ateeqakhalid

Two Story Great Room - Pros and Cons?

Ateeqa Khalid
last month

We are building a custom 3500 SQFT home in Florida and want to do a two story great room with a cat walk on the second story (20+ feet). I have read about echos, temperature control issues, and noise from the first level traveling all throughout the second level.


Has anyone built 2 story, and what are your thoughts?


Alternatively, has anyone built a home with multiple ceiling heights on the first floor? If we chose to do away with 20ft ceiling and chose a 12 ft or 14 ft in the great room and foyer, but 10 ft everywhere else, would that be an odd design?

Comments (56)

  • kudzu9
    last month

    If you decide to have high ceilings, you need to put some thought into where the smoke detectors are and how you’ll get to them. I can guarantee that the low battery warning that beeps loudly every 30 seconds always starts going off at about 3 am...;-)

    Ateeqa Khalid thanked kudzu9
    Featured Answer
  • kudzu9
    last month

    I did that in my previous house. Can't say it did much for me after the wow factor wore off. If I were to do it again, I'd settle for 10' ceilings, which will be plenty grand and without all the problems already enumerated.

    Ateeqa Khalid thanked kudzu9
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  • PRO
    Patricia Colwell Consulting
    last month

    I think 10' on the main and 8' on the upper floor is perfect. And yes to all the cons you have heard and they are true plus the savings from heating and cooling truly useless space .

    Ateeqa Khalid thanked Patricia Colwell Consulting
  • PRO
    Sabrina Alfin Interiors
    last month

    I don't have a problem with this idea, so long as the room is also fairly wide. Then you can have some large-scale furnishings so it doesn't feel dwarfed by the height of the ceilings. Think carefully about wall and ceiling finishes, too, so it doesn't feel cavernous and empty. Here are a few examples of two-story great rooms that have done a great job:



    Dryden Lane · More Info


    Great Room · More Info


    Cherry Hills · More Info


    Ateeqa Khalid thanked Sabrina Alfin Interiors
  • Marigold
    last month
    last modified: last month

    We have a 2 story living room with a bridge. I haven't noticed any temp problems, but I do notice that sound really travels between the 2 floors. There are just 2 of us, so it isn't problematic, but I don't think I would be happy if I had children. We would have to watch every word that was said after they went up to bed.

    Ateeqa Khalid thanked Marigold
  • RES, architect
    last month

    I added a second level in one. The owners were much relieved.

    Ateeqa Khalid thanked RES, architect
  • Buzz Solo
    last month

    My last house did have a 2 story foyer, ended up hating it, how do you dust those upper corners and change the lightbulb in the hanging light? Current house has a cathedral ceiling with huge rough sawn pine beams. I used to get out a 20 foot extension ladder to vacuum what I could reach. Now I just pretend I can't see anything up that high. Next home will have 9' + ceilings. Good enough for me.

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  • btydrvn
    last month

    13’ ceilings feel palatial...especially if you have lots of windows and great view...any more has all the challenges mentioned above...we solved some of the problems with a shed roof ...13’ feet in front ...8 feet at back....all the rooms that need to be more relatable...baths...closets laundry room ...pantry...are at the back of the house...the rest is open floor plan great big wall of windows in front....our house is only 1500 sq.ft.....feels like 3000..we use ceiling exhaust fans to remove heat in the summer and ceiling fans to direct the heat down in the winter....with heated floors your power bills are minuscule year round....

    Ateeqa Khalid thanked btydrvn
  • btydrvn
    last month

    This system avoids the too hot or too cold situations all year round...

    Ateeqa Khalid thanked btydrvn
  • btydrvn
    last month

    Open to nature

    Ateeqa Khalid thanked btydrvn
  • justlol
    last month

    Ugh. We had the cat walk in our last house in Texas. Raised three kids in the house. Yes, noise was a problem. My husband had fits with temp control. We had two AC/Heating units. If we turned the heat on downstairs, the heat would rise and the AC would kick on upstairs. Sold that house and moved into a two-story house with 8' ceilings on both floors.

