place seem lively and popular.