It’s Easy to Decorate a Room with a Tall / High Ceiling

Decorating a Room with Vertical Tension in mind

Decorating a Room with Vertical Tension in mind

When most people go to decorate a room with a tall ceiling, they seem to arrange their furniture and decorative accessories around the bottom half of the space. A lot of their choices for decorations seem to be horizontal format (wider than tall). By choosing horizontal format furniture, art works and accessories, those items are not / can not in any way accentuate the most important feature in the space its height. When you pay extra money for taller ceilings, or are lucky enough to have a room(s) with high ones, you don’t want your furniture and decorative choices going against, in a negative way, the asset of height that you have. You want to accentuate height, not diminish it. In this post, my objective is to get you thinking about ways of adding vertical tension to your rooms.

Now let’s look at the cover illustration for this post. It shows the same room decorated two different ways. In the upper part of the illustration you see a living room with a tall ceiling, but most / all of the elements in the space are horizontal format. They weigh down the room bringing your attention to the bottom half and lead your eyes across the space.

The drawing that is below it shows the same room, but a lot of attention was put into adding elements and making groupings of horizontal format items, that when grouped together turn into vertical format arrangements.

Now let’s examine the two spaces… In the upper living room, the picture over the fireplace is wider than tall. Its short height does not fill in enough of the wall space between the fireplace’s mantel and the crown molding that runs around the top of the room. When you look at the top edges of both the picture over the fireplace and the picture over the sofa, your eye thinks that is the top of the room. For some reason the mind does not think about the two plus feet of space above the tops of the picture frames and the ceiling line. By properly picking and hanging your decorative accessories, you help the eye to move up the walls, and help the mind to realize how tall the space your are in really is.

Also notice in the upper illustration how the Chinese urn, even though it is taller than wide does not do much to draw the eye upward.

Now look at the picture and Chinese vase over the fireplace in the lower illustration. The artwork is taller and the Chinese urn, which is missing its top, is now filled with tall decorative branches which direct your eyes upward on that side of the room.

Next let’s look at the artworks over the two sofas that are in the center of the rooms. In the upper illustration, the picture is hung fine for a room with a low ceiling. It is properly distanced above the back of the sofa. Again, look at the large amount of wall space above it. The horizontal format landscape instead of directing your eye upward, makes you think the wall it is on is wider than tall. It promotes horizontal tension, directing your eyes left to right across the space.

Now look at the lower illustration. It portrays the exact some wall, with the exact same amount of space, but look at how, by stacking the artworks, one above the other up the wall, it all of a sudden makes the room look taller. That is what vertical tension is all about.

Next let’s move on to the right side of the room and look at the collections of Chinese blue and white dishes hung up on the wall. First look at the top illustration, then look at the bottom one. By stacking the plates (lower illustration) in a taller vertical arrangement, the dishes accentuate height in the space. Notice in the lower illustration how the top edge of the picture over the fireplace, the top edge of the top picture over the sofa and the top edge of the top plate in the arrangement of Blue and White are all the exact same amount of inches down from the crown molding that goes around the top of the room. Also notice that in the lower illustration, that the combined height and visual weight of the fireplace, picture above it and urn on the left side of the room is counterbalanced on the right side of the room by the wing chair, credenza/buffet and collection of Blue and White dishes. Interior decorating is all about counterbalancing elements placed across from each other in a room.

The final thing that I want you to notice about the comparison of rooms on the cover illustration is that the top illustration has a lot of horizontal format items in it (the sofa, low chair, picture over sofa, table against wall, coffee table, and picture over the fireplace). In the bottom illustration, other than the re-stacking of the artworks, the introduction of the wing chair, Chinese folding screen and candlestick / buffet lamp on the credenza are all vertical format items and help fill in space and direct you eyes upward.

