The rise and fall of ceilings — Chicago Tribune

The rise and fall of ceilings - Chicago Tribune

Lower designs echo buyer preferences

The ceiling in the family room of this Town & Country model reflects the shift to lower ceilings. Ceilings of 9 or 10 feet are common for main-floor living spaces in new homes.

Ceilings used to soar. Influenced by McMansion mania more than a decade ago, two-story ceilings in foyers and family rooms became the norm in higher-end homes.

Now, trends are more down to earth, another sign of the times. Yes, high ceilings open up living spaces. But many homebuyers want to take advantage of the wasted space on the second floor with perhaps another bedroom. Issues concerning energy inefficiency, sound transmission and a lack of coziness also pointed to the desire for lower ceilings.

Builders have gotten the message. A survey of builders across the country revealed that 14 percent of homes this year will be built with two-story foyers and 12 percent with two-story family rooms, a substantial decline from previous years, said Stephen Melman, director of economic services for the National Association of Home Builders.

«Across the country, the trend is toward increased energy efficiency and the most efficient use of space,» said Dawn Korbelak, national design director for K. Hovnanian Homes. Town & Country Homes is a Chicago-area division of Hovnanian.

Pulte Homes said its own research revealed similar trends. Travis Parkman, Pulte’s vice president of corporate communications, said focus groups preferred that money be spent on features such as nicer kitchens and upgrades rather than higher ceilings.

«Customer feedback describes two-story open spaces as cold and austere,» Parkman said. «That goes against the current trend toward warmer and more functional spaces. Rooms with two-story ceilings actually can be a negative for some buyers.»

«We don’t want high ceilings. Period,» said Mike Taylor, who is having a ranch-style house built in Lisle. He asked his builder to lower the ceiling by 50 percent.

«The model for the ranch had 18-foot ceilings in the great room,» Taylor said. «We like open space, but my wife and I thought it was too open and had a cold look. We wanted a warm, cozy feeling, so 9 feet was as high as we wanted to go.»

Don Smyczynski, president of H&D Builders Inc. in Naperville, agreed to lower the couple’s ceiling. Taylor said drawbacks of an 18-foot ceiling include increased maintenance problems and higher heating and cooling costs.

The architect of his new house confirmed the utility cost effects.

«Because heat rises, the thermostat may have to be set at 80 degrees to achieve 70 degrees on the first floor,» said Glenn Vesely, president of AES Consultants in Naperville. Fans can help push the heat down but might be only partially effective, he said.

Still, homebuyers are not ready to go too low on ceilings for everyday living spaces. Ceilings of 9 feet have replaced 8 feet as the standard in first-floor ceilings.

«These moderately higher ceilings make a home feel bigger,» Melman said.

«Some entry-level production homes offer 9-foot ceilings as an upgrade,» interior designer Helen Velas said.

«Move-up, single-family homes all have standard 9-foot ceilings on the first floor. Semicustom homes may go up to 10 feet, and custom homes can have 10- or 11-foot ceilings on the first floor.»

Velas, president of Eleni Interiors in Naperville, emphasized that room proportions change with ceiling heights.

«A higher ceiling means the windows have to be taller, crown molding has to be larger, a fireplace mantel has to be taller, light fixtures have to be bigger, even artwork has to be larger to cover more wall space. Everything has to be in scale,» she said.

Architect/developer David Hovey, president of Optima Inc. which has designed condominiums at Optima Old Orchard Woods in Skokie, said: «The standard for over 75 years was the 8-foot ceiling, but now we’re going higher. In high-rise residences, the ideal is 8 feet 6 inches. Just 6 inches more makes a real difference.»

Designer/builder Orren Pickell estimated that the extra cost of a 1-foot higher ceiling in a 4,000-square-foot house is about $20,000.

As architectural trends go, tall ceilings could make a comeback.

For Pickell, higher ceilings make a room feel «grander»; Velas: «a richer feeling»; and Korbelak: «They offer a wonderful sense of spaciousness.»

Barry Berkus, president of Berkus Design Studio in Santa Barbara, Calif. believes high ceilings create a positive effect because they allow larger windows and more natural light.

«This is especially important in the Midwest and northern parts of the country that have many gray days,» he said.

Berkus added that today’s more energy-efficient windows make larger windows more cost-effective in terms of heating and cooling.

«More light frees the spirit,» he said.


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