Recent trends indicate that higher ceilings — 9 and 10 feet — are the norm in new homes. While many remodeling clients are looking for increased ceiling height, they are also interested in the ceiling as a design element.

Heightened Awareness Don Gillispie of Camarillo, Calif., wasn't trying to be trendy, but he did push up the 8-foot ceiling in his own home's formal dining room by handcrafting an octagon that adds grandeur to the room and gives the ceiling a customized look. “I have made unique projects for clients that helped spark my imagination about different ideas and styles that I incorporated into my octant design,” Gillispie says.

Created out of drywall, the ceiling took Gillispie two months to craft in his spare time. “It was all handwork,” says the 35-year drywall veteran whose ceiling design took first place in the Gypsum Association's 2004 Excellence in Gypsum Board Design & Construction Awards.

Intricate work isn't usually done with drywall, and Gillispie couldn't use the mechanical tools that most tradespeople use for working with gypsum board. The ceiling comes up in small arches and is curved along the back. Gillispie cut the drywall pieces with a standard utility knife and arched them himself, using handheld knives and trowels for the finish. Trimtex 350 flex bead guards the edges. He installed rope lighting in the lower portion to highlight the arches; a low-voltage can light is set in each wedge and a chandelier hangs from the center. “You get different effects depending on which way you turn on the lights,” he says. “It can be pretty dramatic.”

Cozy Coffers Many recently built luxury homes have the opposite issue: Ceilings can be too high, making rooms feel cavernous. In a 12,000-square-foot brick Colonial-style home in northern Virginia, Dan Dalrymple, a project manager at Fox-craft Design Group, Arlington, Va., was given the task of creating a warm, inviting office out of a 32-by-32-foot unused living room with 10-foot ceilings.

The designers settled on a coffered ceiling as the best solution. “We basically laid out the room to find out what size squares would work best for a pattern,” Dalrymple says. “We turned that on the diagonal since the room was relatively square. We milled a circular coffer from oak for the center of the ceiling and made that a feature.” The coffers and crown molding are oak, and there is a picture rail below the coffers. The ceiling height was brought down to about 9 feet, and the flat part of the ceiling is faux finished in a gold tone — creating a gold-leaf–like look.

“We used dark stain and dark colors on the walls to make the room feel more intimate,” Dalrymple says. “By bringing the ceiling down and darkening the colors, it's now a comfortable space to be in.”

Dramatic Drop For the clients living in the historic Kellogg's-Billing mansion in St. Paul, Minn., interior designers Bonnie Birnbaum and Holly Seel created a dramatic ceiling based on something they had seen in Spain. Once the clients approved the design idea, Purcell Inc., a White Bear Lake design/build company, estimated the cost of the design and figured out the technical details so the clients could approve pricing for the project.

Chosen as one of the 2004 American Society of Interior Designers Minnesota Chapter showcase homes, the design also won the 2005 regional and national Contractor of the Year Award (COTY) in the Residential Interior Specialty category.

The ceiling was built upside down, says Purcell Inc., owner Tim Purcell. “We only had concept drawings. Based on that we [came up with] the answers needed to create the actual product.”

On a table below the area where the ceiling would go, carpenters laid out sheets of plywood to create the 14-by-18-foot substructure to start the build. “Then we took the dimensional lumber and cut curves out of it more or less like building the stern of a ship,” Purcell says. The carpenters used wood lath for concave areas and on top of that put metal lath and finished it with plaster.

When it was complete — after more than 300 hours of construction — it took 12 people to lift and turn the swooping ceiling right side up and place it. It is supported on one side by two columns and on the other side by a wall. Several hundred strands of fiber-optic lights thread throughout.

Don Gillispie crafted an octant design from drywall using only traditional hand tools.
Don Gillispie crafted an octant design from drywall using only traditional hand tools.

Foxcraft Design Group created an oak coffered ceiling to make this imposing room feel more inviting.
Foxcraft Design Group created an oak coffered ceiling to make this imposing room feel more inviting.

Based on a ceiling seen in Spain by the project's interior designers, Purcell Inc. built this swirling design upside down on a table. Carpenters cut dimensional lumber as if they were building the stern of a ship. Concave areas are constructed of wood lath, with metal lath on top of that and a plaster finish. It took a dozen people to lift and turn the work and place it.
Based on a ceiling seen in Spain by the project's interior designers, Purcell Inc. built this swirling design upside down on a table. Carpenters cut dimensional lumber as if they were building the stern of a ship. Concave areas are constructed of wood lath, with metal lath on top of that and a plaster finish. It took a dozen people to lift and turn the work and place it.