If you’ve ever been to the Haunted Mansion at Disney World or a fun house at a carnival, you’ll understand that optical illusions can easily trick the mind and blur the lines between what’s real and what’s imagined.
Once you’re locked into the Magic Kingdom’s Portrait Chamber with no visible exit, the room seems small and claustrophobic—or does it? When the room goes dark and then illuminated spooky pictures start to stretch, your eyes are drawn up. Was the ceiling always that high?
How about those mirrored fun house mazes where every “hallway” leads to a dead end? You were sure you knew the way out but your eyes deceived you time and time again.
If you’ve always wanted soaring vaulted ceilings but felt stuck with flat, low or moderate room heights, you can apply the same principles to visually make your room ceiling look higher.
Take a look at some of the “tricks” professional designers incorporate into their plans:
Uncover the ceiling’s architectural framework
This modern, urban style eliminates the ceiling covering and leaves exposed pipes and ductwork. In addition to providing more overall headroom, the bare ceiling will give the room a more open feel.
Remove crown molding
Any molding that protrudes down from the ceiling will make it seem even lower than it actually is. Remove the crown molding for a clean look or replace with a narrower style. Be sure to paint the molding the same colour as the ceiling to give the illusion of extra height.
Install flush-mounted lights
Any hanging lights will draw the eye downward and make the ceiling feel lower. Where possible, replace these with flush-mounted or recessed lights. In places where a hanging fixture is necessary, such as a dining room chandelier, choose a light, airy style with lots of crystal or glass that you can see through. Be sure to leave at least 36″ of space between the table and the light so the ceiling seems higher.
Include uplighting or wall sconces
Wall lights that shine up and/or down trick the eyes into believing the wall is taller and therefore, the ceiling is higher. Decorative uplights bounce light off the ceiling and create visual height.
Use wide expanses of windows
The more windows you have in a room, the more natural light filters inside and the larger the space feels. First-floor patio or French doors also help to connect your room to the great outdoors with a limitless ceiling.
Add transom windows
Stacking transom windows above doors and windows naturally draws the eye upward. The extra light shining through and bouncing off the ceiling will create an optical illusion of more height as well. Contact an Ecoline Windows representative to discuss transom window options for your home.
Raise door openings
If you’re able to do some renovation work, raising the interior door openings close to the ceiling and installing wide base moldings will double the impact of a taller room.
Reposition kitchen cabinets
Instead of leaving a gap between the top of your kitchen cabinets and the ceiling, hang your cabinets all the way up to the ceiling. Change out a few solid doors with glass to give the illusion of space. Better yet, remove the upper cabinets entirely and replace with open shelving for the ultimate space maker.
Use the fireplace
A fireplace is often the focal point in a room and you can use it to emphasize the room height. Take the fireplace surround all the way to the ceiling and eliminate the mantle to maintain long vertical lines.
Lighten the colour
Most ceilings are painted white for its lightening and lifting qualities. If you’re adamant on painting it another shade, make sure it’s lighter than the wall colour.
Use high-gloss paint
This is a great option to reflect light throughout the room. A mirror-like finish will help create a depth of field that is never-ending.
Use a matte finish
For the opposite effect, use a matte finish paint to draw attention away from the ceiling and emphasizing the room instead.
Lower the lines
Another trick is to paint the ceiling line down on the wall several inches. There’s no set rule that says you must paint the ceiling line where the wall meets. Give yourself a few extra inches to psychologically increase the ceiling height.
Introduce vertical or diagonal elements
You’re probably already familiar with how vertical or diagonal stripes help to elongate the body with clothing. The same thing happens when you paint stripes or diagonal lines on the wall. These decor elements will lift both the room and ceiling to new levels.
Adjust window treatments
Hang your window treatments close to the ceiling. This will trick the eye into thinking the window is taller than it actually is and raises the ceiling. If privacy isn’t an issue, remove your window treatments entirely to let in as much natural light as possible. This will give the room a more spacious feel.
Group small picture frames or decorative artwork in a vertical presentation to elongate the wall and increase the appearance of more headroom.
If you can replace some furniture with low, horizontal pieces, you’ll maximize the apparent height of the room. An added benefit is that you’ll achieve greater window views and increase natural light for a more spacious appearance too.
Use tall bookshelves
Tall, narrow bookshelves that run close to the ceiling is another way to trick the eye into looking up. Keep a vertical line of books and accessories on the shelves to keep the visual impression consistent. Not only your kids’ reading nook will look more spacious but any room that holds tall bookshelves.
Going back to the fun house example, adding mirrors or reflective items to the room will increase light and perceived square footage. You can hang decorative mirrors or lean them against the wall to continue the illusion.
Use tall accessories
Draw the eye upward with tall, table-top or floor vases filled with light, airy grasses or blossoming branches.
Add a bold rug
Distraction also works to draw attention away from a low ceiling. Add a bold, patterned area rug but keep other furniture and accessories simple.
The more items you have in a room, the more boxed in it will feel. Small spaces are especially hard to keep clean. If you can use a creative storage system to keep your room neat, the room will appear larger and the ceiling higher.
As you can see, there are a variety of ways to create the perception that your ceilings are higher than they actually are. Incorporate many of these tips into each room in your home, and you’ll be amazed at just how tall your space feels.
He writes about real estate, home improvement and a healthy lifestyle. Editor and partner at RenoHood. His contributions appear on home improvement and real estate sites across Canada. He loves outdoors and adventure. Supports his calisthenics community and lives by the motto, “We rise by lifting others”.
@SBojinski | RenoHood