    Ateeqa Khalid thanked justlol
  • PRO
    JAN MOYER
    last month
    last modified: last month

    All negative. Sorry.............I can think of NOT one reason for anything beyond ten feet, Unless you LOVE hotel lobbies at home. Over nine feet in a kitchen? More money, and no more function to go with the money.

    Try cooling that 20 feet in Florida. ..........good luck.

    Ateeqa Khalid thanked JAN MOYER
  • smcf03
    last month

    Years ago, we purchased a 4,000 sq. ft. home that was already built from a custom builder. We loved it. We never had the issues everyone's talking about with noise, temperature etc. The wow factor never wore out with us.

    Ateeqa Khalid thanked smcf03
  • curlycook
    last month

    If the room is taller than it is wide in any direction, it really feels “off”. Our old home with a two story great room was very noisy with two boys. This home has 9 in all the rooms except 13 in the great room. There are openings a foot down where the walls transition. The cost of window treatments is another issue to consider.

    Ateeqa Khalid thanked curlycook
  • Rekha A 9a Houston area
    last month

    We have a 2 story foyer and living room (large). Living room has a wall of windows looking out to the pool and the golf course beyond. We love it, no issues come to mind.

    Ateeqa Khalid thanked Rekha A 9a Houston area
  • Caroline Hamilton
    last month

    We have a two story foyer, family room and bonus room. Love them all! Have lived here for 20 years and have no regrets. The house has 4 zones so never had a heating / cooling issue. Noise has not been a factor for us either.

    Ateeqa Khalid thanked Caroline Hamilton
  • Pinebaron
    last month

    There is no generic answer to your question. Build location, ceiling heights, roof type, catwalk and a million other architectural details and structures including doors, windows, lighting, flooring type/material, furniture placements, colors, etc. etc. etc. must all work in concert with each other. Unless you are a designer yourself, I would involve an architect and interior designer before you commence your project.


  • Ateeqa Khalid
    Original Author
    last month

    @Pinebaron My question is more geared towards people who have a two story great room and their thoughts on it. We have a builder/architect/designer who will all togehter be helping us with the design, I just wanted to know people's first hand experience with this style of a room.

  • lyfia
    last month

    It's great for both pets and kids to throw stuff off of and have fun nerfgun wars.

  • Peke
    last month
    last modified: last month

    We have a 3500 sf home with 12 ft ceilings in our great room and kitchen. The heat rises up into our stairs which go upstairs. It is very hot walking up the stairs. It has 2 ceiling ducts, but that doesn't help.. The upstairs thermostat kicks on based on the upstairs rooms, not the temperature of the stairs. The downstairs thermostat does the same. 10 ft ceilings is enough in your climate.I prefer 9 ft ceilings though.

    In Florida, no way would I buy a home with an overly tall ceiling like you have described. It is like a hotel atrium. Your electric bill is only going to get higher as the years go by. Think how expensive the extra long drapes will be. Think about having to dust the art high up on the walls, or to clean and dust windows. Someone has to climb a ladder.

    Not to mention the wasted space...you could have a nice media room or a game room. Now they are wow factors, plus they count more toward your total square footage while the 2 story great room will not. That is a lot of money for a catwalk. That reminds me of those huge sweeping staircases on the left and right in some mansions. Pretty, but expensive to decorate.


    Edit: My 12 ft kitchen's sloped ceiling on one side is the actual roof. No attic above it. It is the hottest kitchen I have ever had. We had to put two ceiling fans in it because it is so miserable hot in the summer when cooking. Fans don't help much though. No more tall ceilings for me, but then again, I go for useful and practical instead of WOW.

    Ateeqa Khalid thanked Peke
  • suezbell
    last month
    last modified: last month

    Does your lot have a slope that would enable you to keep the ceilings the same and create a "sunken" living area a few steps lower than the rest of the house?


    Alternately, could you build up the floor level for the rest of the house but have less crawl space beneath the great room?

  • suezbell
    last month

    Depending upon your house floor plan, you could have one wing of your home with a vaulted ceiling -- higher only in the middle. Do consider ceiling fans for such rooms.

