Tips and Tricks for Decorating with Tall and Low Ceilings

As Discussed on the Pete and Brenda Radio Show, July 8, 2010, 12:40 and 9:40pm, PST

Tall Ceilings:

Many of today’s new homes contain large rooms with soaring ceilings and expanses of glass that present daunting challenges to even the most creative homeowners.  Since most residential furniture is no more than 3-4 feet high, a common decorating dilemma is what to do with all the “nothingness” above that level.  Additionally, guests are always more comfortable when the scale is more relative to the human form.

Before photo: Furniture is lost in living room in a Portland, OR home

Before photo: Before shot of living room with tall ceilings

One solution– Add a horizontal line element to visually lower the ceiling, and scale your decor to match the scale of the walls, i.e. don’t just hang small, wall decor at the lower level.  You can add drama and emphasize the height of the walls by using large scale window treatments, artwork and accessories as we have done below.  Now when people walk into this room they say “wow!”  These custom window treatments were placed in a home in Portland, OR…

Click on photos for large view

After shot of small living room with tall ceilings in Portland, OR

In addition to the custom window treatments, the area rug, paint colors and accessories all played an important role in transforming this room from drab to fab!

After: Tall ceilings in a Portland, OR home

Another solution— Ceiling height can be visually lowered by applying a molding on the wall below the ceiling. A rule of thumb is to place the molding at about the nine-foot level. The wall above this detail is then painted the color of the ceiling, thus lowering its perceived height. This can even be done on the gable end of a vaulted room.

Interior design solutions for tall ceilings. Source: Apartment Therapy

Since light colors appear to recede and dark colors advance, a ceiling will also look lower if painted a deeper hue of the wall color.  But don’t use too dark or too bright a color in a smaller room, as it may become oppressive.  Light the lower areas of the room more intensively so that attention remains closer to eye level.

Drapery and window treatments in these rooms need to be carefully designed to ensure the decorative interest of the design is at an optimum height.  Framed wall art, mirrors, and tapestries serve to focus interest at a mid-level height, while corner voids can be filled with well lighted trees for softening, texture, and interest.    And again you want to emphasize the height of the room by drawing the eye up with additional visual elements, such as the way the custom window treatments draw your eye up in the photo below as well as hanging large-scale artwork up high…

Before shot of tall ceilings, ©Decorating Den Interiors

After shot of room with tall ceilings and windows. ©Decorating Den Interiors

In the room below, the draperies were the right scale, but they were lost because they were the same color as the wall, and didn’t have much texture in the fabric….

Before photo of a family room in Portland, OR

Before photo of a family room in Portland, OR

After an accent wall was painted behind the draperies and a valance plus a second layer of draperies were added in a contrasting color, the room has a much more dramatic effect, with a big “wow” factor.  Additionally adding an area rug, throw pillows, accessories, painting the alcove and adding faux iron, all helped to pull the room together to make it look polished…

After photo of family room in Portland, OR

I’ve found mixing horizontal wall treatments with large-scale, vertical wall and window treatments creates a very dramatic effect.  Below demonstrates a brilliant idea of adding moldings to further enlarge the wall art to match the large scale of the wall…

Combination of large scale and horizontal lines

A key is too use large scale artwork when placing artwork on large and tall walls.  You want your art to match the scale of your walls…

Large artwork fits the scale of large wall

Volume ceilings in bedrooms can be transformed into a cozier scale through the careful use of canopy bed treatments.  An actual canopy bed is not necessary to accomplish this trick…

Custom window treatments create look of canapy bed in a master bedroom

Kitchen ceilings can be brought into a more human scale through the careful use of wall coverings and accessories.  The inclusion of crown moldings at the top of cabinets serves to suggest that the ceiling is at that level.  A slightly darker color than the walls will again help to fool the eye.

Lifting ceiling height in kitchens

 Additionally, if you bring your cabinetry all the way up to the ceiling, you not only gain additional storage space, but it helps to give the appearance of taller ceilings.  Further,  there will be less of a need for cluttered and dusty nic naks at the top.

