by Leslie Phillips
When designing an interior space, there is so much to consider, and while we place a common emphasis on colors, furnishings, space planning, and lighting (among other things), ceilings are often overlooked as a crucial design element. I first noticed this when I was attending design school. I often noted the predominance of superior design projects – projects that seemed to get everything ‘right’ – that failed to put any focus or thought into ceiling design. Reflected ceiling plans, while certainly being sufficient, seemed to feel like an afterthought, a chore, a boring necessity. I early on realized as a student that ceiling design should be incorporated and developed while the rest of the project is progressing.
“[Designers] must realize that ceilings contribute significantly to the acoustical, as well as the aesthetic, environment of a space.” – Joann Davis Brayman, vice president of marketing, Armstrong Commercial Ceilings.
All too often, it is the ceiling that is the first to succumb to time constraints or budget cuts. They are often described as ‘the forgotten plane’. This is an unfortunate but common mistake as there is actually a lot to consider when selecting a proper ceiling for a space.
The first and most obvious aspect of ceiling design concerns aesthetics. Ceilings can make a dramatic visual impact on any space. The design doesn’t even have to be complex. It is amazing, for instance, what a powerful difference tin ceiling tiles can make in lieu of standard, white commercial acoustical ceiling tiles. Creative paint effects are also a great option for limited budgets. For those with less budgetary constraints, companies such as Armstrong provide a wide-ranging variety of ceiling design options. Some are so interesting, that they may even become the inspiration for your entire design! See more here.
Ceiling selection can also be a crucial aspect of having adequate acoustics – particularly concerning noise reduction. No one wants to hear private conversations happening on the floor above. It can be awkward for those below who can’t help but hear what is going on and it can also be a serious privacy breach for those engaged in the conversation. Workplace noise is also known to reduce company morale and productivity.
A current design trend is to eliminate ceiling tiles altogether and leave structural beams/joists and mechanical ductwork exposed. While visually pleasing, this can be acoustically uncomfortable. Designers may want to consider selecting ‘floating’ ceiling systems, such as Armstrong ‘clouds’ (pictured). These ceiling systems provide a sound buffer while still providing the open feel that many designers are looking for when leaving plenum space exposed. Also consider that exposed plenums lose out on potential energy efficiency benefits. Ceiling systems are designed to reflect light. The higher the light reflectance of the tiles, the more money can be saved in energy costs.
In addition to ceiling materials, ceiling height should be taken into consideration. Designers are often limited by structural and architectural height constraints – especially with existing buildings. But, it is important to realize that ceiling height has a profound psychological impact on the inhabitants of a space. Ceiling height comes into play when determining how the space is going to be used. Extremely high ceilings can overwhelm us and make us feel small (think cathedrals). They can also inspire us and spark creative thoughts. In contrast, lower ceilings are cozy and confining, but they also help keep us focused. Therefore, lower ceilings are best used in spaces where detail-oriented mental tasks are performed.