  • suezbell
    last month

    If you build some rooms with higher ceilings than others and/or if you build a multi story home, make sure your heat/ac contractor creates separate heating zones. Once didn't (initially) in a split level and regretted it -- more cost to correct issues of heat exchange and sound later.

  • btydrvn
    last month

    EXHAUST fans are the most effective and use very little electricity for removing heat from high spots...they suck the hot air right out..they could be run by a thermometer that goes on as needed as well

  • B F
    last month
    last modified: last month

    I love a vaulted ceiling but it doesn't have to be that high to get wow factor. ours are only about 11' at the tallest point and we love them. I feel like the angle creates more interest and drama than the actual height.

    my sister has a 2 story great room, and the two things that drive her the most crazy are:

    1. cobwebs. can't reach them w/o a tall ladder and the spiders rebuild so quickly. you never actually see a lot of spiders, those webs feel like they just appear out of nowhere.

    2. high-up triangle shaped windows. beautiful, but they get too much direct sun sometimes and it's impossible to find decent window treatments that don't look totally 90s. so if you have giant windows, consider keeping them squared off and budget for remote control shades.

  • Ateeqa Khalid
    Original Author
    last month

    @Peke Where are you located if you don't mind me asking? My other thought was between 11' and 12' ceilings (due to block construction) and a coffered ceiling in the great room into the kitchen to bring the ceiling down a little. Do you like your 12 ft ceiling in your great room?

  • suezbell
    last month

    My brother's step daughter has one and steps that go up to a balcony with a hallway that leads to a smaller two part attic room in the center above the bedroom part of the house and while she has liked the look of it, it unnecessarily adds cost and is not practical for heat exchange or cleaning. Would "nope" that for myself.

  • Sharon
    last month

    Do not recommend as they may look over the top but all the cons are truly cons. My husband refused to look at any houses with vaulted ceilings after living in the house.

  • Peke
    last month

    Ateeka, I live in Oklahoma so we have summers just as hot as Florida, but your high temps last longer than ours. I lived on the Mississippi Gulf Coast for several years, too. I love your idea of a coffered ceiling in your great room. I can't wait to see your final design!



    Ateeqa Khalid thanked Peke
  • cpartist
    last month

    @Beverly, I think for us it's more of having higher ceilings and a grander living space. ;Our current home has 8 ft ceilings and we want the great room to be at minimum 12 ft ceiling after a coffered ceiling.

    You don't need a two story living room for a room to feel grand. Even 12' is overkill in my book. My living room, kitchen, dining and bedroom ceilings are 10' tall and my hallways are 9' tall. That does more to help the main living spaces feel grand than a 20' tall room. Why? Because by compressing the ceiling height in the secondary areas (hallways, bathrooms, etc) and then making them just a bit taller in the main spaces, your eye is tricked into feeling the space is grander. Frank Lloyd Wright was a master at doing just that which is where I got the idea from.

    My fear is that it will look out of place if the first floor plan has different ceiling heights,

    I just answered your statement. Keep secondary spaces lower. A good book that also explains all this is The Not So Big House by Sarah Susanka. Yes your house is bigger but her ideas work as well in a 1500 square foot house as they would in a 4500 square foot house. I highly recommend it. In fact you may find you don't need quite as large a house as you think.

    Also agree those huge living rooms are dated. One thing my GF and I love to do is go to open houses on Sundays. I can tell you the houses that nowadays sit the longest on the market are those with those tall great rooms. In fact they sit 2x as long.

    The downfall I've read is the echo and temperature control - which I don't know what affect it will have with Florida living (90 degrees standard for 9 months out of the year)

    I'm guessing you don't live in FL now. 90 degrees is not standard for 9 months of the year even in the Keys. I live in SW FL and the weather is beautiful from mid-late October through mid-late April with fairly low humidity and highs not near 90 degrees. In fact for the majority of that time the average is upper 70's/low 80's and in Dec-end of Feb the average is 60's/low 70's.

