How to Visually Lift a Low Ceiling Without Renovating


Low ceiling got you down? Stand up to it with these relatively easy-to-implement design moves

By Yanic Simard / Courtesy of

Does your mood need a little lift when you walk into a space? Well, maybe it’s the ceiling that needs lifting. If you’re working with a basement room, awkward attic or another space with an uncomfortably low ceiling — but can’t pony up to actually raise the roof — there are ways to make it look higher so that the room feels beautifully airy and open. Here’s how.

White and Bright

One of the best first steps to visually lifting a low ceiling is to paint it bright white, then add as much light as you can. 

It’s important to remember, though, that can lights alone may not help hoist the ceiling. In fact, if the only light in a room is beaming downward, this may leave the floor and furniture brightly lit but the ceiling in shadow. Adding table or floor lamps that shine upward will keep the lighting more even so that no dark corners develop.


Another key strategy to making a room feel taller is to create a floor plan that takes the best advantage of what height there is. Low basement spaces often will have areas with a normal ceiling height, which can be dedicated to circulation space, while the lower areas are used for seating. This way you can stand tall while moving about the room and feel cozy while nestled into a sofa.

Notice how this room places the sofa under the ceiling drop, at a playful diagonal angle no less, to make maximum use of the full-height area.

Similarly, this room pushes the seating against the wall under the low area, so the tallest part is open for circulation. It also adds lots of glowing light to distract attention from the ceiling.

To be fair, this isn’t the lowest basement ceiling ever, but with this thoughtful layout and the beautiful wall features, you may not even notice the drop.

Cove Lights

Here’s that same space from a different angle, which makes it easier to spot the glowing cove light washing the wall and art. Tucking a light source where it won’t be seen (behind a bulkhead or even behind furniture) creates an ethereal glow that tricks the eye into believing sunlight is pouring in from somewhere, which fights off claustrophobia.

Bold Furniture

Another way to distract the eye from a low or broken-up ceiling is to use bold furniture pieces that draw the attention. This weighty blue sofa is likely the first thing you notice when you enter the room, and the colorful rug, chair and gleaming side table keep the focus on the ground. Adding this weight draws the eye down, effectively making the ceiling feel higher.

Low Furniture

If you enjoy lounging on the weekends, using low furniture to create a hip casual seating space also will help keep the ceiling feeling high above your head. This sofa with extra pillows (and the trio of poufs) is made for piling onto to watch a movie, or for teens to hang out with friends. Add a big plush rug, and the whole space will beckon you to lie down and forget your worries.


Another common strategy for stealing an extra foot or so of space is to remove a dropped ceiling (commonly used to hide messy construction components), and then paint the ceiling and any beams or pipes white. This look works especially well when you play into it with a quirky or eclectic style, such as the use of recovered planks here to dress an accent wall.

Exposed beams can help distract the eye from where the true ceiling begins, making the newly lifted ceiling plane seem even higher. In a home office (which typically means a lot of sitting), you probably won’t notice where the overhead space ends.

For those who don’t like painting all their wood: Exposed beams needn’t be strictly white for this effect to work. Wood or colorful beams also will visually advance, helping the panels of ceiling between them recede, so the effect is cozy but not cramped.

Less Is More

Filling a low-ceiling room with minimal furniture helps make the space feel large compared with its singular function. In other words, when the room contains just a bed or just a sofa, it feels like a luxuriously large nook instead of a cramped room.

Notice how this bedroom skips weighty nightstands and a chest at the end of the bed in favor of keeping the storage elsewhere. Now the space can be all about diving into that plush mattress.

Here’s another example: This game room feels absolutely decadent because so much floor space is dedicated to just one piece of furniture. It could include a sofa, chairs, TV and so forth to be more versatile, but choosing just one function and sticking to it keeps the slanting ceiling from being an obstacle.

More Is More

Finally, sometimes the best way to handle a low ceiling is to refuse to give in. This basement uses striking colors, bold accents and plenty of furniture, and it highlights the ceiling with a wood treatment. However, amid the personality and fun, you don’t even notice that the ceiling is a little low. If you love a bold look, don’t let a simple low ceiling take you down without a fight.

This bedroom makes no effort to battle the low ceiling and celebrates its coziness instead. The wraparound wood and touch-me textural accents, such as the sheepskin rug, make the room all about coddling you like a cabin in a winter retreat. As they say, when you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Just do it in style.