When we want to define one space from another, we typically use a wall. But once there is a wall, there is also an impenetrable barrier to views and to conversation, which is not always desirable. As houses have become more open, with family rooms, kitchens, and informal eating areas combined into one “great room,” differentiation between activity places has diminished. Most great rooms have all three functions unceremoniously stuffed into a large rectangle of space.
There is an alternative, however, that retains the desired openness between places, but still gives each its own definition and character. By lowering parts of the ceiling, you can sculpt the spaces to identify and define each of the activity areas within a room.
Ceiling height variation is one of the least frequently used yet most effective tools for defining space. Although most people are surprisingly sensitive to variations in ceiling height, many of us have the almost reflexive belief that lower ceilings are bad and higher ceilings are good. But, in fact, any ceiling that is all one height is rather boring, no matter whether it's high or low. The art of the ceiling plane lies in creating contrast — using lower ceilings for less important or more private spaces, and higher ceilings for more important or public spaces.
Adapted with permission from Home by Design by Sarah Susanka, published by The Taunton Press (2004).