|At Frank Lloyd Wright's Robie House, a cramped,|
low-ceilinged entry leads directly up to...
So said a fellow tourist as we stepped through the front door of Frank Lloyd Wright’s famed Frederick C. Robie house in Chicago. She was objecting to the entry ceiling, which was at most seven feet high—perhaps even less. Wright, who was as Napoleonic in stature as he was in demeanor, didn’t mind a low ceiling; in fact he may have enjoyed making taller people feel uncomfortable. But there was more to Wright’s trick than plain spite, as my tourist friend soon found out. After ducking through the dark entry and then climbing a narrow, twisting staircase, she suddenly found herself in an explosively airy living space stretching the whole length of house.
“Ahhhhh!” she declared, along with everyone else on the tour.
|...this vast, light-filled living room. The contrast|
in volumes is just about explosive.
(Photograph by James Caulfield)
• Vary interior volumes in a deliberate and effective sequence. Make some rooms spacious, but just as importantly, make some a bit tighter. Reserve the bigger volumes for spaces that can actually use it. Think twice about using the old tract-house formula that dictates a vast and ostentatious entry—it’s a lot of expense for a room that doesn't really do anything, and worse, it just sets up the rest of the house for disappointment.
|The simple trick of varying floor heights—in this case,|
the four steps between the living room and dining room—
completely transforms the character of the space.
• Vary floor levels. Changes in floor level from room to room are another good way to add interest to interior volume; however, for structural reasons, changing floor levels is much more expensive than varying ceiling heights. The resulting steps can also create unnecessary impediments to circulation, so be careful where you use floor level changes. The should be avoided altogether between a kitchen and dining room, for example, or else Aunt Flo may do a double-axel while serving the Easter dinner.
|This set of beautifully-proportioned|
niches transforms a potentially
boring wall into a focal point.
• Remember that bigger isn’t necessarily better. Too many designers are obsessed with creating gigantic volumes; they lose sight of the fact that small, intimate spaces are often much more comfortable to occupy. Moreover, a relentless series of vast rooms will fail to capitalize on the effect of huge volume, because they won’t have small spaces to play against. They’ll just be a bigger bore.