A list of Furniture and Decorative accessories that help suggest Height (vertical tension) in a room.
Sofas and Chairs with tall backs(wing chairs)
Large Paintings and Mirrors that are taller than wide (24wX36h, 36wX40h, 36wX48h, etc)
Grandfather Clocks
Chinese Screens
Four Poster Beds
torchere lamps (taller than floor lamps, more or an accent lamp when it comes to room illumination)
Large vases with tall branches in them
Tall urns on pedestals
Many horizontal format pictures hung one above the other
Many vertical format pictures or mirrors stacked one above the other
Upright Pianos, open-topped Baby and Grand Pianos
Highboys, Secretaries and other tall dresser-desks
Tall Plant stands with plant on top of them
Potted trees (real or artificial)
Tapestries that are taller than wide
Curtains that are hung high above the window frame
Tall floor lamps (about 64 inches)
A telescope on a tall tripod
An antique ladder place upright against a wall
Vertical striped wallpaper
img269 When interior decorating a room with a tall ceiling, having an assortment of different sized pictures, mirrors and other kinds of wall art in the room is an ideal. If you can, have that really big picture over the sofa that is 40 inches wide and 60 inches tall. It would definitely be an eye-catching focal point in the room. Also think about adding some smaller pieces to the mix for visual interest. I bet you already have some of those around the house to work with.

When hanging groupings of paintings, prints, photos, dishes, plaques, or any kind of wall sculpture, etc, the rule of thumb is Larger and/or Visually Heavier looking pieces are always hung above smaller lighter looking pieces. The smaller piece(s) act as a pedestal holding the larger piece up in space. If you look at the bottom illustration for the cover of this post, you will see that the large painting over the sofa is supported by two smaller artworks hung below it.

Now look at illustration 1 in this section. It shows exactly what I’ve just talked about (larger being supported by smaller).

Illustration 2 shows three artworks being hung one above the other, with the largest and heaviest on top, and the smallest on the bottom.

Illustration 3 shows a large painting being hung between two smaller, with the smallest on the bottom.

Illustration 4 portrays two vertical format pieces hung one above the other.

The different patterns of hanging artworks, illustrations 1-4, are to get thinking about how to hang framed pieces in corners of rooms.

Illustration 5 shows the common mistake most people make when hanging a picture above a chair in the corner a room. First of all, the space between the edge of the drape and the corner of the room is taller than wide. That space possesses vertical tension. The picture’s shape, which is wider than tall (horizontal tension) goes against the vertical tension of the space.

Illustration 6 portrays how 2 or 3 artworks that all possess horizontal tension, hung one above the other, together form one vertical format grouping. The grouping is taller than wide.

Illustration 7 is like illustration 3 where different shapes and sizes of artworks hung one above the other become one vertical format grouping. img270 Illustrations 8-13 show different ways of stacking elements to promote vertical tension in a room.

Illustration 8 shows a low profile platform bed that is a horizontal format item, with two large horizontal format artworks hung above it. The three different horizontal pieces, placed together become one vertical grouping.

Illustration 9 shows how a horizontal format TV can be hung over a horizontal format credenza, and an art object or mirror can be hung above everything to make one vertical tension grouping.

Illustration 10 gives you some ideas about how decorative accessories, placed on top of a tall chest or armoire, can add extra visual height to a piece of furniture.

Illustration 11 shows many individual pieces, combined together making one vertical grouping.

Illustration 12 portrays how one vertical format chair (taller than wide) can be the starting point of an even taller vertical grouping with two other elements hung over it.

Illustration 13 shows how you can even make a doorway look taller by adding a decorative accessory above it.

So there you have it, some ideas on how to decorate a room with a tall ceiling. All of the just written about things also apply to suggesting height in an average room with an 8 foot tall ceiling. I now want you to start going through decorating magazines, and look at how the professional decorators have stacked things to make vertical arrangements. I want you to also look at/for all the different kinds of things they used to decorate those spaces. Just be on the look out for things taller than wide. This post is only a starting point, I have written many other posts that will give you a lot more insight into decorating your rooms. I have listed many of them below, Happy Decorating!

