Open Concept: A Quest For High Ceilings

Photo by Luis Dalvan

Do you crave higher ceilings? Most people welcome more elbow room and space in which to move around, but this is about headroom – and I’m not just talking about the physical kind. Walk with me…

In the movie Running With Scissors (based on the memoir of the same name by Augusten Burroughs), Annette Bening – who plays his Mother – declares at one point “I need high ceilings!”. While it provided for great dramatic effect – especially as she proceeds to clobber away at it in her quest for freedom – there is no scientific background on the why, but a study published back in 2007 by Joan Meyers-Levy, a marketing professor, looked at the impact ceiling heights have on the way people think, feel and act. It was co-authored with Juliet Zhu, an assistant professor of marketing at the Sauder School of Business in British Columbia. They discovered that higher ceilings foster abstract and more creative thinking, whereas rooms with lower ceilings tend to focus a person’s attention more closely to the task at hand. It’s an interesting concept for taller people like me who have bumped, scraped and whacked their noggins on low hanging fruit for years – although that simply reflects a craving for more practical spaces. However, it should come as no surprise to anyone that Meyers-Levy claims the idea came to her while boarding a plane (you can read an article about the study in the New York Times here: Higher Ceilings).  Incidentally, my own experience with planes includes close encounters with countless doorways and baggage compartments. Topping the list of my greatest hits has to be the time I partially took out an emergency exit sign – if anyone reading this happened to witness that one – you’re welcome!

The study authors decided to apply this idea to consumers and how they respond to products based on the dynamics of the environment they are in – like retail stores, for example. Of course, like almost everything, this can easily be extended to real estate. Any Realtor will tell you that older homes with lower ceilings are typically not as easily marketed when lined up against newer ones with higher ceilings. The cynic in me dismisses this as what I like to call Versailles Syndrome – the underlying desire most people harbor to live in a palace. But the study reveals our response to higher ceilings is far more than esthetics or delusions of grandeur. It seems that, whether we realize it or not, most of us tend to find inspiration when the room above our heads is higher and more open. Conversely, low ceilings also have an equally useful and important purpose – especially when it comes to something detailed and requiring intense focus. Think about that. If you’re undergoing surgery, wouldn’t you feel better knowing the doctor’s focus was on the “task at hand” rather than day dreaming thanks to the soaring pavilion above her head? This doesn’t mean we only find inspiration or mental freedom by living in a home with lots of space above us. I like to think of it as more of a friendly reminder to get out more and visit museums & other public spaces to help foster a healthier mindset. So the next time you find yourself thinking big thoughts or finding a few moments of inner peace – look up. It might be thanks in large part to the space you find yourself in – and it likely isn’t while boarding a plane.

1 thought on “Open Concept: A Quest For High Ceilings

  1. Lovely and thoughtful insights. Thank you !


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