How does the interior design of your house affect your creative thinking

I grew up in a beautiful mansion in south Mumbai that was built nearly 100 years ago. A 5 stories high, imposing colonial mansion with a Corinthian order facade, wrought iron grills with Victorian emblems,  Burma teak balustrades and nearly 2 feet deep solid Burma teak beams supporting the floors.

The most endearing aspect was having these 15 feet lofty ceilings framed by deep teak wood beams. As a child, I remember many an afternoon lying on the red terracotta floor tiles looking up at the ceiling and dreaming of these stunning spaces that I eventually grew up to design as an architect. Somehow I felt that the house not only accommodated me physically, but it also had enough height to accommodate my creative ambitions.

As I became an architect and started designing lavish houses for equally lavish clients, I always realized that high ceilings were somehow conducive to creating dramatic and stunning spaces. Be it the lobby of the historic Buckley court, or the famous legend, these spaces were always timeless.

Buckley court
Lobby with high ceilings at Buckley court, Colaba ( a luxury residential high rise in the heritage district)
















For some reason I always felt wonderful sitting in these spaces and ideating my next grand interior project and my best ideas have been without doubt conceived in spaces with high ceilings. So I decided to research if spaces with Higher ceilings were indeed helping me design more creatively?

And the answer is YES!

There is now enough research to effectively point out that higher ceilings aid in creative thinking while lower ceiling heights are conducive to more logical thinking. A higher ceiling evokes a sense of liberation, freedom, creative and abstract thinking while lower ceilings help in detailed observations, specific vision and logical thinking.

This is not a mere observation, but is backed by various theories, the last one being my own which out studio is researching at this moment.

  1. Cathedral effect.

This is described as the effect of the perceived height of a ceiling on the human thinking. Similar to a feeling of freedom, liberation and spirituality in a cathedral, the mind perceives the high ceiling as a space that is conducive to a more liberated and abstract thinking.  Something that can evoke other worldly-spiritual and out of body feelings.

While being in the cellars with low ceilings evokes a feeling of being restricted in liberties and focusing on the limited field of vision, being enclosed and a sense of overall enclosure and tightness.

Legend pool grand lobby
The modern lobby for Legend, a ultra luxury high rise at worli

2. Forest effect

Imagine being in a forest of tall trees, the eyes will be drawn upwards along the lines of the trees and will be drawn outwards beyond the lines of the vertical trees trying to scan out for an open space beyond. This action of the eye itself defines the vastness of space and makes the eye observe the space. This encourages the eye to visually travel to observe the space and the characters of the elements of the space.

Contrast this with a single tree in front of you. The eye will run up the bark of the tree and notice the  texture and detail of the tree. The travel of the eye is significantly curtailed. This is exactly how the eye behaves in a shorter ceiling space.

3. Illumination:

A third theory that I have put together is on how lighting for a space affects the choice of vision for both the scenarios. Our studio is already putting this to test as we speak and I will publish the results soon. However the theory says that the higher ceilings have the sources of light much higher and hence larger throws of these lights. Secondly the openings to admit natural lights can be much taller, thus bathing the room in ambient lighting, causing the eye to get an idea of the volume of the space.

However for lower ceilings, the fall off of the lights from the ceiling is much shorter and the openings admitting natural lights will be smaller, causing on highlighted pools of lights on particular areas thus causing a sense of focused lighting. This draws the eye to a particular object hence encouraging the eye to focus on a smaller area.

Haven, Lobby at juhu
The stunted ceiling for the lobby for a warm and earthy residential project at Juhu

Practical applications:

In a study of products kept in a store with taller ceilings, the buyers noticed the shape and package and the aspirational qualities of the space while the same products displayed in a store with a shorter ceiling, the buyers noticed the details of the products and were less fastidious in buying the product.

Hence you may notice that many lifestyle and decor stores will have high ceilings that can encourage aspirational sales while fast food outlets will typically have lower ceilings where people can buy and leave without loitering around.

So next time you are designing the interior of your space, be it an office or your shown house, it would be wise to bear in mind how the ceiling heights will have a role to play on your overall thinking patterns.

Ar. Santosh Wadekar is a luxury high end interior architect catering to a niche HNI clientle. He is a thought leader in the design industry and all views mentioned in this article are strictly an outcome of his own studies and research. This article is free to be published with due credit to him.
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