Companion Posts
Interior Decorating is all about Equal Balance 2-27-2011,
Pick (Use) four colors when Decorating a Room 3-7-2011,
Mixing and Matching Fabric and Wallpaper Patterns 4-13-2012,

The Right way to hang Curtains and Drapes 5-3-2011,
The Right height of Table Lamp for your End Table 5-19-2011,

Hanging a collection of Plates/Dishes up on the Wall 1-19-2013,
A bridge unites a Tablescape and Wall Decor 6-10-2011,
Arranging Your Decorative Accessories (Knickknacks and Collectibles) 6-7-2011,
It’s Easy to make a Grouping of Pictures 6-29-2011,
Picking and Hanging the RIGHT size Picture or Mirror over your fireplace 6-23-2011,

Arranging Living Room furniture so sofas talk to chairs, 9-7-2012,
Arranging furniture TWELVE different ways in the same Room 9-15-2012,
Arranging furniture around a Fireplace in the Corner of a room 9-29-2012,
When buying living room furniture, FORGET the LOVESEAT, buy two Wing, Club or Occasional Chairs instead 10-13-2012,
Arranging Furniture in a 15 foot wide by 25 foot long Bedroom 1-24-2016.


About fredgonsowskigardenhome

Your eyes deserve to view beauty. I hope Fred Gonsowski Garden Home helps to turn your vision, into a reality.
This entry was posted in Arranging Living Room Furniture, Interior Decorating Principles. Bookmark the permalink.

37 Responses to It’s Easy to Decorate a Room with a Tall / High Ceiling

    • pbmGarden, I see we are both on the computer at the same time. You read quickly…Have a wonderful end of Winter. And, I heard the ground hog says Spring is coming soon, BUT the weatherman says the ground hog only gets it right 39% of the time

  1. Erin says:

    Stellar post, as usual! What about low ceilings? That basement family room I mentioned to you in an earlier post has 7 1/2′ ceilings. We are using vertical paneling on the wall with the fireplace, but the 2×2 ceiling tiles (which budget requires we leave in place) seem to weigh the room down visually. Other tricks we can use to make it feel at least 8′ tall?
    BTW, I found some great vintage windows to hang on the walls down there! Good tip!

    • Hi there Erin, put some vertical format things (taller than wide) in the space to direct the eye upward, paint the ceiling a crisp white if you can, and forget it. A room looks one way when empty, and another with furniture. Furniture and decorative accessories have a way of tricking/attracting the eye, taking attention off of other flaws. I would say, not seeing your family room, to start things about 4 inches down from the ceiling (tops of picture frames), and play up the space with a wonderful patterned area rug, even if it is laid over wall to wall carpeting. Get some happy bright pillows for the sofa, and if you are able to add furniture get it (a chair or two) upholstered in a vertical stripe. If the room is decorated nice, no one will even notice the height of the room, they will just think how cozy it is.

      • erinlahey says:

        Will do, Fred! We’ll be buying two tall bookcases to flank either side of one of the entries – that will help. And I do already have a great patterned wool rug. I love the cheery pillows and striped upholstery ideas, too!

        I agree with Verna. A book would be great! Although in blog format here, we get little bits to absorb and incorporate more slowly.

        I would *love* to figure out how to interview you for my radio show, if you were interested (Small Home Farm Radio), but I’ve been wracking my brain and I’m not sure how I could make it make sense. *Except* that beauty is so important everywhere. When I designed my horse barn, it absolutely had to be designed well to function well, and absolutely had to be beautiful. (see: And I try to impress on my listeners whenever the opportunity arises that proper planning and beauty should be considerations when they are adding elements to their property or their home farms. Things should work well *and* please the eye. But I haven’t been able to come up with a good spin yet about why an interview with an interior designer/artist fits the whole farming theme. LOL! I’ll keep thinking about it. 🙂

        Have a great week!

      • Hi there Erin, I would love to be on your radio show. I will be contacting you soon, as I have your e-mail address on this side of the dashboard. The thought of it make me feel like a star**** ;-}

        The only farm related thing is that my Grandparents had a dairy farm, 152 acres in upstate NY. My father grew up on the farm with his sisters, and as soon as they could, they all escaped to the city. Every one of them. My father always said the true master on the farm is the COW, as in you had to be there twice a day at milking them.

