How ceiling height affects you

Most people don’t realize how much ceiling height affects them. It can make the difference between whether a room feels like a cramped, depressing space or a lofty, inspiring one.

Back in 2000, I built a hotel and conference centre in Bali. The hotel rooms all had ample ceiling heights and the octagonal conference centre had a stunning 21 metre (69 feet) high roof made of wood, bamboo and thatch.

The wow of high ceilings

The first reaction of everyone who walked into the conference centre was to look up and say ‘Wow!’ Often I would come in and find visitors lying on the marble floor, flat on their back in the centre of the room, gazing upwards, absorbed in the geometry of the roof and lost in wonder.

Bali Mandala roof

Looking up into the roof of The Bali Mandala Room

If they were lucky, they would be regaled by George, a large Balinese gecko who took up residence behind the carved wooden disc at the pinnacle of the roof and became famous for bursting into a rousing “geck-o” chorus at high points of the international workshops Richard and I taught there. Whenever that happened, every face in the room would swivel upwards to try to catch a glimpse of the originator of such a vibrant, unusual sound, but George nearly always remained safely hidden from view.

If you’ve never heard a gecko, here’s an example that I found online. However, it must be said that George’s call sounded far more magnificent, amplified as it was by the acoustics of the room. And he typically did nine or more calls in a row, which is pretty unusual.

YouTube player

Anyway, back to the roof. In keeping with many dome and spire structures around the world, I specifically designed it to be invitational to high spiritual presences and to connect people to spaces of consciousness that are far beyond the level of everyday life.

I created it because I couldn’t find a decent workshop venue in Bali to rent so I built my own. Without a doubt, it’s the best space I have ever taught in. It was bulldozed by the new owner, who had no use for it, but if you’re interested to know, from the outside it looked like this:

Bali Mandala

The difference between high and low ceilings

The hotel guest rooms I built didn’t elicit the same level of awe as this building, but guests loved the high ceilings and often commented on them.  Most hotel rooms in Bali are a rather depressing standard 2.5 metres (8.2 feet) high so I made mine 3.5 metres (11.5 feet) high. It didn’t cost much more and what a difference it made.

Personally, I find 3 to 3.5 meters (9.8 to 11.5 feet) to be a very comfortable ceiling height. It gives plenty of headroom for creative processes but is not so tall that it hikes up heating or cooling costs to unreasonable levels.

I wasn’t brought up in a house with high ceilings. The rooms in my family’s home were a mere 8 feet (2.44 metres) high, which was a common UK building practice in the post-war economy to save on materials and labour. But in my teens and twenties, I lived almost exclusively in Victorian properties, with 10 to 13-foot (3 to 4-metre) ceilings and it spoilt me for life. Once I had experienced the enhanced creativity of living with so much space above my head, there was no going back.

Why high ceilings feel so inspiring

To understand why higher ceilings have this effect it’s necessary to appreciate that there is more to a human being than just a physical body. We also have subtle body structures and, in relation to ceilings, it is the subtle body structure above the head, known as “the column above”, that benefits so much from being in high-ceiling spaces. The column above is the means by which we can connect to high spiritual realms while incarnated here on earth. A high-ceilinged room naturally supports this far more than a low-ceiling room, which explains why cathedrals and temples are usually such towering structures. They allow us to soar.

In that respect, Frank Lloyd Wright has a lot to answer for because he tended to design homes with 7-foot (2.1-metre) high ceilings.  The most likely reason for this is that he was only 5’ 3” (1.6 m) tall himself and came from Wisconsin, where winter temperatures often plummet to -30 or -40F (-34 or -40C). Low ceilings must have felt cozy and practical to him, but they feel claustrophobic to most people. Living with such a confined ceiling height can have the effect of squashing a person’s verticality and making them feel small and ineffectual. You only have to look at the contrast between the low-ceilinged upper floors of English Victorian homes, where the household staff lived, and the grandiose high-ceilinged floors below, where their masters resided, to see how low ceilings can keep people oppressed.

The trend these days in Western countries is for higher ceilings, which matches the level of emancipation in these cultures. 9 feet (2.74 metres) is now the norm, with 10 to12 feet (3 to 3.66 metres) seen as a desirable height for more opulent homes.

So what can you do if you live in a low-ceilinged home?

Well, low ceilings will affect you. There’s no way around that. But there are ways you can mitigate the effect to some extent. Here are some suggestions:

  • Paint your ceilings white and your walls a light colour
  • Use uplighting, not downlighting
  • If you don’t have much natural light from windows, install skylights if it’s practical and affordable to do so
  • Avoid having too many downward-hanging objects in your home, which will pull the energy down
  • In the places where you spend a lot of time sitting, position yourself so that you have a clear ceiling space above your head rather than being under a light fitting or other structure
  • Low-ceilinged rooms tend to make people slouch or hunch so check your posture regularly and get into the habit of sitting as vertically as possible

Of course, the best solution of all is to move to a place that has higher ceilings. Or at least put it on your wish list for your next home.

Copyright © Clear Space Living Ltd, 2020

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About Karen Kingston

Karen Kingston is a leading expert in clutter clearing, space clearing, feng shui, and healthy homes. Her two international bestselling books have combined sales of over three million copies in 26 languages and have established themselves as "must-read" classics in their fields. Her best-known title, Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui, is now in its fifth edition. She is best known for her perspective-changing insights and practical solutions that enable more conscious navigation of 21st-century living.
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2 Responses to How ceiling height affects you

  1. Hi Karen. Your work is incredibly inspiring. I’ve read your book a few years ago and I’m still going strong on the fight against clutter (a war I would have almost won by now if it wasn’t because I live with a packrat). I have to say, however, that while I nod to almost everything you say, I strongly disagree with this one.

    Perhaps I am the exception, but I live in a very tiny bedroom (8×9 feet) with an incredibly high ceiling I can’t reach except with a ladder. The damn ceiling is stained all over with fungi and moss but I can’t reach it to clean it; besides, the room is so small I can’t bring a ladder to it except if I took out the bed (which I could only do it “by the side”).

    I wish my ceiling was like the one in my former house where I could touch it with the hand if I climbed to the bed. That was my ideal height. I wouldn’t have any problem with it…

  2. Really interesting piece Karen. The conference centre you built in Bali was magnificent!

    The ceiling in my recently renovated London flat (in a block) is 2.3m and I must admit I must the Victoria ceiling height of my previous home. I also have spotlights which I now rather regret, wishing I had stuck solely with uplighting. I do however use some uplighting in the corner of rooms so will look to add more of this.

    Thankfully in the entrance to flat I created a full 2 storey entrance which is lovely to breathe in every time I come home.

    Thanks for another interesting article.
    Craig xx

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