Design Dilemma: Dealing with Cathedral Ceilings
Practically every McMansion built in the last 20 years seems to feature a “great room” with cathedral ceilings.
And sure, these imposing rooms featuring ceilings that are usually double the height of a normal room can lend a space a feeling of grandeur. But 24-foot ceilings can quickly create new problems, like for instance, how to decorate walls the height of Mount Rushmore.
The tendency is to try to fill up the space with a lot of accessories — hanging plants, lots of small pictures, fake beams, or whatever. But let’s face facts, such an approach usually looks cluttered and lacks the drama befitting of high ceilings. So how should you approach this design conundrum?
1.) Go big with art. Nix the small photos and paintings. Instead opt for just one or two very large pieces that can provide a dramatic focal point to a big empty wall. A large unframed canvas looks contemporary and striking but can work equally well in traditional interiors. A tapestry or printed fabric hanging might be another option for going big without the cost. If you’ve only got smaller works, group them together and opt for frames or themes that can help tie the pieces together.
2.) Choose tall furniture. Tall bookcases and shelving systems can take on the height of a cathedral ceiling without feeling scrawny and dwarfed the way smaller pieces might. Some people with cathedral ceilings have even opted for a doubleheight bookcase complete with a rolling ladder to reach books on the highest shelves.
3.) Choose larger scale furniture. What goes for bookcases, armoires and credenzas also goes for couches and chairs. Low-slung and delicate pieces will only emphasize the height of the ceiling, and may feel too tiny for the room. When placing furniture pieces against the wall, be sure to hang your art in relationship to the furniture, and not floating in the middle of a big expanse of wall, which looks awkward. If no furniture is near the wall, you’re safer centering art in the middle of the wall.
4.) Use color. Make a tall wall feel less sterile and imposing by painting it a color. A painted accent wall in an unexpected color will immediately warm things up. Another trick: paint the ceilings a darker color than the walls.
5.) Embrace some emptiness. Filling up every corner of a huge wall can defeat the very glory of having a tall wall. So don’t try to do too much with a wall, or you’ll just end up having a cluttered space. A little emptiness will handsomely set off that large impressive painting you choose.
6.) Eschew all the fake stuff. Some decorators will advise homeowners with cathedral ceilings to install fake beams or moulding. But such ideas can feel out of place in homes that were not designed with such details in mind from the start. So instead of making your space something it’s not, go with what it is — a cavernous space that can contemporary and very dramatic.
7.) Emphasize the existing architectural details. If you’re lucky, you may have cathedral height ceilings that are filled with architectural details such as palladium windows, moulding and beams, like the picture above. If that’s the case, you’re in luck. Allow the architectural details to stand out and keep artwork and wall hangings simple.
8.) Float the furniture. Keeping furniture grouped in the center of a room keeps it from feeling lost in comparison with the height of the ceiling, especially if you’ve got low-slung contemporary furniture.