Crown moldings in kitchen by Gail Drury

Low Ceilings:

The reverse of the ultra-high ceiling situation is the standard eight foot ceiling needing an updated “lift”.  Vertically striped wall coverings lead the eye to the ceiling where bordering can be used to further expand the feel. Next, paint the ceiling the background color in the border to give it the feeling of extending the space by minimizing contrast.

Stripes on wall visually lift up ceiling height

Subtle stripes of matte paint alternated with pearlized paint

 Here are examples of other types of vertical lines that can help raise ceiling height…

Use of molding to raise appearance of ceiling height

Consider grids and large graphics to raise your ceiling height as well…

Large scale graphics

Street of Dreams, Portland, OR

Using grids all the way up the ceiling

Borders can also be placed directly on the ceiling abutting the wall rather than on the wall itself. This will make the ceiling seem higher by appearing to be part of the wall and softening the demarcation between the two.

Crown moldings are a wonderful way to lift attention to ceilings. For a low ceiling, crown molding can extend more on the ceiling than on the wall by simply having the molding reversed when installed. Paint the molding only a shade lighter or darker (but with more sheen) than the wall to avoid defining the ceiling too sharply.

Vertical window treatments are another great trick for adding height to walls.  To be successful, you want them hung up high near the ceiling, and they should at least be brushing the floor…

Custom vertical window treatments raise the ceiling height

Vertical window draperies

Don’t overlook the effects of lighting. Chandeliers and sconces which reflect up onto the ceiling, and are just a bit brighter than the rest of the room, will give you the feeling of a larger space.


Ceiling lighting helps raise the ceilings as well

The importance of lighting in a Portland, OR kitchen  Use lighting to draw the eye up

Ceilings should be an important and attractive part of your design plan. A little bit of thought and creativity can add a whole new dimension to your rooms.

Ceiling from Street of Dreams, Portland, OR

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24 Responses to “Tips and Tricks for Decorating with Tall and Low Ceilings”
  1. Melissa says:

    I love one of the large artwork pieces in the photos above. Is it possible to get the name of it?

  2. That one came from one of our suppliers. I’ll look it up.

  3. I simply want to say I am new to weblog and truly loved your blog. Probably I’m likely to bookmark your blog post . You absolutely come with fantastic articles. Regards for sharing your webpage.

  4. Sharon says:

    Hi love your post. Can you tell me the colors used on the walls in combination of large scale and horizontal lines featuring the added molding to further enlarge the wall art to match the large scale of the wall… I love this look very relaxing. Thanks for your help. Sharon

  5. Eileen Johnston says:


    I think all of these rooms are very dramatic. I have the same tall windows in Md. and came here looking for window treatment ideas. However, I also noticed your accessories – the rectangular grids(art) and the circular pieces in the molding boxes – where do you get such fantastic decorations? On-line?

    • Hi Eileen,
      I’m glad you’ve found the article useful… That’s always great to hear! I’d be happy to refer you to a Decorating Den Interiors decorator in your area. We special order just about everything we use to decorate with from our wholesale suppliers. This helps us design unique interiors without mass-merchandised decor items from retail stores or e-commerce Websites.

  6. Rahat Malik says:

    hello i LOVE the after shot of small living room with high ceilings. I am an Interior decorator myself..but when it comes to my own home..i am clue less..we have recently purchased a home and the ceilings are very whole living room is lost..i dont know what to do. do you have any free estimate deals or something? we live in Georgia. Plz let me know..thanks

  7. melinda says:


    Love the designs. I have an open living room/floor plan with tall ceilings and I’m stuck. Could you help?


  8. Tonja says:

    Hello , I have 9th ceilings in my 12×11 Dining Room! Would it be ok to purchase an antique cabinet that is only 12″ from the ceiling (5’x8’x19″deep) ! I have floor to ceiling windows.I love this piece but wanted to make sure it didn’t overwhelm the room!
    Thank you

  9. Ragan — what a great article….so thorough and helpful. Love all the photos and tips. Great work!

Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] We are also better now at interior decorating  in 1950′s – 1970’s homes built with low ceilings…   Check out my tips.  […]

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