Visual Tricks To Heighten Low Ceilings

kids bedroom attic low ceiling

Suffering from height deprivation from a low ceiling? Use these visual tricks and optical illusions to give your space more vertical room.


A really desirable trait of homes and apartments everywhere is high ceilings. High ceilings can make even the smallest square footage look spacious and luxurious. Maybe high ceilings are closest the the sky, and that’s why we love them so much. But whatever the psychological reason, it’s a fact that high ceilings are nice to have.

But then, what if you don’t have them? Sometimes you have to live in a basement (or “ground-level”) apartment or suite. Sometimes the building is old and ceilings were just lower back then. Even though you can’t actually change your ceiling height, you can certainly use visual tricks to make it look like your ceilings are higher.

Choose a bright, reflective ceiling color

The basic trick for making your ceiling look higher is to choose the right ceiling color and finish. The rules are simple:

  • Choose a color that’s lighter than the walls
  • Choose a glossy finish

The light color will help open up your space, and the glossy finish will reflect the light–unless you want to put mirrors on the ceiling, that is.

low ceiling bedroom

Here’s another good visual trick to use with your ceiling paint: extend it a few inches at the top of the walls. This seems counter-intuitive, but it actually tricks the eye and makes your ceiling look higher.

Decorate your walls wisely

There are a few things you can do with your walls to give the impression of higher ceilings. It’s all in the choice and placement of your decorative elements.

The first trick is to decorate with columns. Instead of putting your art or whatever else you put on your walls in horizontal lines, try installing them vertically, on top of each other. It’s the same principle as using vertical lines in clothing to lengthen and thin your figure.

You can also install wallpaper with a vertical pattern. Use something subtle, like tone-on-tone patterns or small geometric shapes, but make sure that your eye goes upwards rather than sideways as you look at it. If you are more creative, you can plan and paint the pattern yourself!

You can also use your windows to make your ceiling appear higher. There are 2 tricks you can use, either separately or together. The first is to use dark, contrasting curtain rods. Don’t worry about curtain rods being horizontal–their contrasting look will drive the eye upwards. In combination with long, dramatic drapes that begin higher than the window and fall down to the floor, you can easily add visual height to your ceiling.

Use furniture and lighting efficiently

The one thing you need to avoid with low ceilings is hanging things from it. When you hang light fixtures, for example, it’s easy for the eye to see the difference between the floor, the fixture and the ceiling, and to realize that there isn’t much space there.

Keep your ceiling free of hanging lighting; use fixtures that stay close to the ceiling. Even better: use wall light fixtures that you install as close as possible to the ceiling. This will draw the eye upwards and provide plenty of light to reflect on the ceiling (which you have painted in a glossy color, right?)

low ceiling basement living room

Low furniture

Here’s one last but clever decorating trick: get low furniture. Keep everything as close to the ground as possible: a low couch, horizontal rather than vertical book and DVD cases, low tables. Get inspiration from cultures that don’t use chairs: a luxurious Moroccan haven or a simple Japanese dining room.

Here’s a fascinating article about the harm of chairs I found, which makes me want to rethink that whole chair-and-table seating thing… In any case, keeping the furniture profile low will make your ceilings look higher, because the distance between the top of the furniture and the ceiling will be larger.

Optical illusions to the rescue

If low ceilings are a problem for you, you’ll want to use one or several of these ideas to make them look taller. Optical illusions and visual tricks are used everywhere in design and fashion; why not use their principles to make your living space look more spacious and comfortable?

Have you had to deal with low ceilings? How did you make your space look bigger and higher? Let us know your tricks and ideas in the comments!

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