Grand, spacious rooms with soaring ceilings, floor-to-ceiling windows and statement lighting can be some of the most beautifully designed spaces. But, don’t let the awe-inspiring final design fool you: designing to scale can be a challenge. With so much room, and height, making decisions on a grand scale requires careful considerations, expert knowledge and custom solutions. We asked
“Soaring ceiling heights look wonderful on a plan,” says Elizabeth Metcalfe of
“When designing a room with a high ceiling, remember that the scale of the items must be proportional to the dimensions of the space. The volume of this room necessitated a generously sized area rug and furnishings that were appropriate and had enough visual weight to balance with the volume of the room,” says Metcalfe.
“We added a double-band molding trim detail around the perimeter of this family room to subtly reference a comfortable ceiling height while at the same time adding a dramatic mirror over the fireplace that draws your eye up,” says Metcalfe of the stylish, light-filled great room pictured above. “Floating overhead is a 60-inch diameter circular halo of light that helps unify the elevated height of the room to the furniture layout below. The rectilinear elements of the room are softened by the full-height linen sheer draper panels that add a layer of warmth and texture.”
“There is definitely something special about working on grand, luxurious spaces but they are indeed challenging,” says Gary McBournie of
When it comes to tips for designing to scale, McBournie has some major ones to keep in mind. First, consider the architecture. “The addition of architectural elements, such as beams, crown molding and trayed ceilings can both add depth and visual interest,” he says. “Break up the room into various seating areas, with one taking center stage. Be sure to scale the furniture to both the overall space and the specific seating area.” Other effective tools include high-hanging artwork and furniture such as bookcases and large etageres filled with larger books and objects than usual. “I like to use a mixture of large pieces and scaled groupings in these types of projects. I will mount them a bit higher than usual to bring the eye upward,” he says. “Also, consider a library ladder for the bookcases so that your guests can enjoy your reading choices.”
Some of the most important aspects to consider for great rooms are lighting and window treatments. “Lighting is key,” says McBournie. “Statement lighting such as large-scale chandeliers and other hanging fixtures help to fill the empty air in a large space. Do not limit the use to the center of a room. A large light fixture can also define a separate space or add drama to a large stairwell or bathroom.” Additionally, lamps, picture lights and carefully considered recessed lighting can create desired pools of light. “Not only can lighting define a room into spaces but it can add a sense of intimacy.” In the dining room of this Montana ski home, a lighting fixture dropped from a high ceiling anchors a table in the space. In the living room, the large Italian chandelier makes a beautiful design statement and fills the large amount of air space over the living area arrangement.
When it comes to window treatments in grand spaces, McBournie has an important rule: “Mount window treatments as close to the ceiling as possible,” he says. “I like to keep my drapery treatments relatively simple — long panels, perhaps with a trim on the leading edge — and mount them as ceiling height. A shade of some sort such as, roman, grass, solar, etc., mounted behind the draperies will fill in the gap between the panels and bring the eye down a bit.” A visual illustration of this tactic can be seen in the Montana ski house great room. “The draperies were mounted as high as practically possible to span the width of the sliding doors and the grass shade prevents the eye from climbing any higher,” he says. Additionally, “the band on the leading edge of the drapery is a color used in the carpeting and as an accent on the upholstery. A subtle way to use color as a briding tool,” says McBournie.
When it comes to color choices for window treatments, and the design altogether, Jan Girard, of
For this new high-rise, in collaboration with designer/architect Sal LaRosa, Girard knew the sheer chiffon choice for the room would require a lot of work. “It had to be sewn completely by hand. We made samples of both the curtains and the shades using a single layer of fabric. We took them to the site, but too much light came through. It was determined that all of them would be self lined. In the case of the curtains, two layers of fabric are joined only at the top. The light comes through each layer, sometimes separately. It adds a special magic. The light is very sensual during the day. At night, of course the color is deeper, more intense, not so sheer, thus adding a sense of enclosure and coziness to the room.”
“I think too often, even interior designers see a high-rise building with a great expanse of windows on a high floor with a beautiful view and assume that window treatments are not necessary. If so, they are missing the point and a great opportunity to add a special statement to a room,” says Girard. “Large window treatments are very much like smaller ones in many respects, but there are more important technical and physical considerations. There is more of everything, heavy and more costly. And, they use a lot more materials and take up more space. There’s an extra degree of complexity, craftsmanship, patience and especially time required on a larger treatment. To be visually and aesthetically successful, they must be beautifully resolved and perfectly fitted to their site.”
“Professional window treatments add so much to any space,” says Laurel Sprigg of
“I like to use textiles in layers to serve a variety of uses in each space. Light filtering, light blocking, sun protection, and temperature control are all part of my process. Selecting the right fabric is very important. An easy test I give all my design students for texture is to hold your memo samples at the corner and see if they fall into folds, or if they stand out like a piece of paper. Good curtains need fluidity and movement, so the folding sample is the one to select for curtains. The stiffer fabrics are best used on upholstery, not windows. In very sunny windows, you must either protect the fabrics with the correct linings, or use fabric that can tolerate lots of sun.”
“I always start with the architecture and sun orientation of the room,” says Sprigg. “In this lovely room in the photo, the windows face south and therefore get a great deal of sun. This particular space heats up to the point of being unusable during the day without window treatments, so first and foremost, they needed something to filter the strong sun. The walls are also not very tall, and the windows themselves are also set quite low in the wall, with a fair amount of wall space above the them. The skylight in this space is also a spectacular feature to celebrate, so lifting the gaze when you enter the room is part of the goal here,” says Sprigg.
“Designer Lindsay Gerber and I agreed on a two layer solution for these windows. To filter the sun, we used Conrad woven shades. We used just two large shades, instead of four small ones, for ease of operation. The curtains and shades are all set at the ceiling line to get maximum height for the room, and the curtains are all lined with our soft blackout lining to protect the fabric from sun damage. They create vertical columns that lead the eye upward to the skylight. The effect is both calming and uplifting, bright yet shady like a garden retreat.”