  2. Verna says:

    Hi, I have hundreds of books on interior design collected over many years, and I have never found such exact information on how to hang “things” right. Most design books have lots of pretty pictures, but little help on what is behind good design. Please write a book! Thank you and keep up the good work! Verna

    • Hello there Verna my best fan ;-] A lot of people find things pleasing in the design world, but because they don’t know what they are looking at, they don’t know why they like what they see. I come from an art school background, I have a bachelors degree in art, so I’m explaining design principles to my readers. A book, you never know!

  3. Debra says:

    LOVE your site, thank you!

  4. Shondra says:

    Hi Fred,

    Another wonderfully written and timely post. I have high ceiling throughout my home. I knew something was off about the placement of my posters and mirrors, but just couldn’t pinpoint what until I read your post. Thanks for bringing clarity to my decorating conundrum.

    You really are full of wonderful knowledge. I feel blessed that you choose to share it. I would buy your book and attend your workshops.

  5. In this, and a few other past posts, some of my lovely readers who comment, have suggested that I write a book on interior decorating. I think that would be a wonderful thing to do, and I thank them for thinking my writing and this blog is book worthy.

    The project of just writing and posting an article, like the one you are looking at, took many hours days to be exact. The creation of this post happened over four consecutive days. Each of the three illustrations (cover and instructional) took 2 to 2 1/2 hours each, if they look it or not. This post took about 5 or 6 hours to write. The whole article was written out long hand on paper. Sometimes things go quickly, other times a post fights me, which means I’m approaching the topic in the wrong way. After that I had to scan the drawings to the computer and type in the article on my Word Press dashboard. This article is made of 1816 words. After typing the post, I had to proof read it a couple of times and send it up to Word Press for you to find and read.

    This post started on a Thursday and finally was posted on a Sunday, after a lot of thought and work. This post, if printed out is 5 pages long. A book would be 250 to 300 pages long. There is a great difference between writing something for you to look at here, and filling a whole book with written words and hundreds of illustrations.

    I am willing to take on the large project of writing a book, but I would want a serious commitment from a real publishing company with real distribution, then I would take on the chore. I don’t want to put together a full book, then send out countless proposals and end up with nothing. That would be a time wasted experience.

    If you, my readers, know of a friend, family member, or are in the book or magazine publishing business yourself, and think the kind of articles and my style of writing would make a good book, write me a note here. Put your Publishing Company’s web site/.com in the URL for us all to see, and your E-mail in the other slot for me to see alone, then write me a message. If your note looks interesting, I will get back to you.

  6. Andy says:

    Excellent analysis, Fred. But don’t forget the ceiling itself! I believe that the ceiling styles influence the interior decoration subtly. Leaving the ceiling bare isn’t really an option unless your budget is pretty low. Otherwise, a tray ceiling, or at least a cleverly painted one can bring out wonders.

    • Hi there Andy, Thanks for your comment. When I cover decorating topics, I cover the basics for everyday people, not more fancy projects that a more artistic person would easily be able to envision and possibly execute. You, being in the ceiling business would have many options for decorating the 5th (ceiling) or 6th (floor) side of a room.

  7. cherill says:

    Dear Fred
    Your sketches so wonderfully complement your lessons. I enjoy these posts so much.

    Cherill W, Australia

    • Hi there Cherill, Thank you for your comment. This blog is a compilation of everything that is me, I’ve done, or I like. I think it is great seeing photos on other people’s blogs, but I want mine to be more of an artist sketch book. Even if a person does not read the articles, they can flip past the 115 or so covers for the articles if it interest them.

  8. Kimberly says:

    Great article! I just discovered your blog today, and I see there are so many articles I want to read!

    • Hi there Kimberly. Look at the Interior Decorating Principles, it is under Categories on the right side of the screen. All the interior decorating articles are there, and some of the other topics might interest you. Back to my garden I go, as it is weeding and planting time. With over four thousand square feet of beds and borders, I am too busy to write new posts at this time, but soon I hope to get back to the computer. I have an article inside of me about shapes of lamp bases that might interest you, so stay tuned ;-}

  9. MJ says:

    In the lower cover illustration, what balances the Chinese screen?

