Neuro-Architecture: Science Validates How Ceiling Height and Space Affects Behavior

Color, design, and placement of décor have much deeper of an impact on us than surface appeal.

A new science, called Neuro-Architecture, is our modern way of looking at life that aligns with and validates the ancient and natural Feng Shui perspective.

This new field, Neuro-architecture, explores how one’s environment can be a trigger for hormones that either promote happiness and calm or add stress and anxiety.  More than a marketing spin, Neuro-architecture, at its most basic, looks at how we and our spaces are wired for success; or not. (See Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture.)

Both recommend that we take the time to learn understand the human experience of spaces we create.   With this knowledge, we can use light, color, line, shape, often and “just paint” to dramatically change the experience of a room so that its occupants can begin to thrive.

One Example:  Ceiling Height & How Space Affects Behavior

In one study showing the connection between our minds and our habitats,  Professor Joan Meyers-Levy of the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management studies the effect space has on purchasing behavior.  [“The Influence of Ceiling Height: The Effect of Priming on the Type of Processing People Use,” Journal of Consumer Research, August 2007]

Energy and work will most often expand to fill the space allotted and this is the same for humans in their environments.   In our public buildings, offices and as well in our homes, our perception is stretched or compressed due to our brain’s interpretation of the volume of the space, often identified by the walls and ceiling.

High ceilings, for instance, activate sections of the right brain associated with freedom and abstract thinking. In low-ceilinged rooms, thought is more constrained.*

Too much space?

A ceiling above ten feet will initially create expansion and some creativity but after a while will inhibit the ability to feel grounded, bring ideas to fruition, we’ll feel a lack of intimacy, inability to focus on details,  we will not stay in those spaces very long, after a while feeling too expanded and pulled out of our center (think of the expansive feeling of a symphony hall, a large library or a beautiful church).


We will feel pulled apart and seek to balance ourselves by moving innately to another realm, however easily [leaving the room] or painfully [quitting the job, divorcing your spouse, etc.] it will occur or create illness.  Ancient Chinese saying: “the bigger the bedroom, the higher the divorce rate” is one example of the expansive area pulls us away from intimacy.

Too little space?

Ceiling height below 8 feet, will compress our energy and after a while will impact us to become sleepy, lethargic, overly detail-oriented, it will stunt growth opportunities, and basically “cramp our style.”

Feng Shui is an ancient science studying how spaces will assist humans to revert to an experience of health fostered by   being in balance. Spaces out of alignment with our goals creates tension, disharmony, and dis-ease.

It is important to use all the rooms of your home, and with use of color to define architecture, rather than follow it we can design rooms to fully foster the proper purpose of the room and honor our human “animal-body” wisdom to move in rhythm with our needs.

By scientifically defining how aspects of architecture can influence the way we live, breathe and relate, Neuro-Architecture provides right-brained proof for the ancient wisdom.  Either way using this knowledge allows us to go deeper into the synergy between human and space, both affecting each other, hopefully providing positive results.

Just Right

We truly are the “Goldi-locks” species: we understand what we need to feel “Just Right!”  A “human-scale” ceiling height is somewhere between 8′ and 10′, depending on the overall “volume” of the room.  Our bodies understand if a room is “too narrow” or “too wide” and we feel unsettled.  

But get it “just right!” and we can feel safe and then flourish.

How To Easily Raising or Lowering Your Ceilings

Raise the ceiling with color

Ceilings too low? You can use color to create expansion, vision and ideas.

•  Paint your ceiling a soft, receding blue/grey, like one of these colors:

◦ PPG Pittsburgh/Porter’s 348-2 Stratosphere

◦ PPG Atmospheric Collection ATC-62 Winter’s Breath.

◦ I also love Donald Kaufman Color DKC-44

◦ Farrow & Ball’s Borrowed Light (No. 235) or Skylight (No 205) or Parma Gray (No. 27)

• Paint the wall and the ceiling to appear the same color.  Because light reflects differently off vertical and horizontal spaces, the exact same paint color will look darker on the ceiling so choose a formula just a little lighter, 15-20% lighter.  [Note: just “lightening” the color or reducing the formula will not necessarily net a good result: be sure to test, as asking the paint counter to make it 20% lighter will often give you a different formula all together.]  Our eye and brain read edges to create a picture for us to recognize.

No difference in color means “no edge” to read and our brain then looks quickly for something else to define the space and create a picture for us.  Don’t be afraid, just because the can says “ceiling white” doesn’t mean you have to have a ceiling that is white.

•  Add upward directed lighting by using touchier or sconce lights.

Lower the ceiling with color

Ceiling height affects ability, mood and intimacy and is best to be relative to the activity you’d like to have occur.  High ceilings in the bedroom will decrease the ability to be intimate and the Chinese know, “The bigger the bedroom, the higher the divorce rater.” A lower ceiling in the bedroom will help to create intimacy, nourishment, sleep and detail awareness.

To effectively ‘lower’ the ceiling, you can determine a height that is of ‘human scale’ [depending on how tall you are, somewhere between 8 and 10 feet will do nicely] but remember to look at the entire wall height and room because proportion is as important as perception.  You can ‘draw the line’ in a number of ways:

• Align the window treatments and large artwork so that the upper edge effectively creates a line around the room.

• Use a ‘Block of Color’ to create the ceiling height.

◦  This is one way to get some rich color into your spaces without fully committing to an entire wall or room (once your risk it however, you will be enthralled by living with color.)

◦  If you have smaller artwork or pieces you love, highlight them or architectural features with a block of color that stops at the height where you would like to draw the ceiling.

• Around the perimeter of the rooms, use crown molding to draw a perceivable line a distance from the ceiling; paint the upper portion of the wall the “same” color (see above for how to make it appear the same) as the ceiling. You can paint the molding an accent color or stain or the same color as the upper wall and ceiling.

• Painting a ceiling a very dark color will not always make it seem lower, a deep black can make it recede even further, depending on how you treat the space where the ceiling meets the wall.

Our architectural resources expand exponentially and our ability to positively impact human interaction and lives  when we look at our spaces through the Ancient science of Feng Shui, which is but a small branch of Traditional Chinese Medicine, which mimics the ancient adage:   “There are two healing professions, Architect and Physician.”