A ceiling that is either sheathed with wood or painted a darker color than the walls takes on visual weight. In other words, it seems heavier than it would if it were light in color. This is an excellent strategy to employ if a room feels too tall.
Credit: Grey Crawford A ceiling that is either sheathed with wood or painted a darker color than the walls takes on visual weight. In other words, it seems heavier than it would if it were light in color. This is an excellent strategy to employ if a room feels too tall.

When speaking about visual weight, we need to talk about color, but not in the conventional way. Color preferences vary enormously from person to person and are beyond the scope of our experience of space, and it's this characteristic that we'll discuss here.

A dark-colored surface absorbs more light than it reflects. It seems heavy in our peripheral vision, and our senses tell us that the surface must be closer to us than it actually is. It's literally as though light colors connote expansion, while dark colors connote contraction. With our present-day language preferences for bigger, lighter, and airier, we might assume that a surface that is closer and darker would immediately feel oppressive and so be undesirable, but in many cases the opposite is true. The words themselves may have negative connotations but the quality of space created is often warm and comfortable.

Texture, too, can give a surface increased visual weight. A textured surface breaks up the light that strikes it, creating patterns of shade and shadow, which make the surface appear darker than if the entire area were smooth. For example, a ceiling with exposed joints or rafters looks darker and lower than one that is flat because the light that strikes it gets broken up. It may seem counterintuitive to want to make a ceiling feel lower or a wall feel closer, but sometimes this is exactly what's needed to make a room seem appropriately proportioned, as well as to add personality.

Adapted with permission from Home by Design by Sarah Susanka, published by The Taunton Press (2004).

Any space in which it's desirable to increase the sense of intimacy will benefit from a darker colored ceiling. The warmer the color, the more the quality of intimacy will be enhanced.
Credit: Grey Crawford Any space in which it's desirable to increase the sense of intimacy will benefit from a darker colored ceiling. The warmer the color, the more the quality of intimacy will be enhanced.

Simply painting the ceiling will make it seem lower than it really is and will give the activity area it covers a greater sense of shelter and protection.
Credit: Grey Crawford Simply painting the ceiling will make it seem lower than it really is and will give the activity area it covers a greater sense of shelter and protection.

This piano alcove, with its dark maroon wall, feels like the heart of the house because this color connotes both warmth and depth. Had the wall been painted dark blue, the space would have felt cool and tranquil, almost like a still pool. If it were a bright orange, it would have taken on a more vibrant character.
Credit: Grey Crawford This piano alcove, with its dark maroon wall, feels like the heart of the house because this color connotes both warmth and depth. Had the wall been painted dark blue, the space would have felt cool and tranquil, almost like a still pool. If it were a bright orange, it would have taken on a more vibrant character.