    • Hi there MJ. The Chinese screen is an object that possesses a lot of vertical tension it draws the eye upwards. The screen is taller than wide, each panel of the screen is taller than wide, and it helps to direct the eye upward, versus horizontally across the room. The Chinese screen along with all the things at the right side of the room counterbalance the fireplace and all the things on the left side. The Wing chair and the screen and the higher than wide arrangements of things in the room make you look up, versus across the room. Also people have to thing about objects filling in space, especially if the room is tall.

  10. MJ says:

    Me, again!

    If one is using a torchere (probably in a home library), since it is taller, is it an exception to the 58″ – 64″ combined lamp and table height rule, or do the other lamps have to “measure up,” so to speak, to the torchere?

    • Hi there MJ, let the torchere be the tall thing by itself. Not really a major source of light, but more of a device that casts light upward, though some have translucent shades, it can stand alone. If you are using table and floor lamps in that room, try to have them line up with each other.

  11. Carolina says:

    Very interesting article. Love your (helpful) illustrations. Have been browsing your blog this afternoon and started following you (that always sounds a bit scary I think). Thanks for sharing your knowledge.


    • Hi there Carol, You must be one of the 196 people who are “following” me. Just looked to see how many “stalkers” I had, and I am surprised the number grew to that. Glad you have been inspired by my posts, I will write more, just have to get out of my garden and back inside, It’s hard to do that this time of year.

  12. Angela Leet says:

    Hello, I do a lot of interior design for our display homes. I am always interested in learning more and have found your posts very interesting. THANKYOU

  13. Camfuse says:

    Hi Fred, I’m having a hard time decorating above my queen size headboard (and the rest of the bedroom wall). The bedroom has slanted ceiling, 130″ high ceiling on one side, and a 96″ (8 foot) high ceiling on the opposite side. The 63″ h headboard is placed on the wall with high ceiling, and it is located in between two doors that are 83″ in height. My question is, what is the max. height I can hang my wall hangings above the headboard? Or is there even a limit? Thank you!

    • Hi there Camfuse, I would say hang your wall hanging(s) no higher than the 96 inches that is the height of the lower side of the room. The top edge of the wall hanging, hung at 96 inches over the bed would line up exactly with the natural line made, where the wall meets the ceiling, on the other side of the room. I do think that you should take some newspapers and tape them together to simulate a wall hanging (wall hangings), and with painters tape tape the template(s) to the wall above the bed. Instantaneously you will see how something placed at that height looks. If it works, thne go with my suggestion, if it does not then make newspaper templates that are either larger or smaller, hang them up over your bed and then decide what looks best to you. As with all my suggestions to readers on this blog, because I am not in the room seeing what it really looks like, my suggestions are just guesses. Did you read my post Interior Decorating as all about Equal Balance or Hanging Pictures around a Room? Those posts might be helpful. Good Luck with your decorating project ;-}

  14. Mitomate says:

    Hi Fred, I have another question regarding slanted ceilings. We have one in our family room and our brick fireplace is centered on that wall. Since the brick goes to the ceiling it also is slanted. So I have a shorter wall on one side of the fireplace and a high wall on the other. I’m never quite sure how to decorate threat that space . It is our focal wall since the kitchen faces it… I read your articles on balance but this situation stumps me!

  15. janice says:

    HI Fred! Love the article! I was wondering if you could help. I have an open table with a wall mounted fireplace above it between two doors in the master bedroom. I would like to hang a picture above the fireplace. I am trying to determine the right size. I wanted to know if I should go with a more vertical piece versus a horizontal piece and if so can the picture be higher than the two doors? The space between the two doors is 31″ wide. The table is 30″ wide and 29′ tall, the fire place is 23.5″ wide, 16″ tall and projects out 8″ ( the fireplace has a glass front and black back). What size picture should I have above the fireplace and should it be higher than the two doors? Also can the picture be wider than the fireplace? Thank You!

  16. Nice blog. I got a lot of new knowledge after reading your blog. This one is very well written and easy to understand. Thanks for the easy-ceiling-decoration tips.

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