    Much more important than having 20' ceilings is making sure your house's main rooms face south with excellent overhangs to block the summer sun while allowing the spring-fall sun in. Do not do a house where the main rooms face west. You will regret it every single day.


  • PRO
    Virgil Carter Fine Art
    last month

    I think one of the architectural characteristics that may be the least understood by many consumers is spatial variety. CPA touched on it in her post above ^^^.


    In other words, a house designed so that ceiling heights vary proportionately according to the room's size and function. Frank Lloyd Wright was one architect who practiced raisning the ceiling in important "public" rooms, while lowering them in "private" and "service" rooms.


    Movement through a house with spatial variety is memorable quality, which doesn't grow old. A house with a 20' ceiling and 8'-9' ceilings everywhere else really does not create the qualtiy of spatial variety I'm talking about.


    For example, in many of his designs Mr. Wright would deliberately keep the ceiling low at the house entry, and then raise the ceiling in the public space. The impact on visitor and owner alike would be an initial feeling of a compact space, followed by an "explosion" of light and space as one transitioned into the major public space(s). The ceiling height in the major public space did not really need to all that high, since the initial experience was created with a very compact entry space.


    Here's an interior example of one of Mr. Wright's designs illustrating simple, but very effective spatial variety:




    Can you see how Mr. Wright "squeezed" the space on the extreme left, raised it somewhat on the left and far right, and "opened" the space in the middle? He achieved this without extremely high ceilings! An added bonus is the additional natural light made possible by the raised clearstory.

  • anj_p
    last month

    We're early in the process of designing a home ourselves. Our current home has 8' on the main. We're going to 9', and after going through homes with 9' ceilings, I think the difference in height between those two is incredible. Just one foot makes a HUGE difference. You don't need much height difference to make it feel "grand." I've looked at thousands of floorplans and hundreds of photos, and I have to agree - I think the 2 story great room is dated, and the more I see them the less I like them.

    My sister had a two story great room in her first townhome and it was horrible. Too much wall space, can't dust or clean upper windows, need massive art to make it not feel cavernous. She didn't put window treatments on the 2nd story window because she couldn't reach it. And, believe me, the two story room didn't make her townhome feel any grander.

    Also, if the room isn't very wide they can feel like there's too much space above your head. I would opt for additional space on my 2nd story if I were you. Definitely go to some houses with 12' ceilings if you can find any and see what you think. You may find that you'd actually rather have less. As others have said, 10' is probably plenty.

  • Peke
    last month

    My husband says, "Our house is a Frank Lloyd Wright house gone wrong!" I doubt an architect had anything to do with my house.

  • shwshw
    last month

    following...

  • B F
    last month

    Virgil Carter Fine Art I love the way that Frank Lloyd Wright space feels cozy and dramatic at the same time.

  • lynartist
    last month

    Ahh yes! We have lots of 20’ high spaces here in Florida! I call them silos.

  • suezbell
    last month

    I would think having the largest room having a higher ceiling and all the rest of the rooms the same lower ceiling height would make sense.


    As a practical matter (heat/ac), I would want to have the option of closing off the large room with the high ceiling from the rest of the house. Interior French doors between the entry and the rest of the house, even including between the entry and great room, could be desirable..


    If your foyer is also two story, then managing the heat/ac issues both upstairs and downstairs would be needed for the temperature of your home comfortable year round. While I have no doubt it can be done by a pro, you would bear not only the initial construction cost but the ongoing heat/ac energy cost of your decision so do talk with your architect and heat/ac pro about multiple options and the impact of choices so you can make an informed decision.

  • B F
    last month
    last modified: last month

    with vaulted ceilings, the heat problem is REAL. it's a split level so all other floors are lower than the living room. in the summer, the AC barely keeps the living room cool-ish while the rest of the rooms are freezing cold. I kind of wish we had gone for a split system when we got our heat pump (rather than using the existing ducts).

