Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Design Challenge: how to handle differing wall heights in the same room

A client I’m working with recently purchased a 1960s bungalow home whose fun architecture boasts a very peaked roof that slants down to normal height (which means 12’ high walls near the middle of the house and 8’ walls on the sides of the house [which almost look 7.5’ H because of bulk-heads]).

When considering furniture and layout in a single room with differing wall heights, you’ll want to be sure that you give good thought to scale and proportion – ie. aim to elongate the short wall and bring the tall wall down.

Using the example of these wall heights in a room to be used as a home office, some specific ideas include:

• Keep any furniture against the lower-height wall in shorter proportions. For example, unless you want to make the shorter wall an entire wall of shelving (which would give a ‘library’ feel), don’t put full height bookshelves against that wall.

Keep the look more light and airy – perhaps a daybed or chaise jutting out from the corner* with a plant behind, and small-scale art hung vertically on the wall beside. That would create an inviting area without it having a closed-in feeling.

* - jutting out into the room as opposed to being against the wall so as to create the illusion of more space; add a small round table beside the chaise and you’ve got a great place for your afternoon or evening refreshment & rest

** Stay tuned for pictures – the space is still in progress with reno’s

• For the tall wall, here are a couple of ideas to bring the height down:

o Horizontal stripes: choose 3 paint colours that accent your overall room decor (and of course, flow with your home through-out).

One of these colours does need to be on all the other walls in the room. Then paint the three colours onto the tall wall in an attractive horizontal striping pattern.

Take the total wall height in inches, divide by 6 and then create a well proportioned patterning within that.

For example, a 12’ high wall = 144”, divided by 6 = 24”. So, we’d create a pattern for 24”: the first colour could be a 12” high stripe, then a 3” stripe, then an 6”, then a 3”, then repeat.

If my colours were banana yellow, swimming pool blue and frosty white, I would do the 12” stripe in the yellow, the 3” stripes in the white, and the 6” stripes in the blue. It would be a stand-out feature wall and the horizontal stripes would draw the eye down.

o For a less labour-intensive way to draw the eye down (or if stripes aren’t your thing), you essentially want to fill up that wall space, without getting ridiculous about it.

For example, don’t put a desk with a hutch on it that totals 5’ in height against the wall and then a couple of small pictures above it. That would leave a lot of wall space above the art and even if the desk were well proportioned with the wall’s horizontal measurement (which is also paramount against such a tall wall), the scale of it wouldn’t look right.

Instead add 1 or 2 larger pieces of art or 2 or 3 medium sized pieces of art; they just need to be proportioned and hung well in relation to the desk. ie. the reach of the art, horizontally, should either exceed the length of the desk or be narrower than it (exceeding it would be optimal in this example).

While adding a chair rail and then using paint and/or wallpaper below and/or above the rail is a great way to draw the eye down if all the walls in a room are tall, I don’t recommend that when you have differing wall heights in the same room.

However, picture rails would work – you could use more than one if the space warrants, just be sure to position the first one at the height of the shortest wall in the room. (In that case, you should vary the sizes of the pictures on the rail – but be sure to keep the majority of them on the larger scale; rails full of small pictures would accentuate the height of the wall.)


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