Ask the Architect What to do with a low ceiling from the 1970s Houseplanology

Ask the Architect What to do with a low ceiling from the 1970s Houseplanology

Ask the Architect: What to do with a low ceiling from the 1970s

Ask the Architect: What to do with a low ceiling from the 1970s

In this column Australian architect Nicole Walters (RAIA) answers design and building-related questions big and small. Want to know whats involved in working with an architect, or when to choose a hip roof over a gable? Maybe you need a second opinion about your home design? Whatevers got you curious or created a bit of a quandary, just email with your name and all the details about what youd like to know.

This week our question comes from Sherry Harvey:

I have a 1970s house with low ceilings is there anything I can do to make them higher?.


Hi Sherry, the good news is there are lots of things you can do to add height to a room, and depending on your budget, timeframe, and long-term plans for the house, hopefully theres an option that works for you.

The most expensive option is to raise the ceiling but youd need to have a large enough ceiling void and a non-loadbearing ceiling structure. You could take it one step further and raise the outside roof level as well but youd need to check with your local planning authority because this kind of extreme makeover probably needs approval. When you weigh up the time and cost of this exercise it might be cheaper to move.

If youre truly claustrophobic but generally love your house and neighbours and have a smaller budget, it might be worth raising the ceiling levels in key rooms such as the living areas (where you receive guests and spend the most time). At my own practice weve been doing some really interesting things with different level bulkheads and raked ceilings recently and the results have been well received by the clients and added lots of visual interest to the spaces.

Another alternative, and still in the ceiling zone, is the option of adding a skylight. Depending on the outlook, you could either use clear or opaque glass. If you can afford it you could also consider a roof window that sits up on the roof level with a bulkhead in the ceiling void. This will improve the feeling of height in the room and lead the eye upwards.

If you prefer to bypass the major structural options, you can create the allusion of height by increasing the height of windows and doors in some or all of the rooms to full height (floor to ceiling). This can also include wardrobe doors. This option will give the room a much taller feel but may reduce furniture layout options so be mindful of that if you have beds or couches under windows currently. Again, depending on the type of house construction, this option may be expensive. New windows can cost thousands of dollars (although there is an opportunity to introduce better performing double-glazed units if you currently have single glazing), and a builder may have to move structural elements such as lintels in the walls.

A cheaper option is to raise the height of curtains and blinds so theyre at ceiling level rather than window frame level. If you use opaque or shear curtains that are closed all the time, youll lend a feeling of height to the room.

Another tip is to remove any permanent decorative items such as dado panelling or picture rails that break up the visual height of the wall. An uninterrupted vertical line will give the allusion of height. Consider lowering the height of wall mounted fittings such as power points to, say, 50mm (2 inches) above the floor, and remove skirting boards or ceiling cornices. If you want to add interest or texture to a wall, consider wallpaper with a vertical stripe or pattern. Changing light fittings from pendants to high performing recessed ceiling lights (downlights) can play a major part in improving the perceived height of the room (and reduce your environmental footprint), and changing door handles from round knobs to slim, vertical handles can also help.

Ask the Architect What to do with a low ceiling from the 1970s Houseplanology

The most cost-effective change to a room can be achieved through a change in color pallet. Dark colors on walls, floor coverings and furniture can make a room feel small. Use bright, light colors instead. The height of furniture in the room also has an impact. If you research furniture styles of the 1970s youll find they used lots of low level pieces so why not celebrate your 1970s treasure and deck it out with some period furniture pieces? The money youll save on major structural changes can be used for a new property later on down the track.

Nicole Walters, Bespoke Architects

Houseplanology Endnote: 1970s house? Yupbeen there. I feel for you Sherry! I have to testify to Nics advise about recessed lights though I took a pendant light off and replaced it with low-voltage recessed LEDs and boy, what a difference! The ceiling looked A LOT higher. I also read that painting your ceiling blue can increase the feeling of height (although I wasnt game enough to try that one). Another 20 years and people will be queuing up for 1970s architecture it wasnt so long ago that old houses were a dime a dozen because everyone wanted something new now the old ones are the most expensive on the street. Lets hope the 1970s becomes vintage cool, and failing that, lets hope for an overall shortening of the human race. Dang, when youre 52 those ceilings from the 1970s look absolutely fantastic!

Want some decorating inspiration for a 1970s place with low ceilings? Check out these ideas:

What do you think about Nicoles suggestions? Ever had low ceilings? Did they bother you? Did they affect your re-sale value? Tell us about your experiences all comments warmly welcome!

Disclaimer: Architectural advice provided in this column is for general purposes only and should not be relied upon for individual circumstances. The Houseplanology site disclaimer also applies.

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