  • Peke
    last month

    I agree with BF. We have two heaters and two A/Cs, and the expense of upkeep on two different units. One of our units heats/cools the upstairs and stairwell, and the other heats/cools the downstairs......BUT, we really needed three! Our great room and kitchen is like a sauna if the bedrooms are comfortable. During the summer, I stay in the bedroom most of the day until it is time to cook dinner. Around 4:00 today, it was 86°F in the hall where the thermostat is while the bedrooms were cool. I could lower the thermostat, but the bedrooms get too cold. I refuse to sleep under blankets with the A/C on. Plus, I would have a $500.00 + electric bill. Nothing taller than 9 ft for me, ever again. My WOW factor is the heat in the great room. "Wow, it's hot in here!"


    They put 12" ducts in our attic. I have never had ones that large. You can't even feel the cool air come out of the ceiling vent. If I ever find a state that has mildish winters and no heat in summer, I will move. Scotland has the perfect temperature for us. Too bad we can't move there.

  • Marigold
    last month

    We have no problem at all with heat, but perhaps it is because we have a minisplit system. The house is comfortable year round, and we haven't had troubles with any zone being too hot or cold.

    I have been in some houses where small rooms have high ceilings, and it can feel like standing at the bottom of a well. If the room is spacious, I think it looks very nice. I wonder if some of the heating problems are in the smaller, tall rooms?

  • galore2112
    last month

    What’s with this heat problem? Don’t you use proper insulation and air supplies/returns? Or even ceiling fans as a workaround?


    I think if you have heat issues, the problem is less the ceiling height and more the construction itself.

  • B F
    last month
    last modified: last month

    galore2112 in our case, it's a 1950s house with outdated energy design. it's Seattle, so it used to not get very hot here, but that's been drastically changing. we recently added insulation to the walls and ceiling (there was none before) and replaced our oil furnace with a high efficiency heat pump. but like I said, our biggest mistake was not choosing the split system. if we had, it would have been basically perfect.

  • C W
    last month

    Count me as another vote against. We lived in a house with a 2 story family room that was open to the 2nd floor via a catwalk. When someone was watching TV in the family room, it was easier to hear it upstairs than down. Also: it’s such a pain to clean windows, dust woodwork, change lightbulbs, etc.

  • PRO
    JudyG Designs
    last month

    Buy a huge ladder. You are going to need it. Been there, but never will go there again.

  • Peke
    last month

    B F, I am curious. Since it is getting warmer in Seattle, is anything else changing? Like amount of rainfall? We live in Oklahoma...worst of all weather. Tornadoes, unbelievable heat/ humidity, ice storms, plus now we have earthquakes (fracking). We talked about moving to Seattle area, but it looks like it is warming up everywhere.

  • B F
    last month

    Peke unfortunately, yes. the number of record high days are increasing. here's one article. worse, the summers of 2017 and 2018 had terrible wildfire smoke, with air quality worse than Beijing -- each time for about a month. we're being told to expect "wildfire season" more often due to climate change.

    in spite of all that, I still think Seattle has some of the mildest weather in general. not as hot or as cold as other places, and we don't get a lot of bugs. yes, it rains for about three seasons, but it's usually a sprinkle or mist, not a downpour. also, all that rain brings SO MUCH GREEN. it's beautiful here!

  • PRO
    Mark Bischak, Architect
    last month

    A blanket judgement of two story great rooms is not fair judgement. Concerns of sound transmission and temperature control can be managed by a designer that understands passive and active ways of controlling temperatures and how sound travels. Do not avoid two story spaces, avoid designers that do not understand how to design them properly.

    Ateeqa Khalid thanked Mark Bischak, Architect
  • Peke
    last month

    B F , It sounds like Scotland...very green, mostly misting rain, not much difference between the highs in summer and the lows in winter. I hate that you have wildfires. Nice place to live though.

  • btydrvn
    last month

    Most of the complaints here cant be designed “out”...heat rises...big open spaces reverberate sound ...and realistically how do you get that high to clean anything?...and where?....how?....do you find that magic designer that can guarantee none of these problems?...if you love feeling like an ant in your living room...you may have to live with the rest...

  • Ateeqa Khalid
    Original Author
    29 days ago

    Thank you for your input everyone :) I think we have steered away from the 2 story rooms and are going to opt for higher ceilings on the main level instead.