My Ranch Home – Boxy, Low Ceilings, Boring– Is There Hope?



Dear Laurel,

I love your blog and have gotten your rolodex and your paint collection and paint palettes. It’s all so incredibly helpful as we make plans to fix up our modest 60’s ranch home.

AKA – Boxy, Low Ceilings, Plain, Boring and not-what-I-want.

I want a Georgian or Federal style colonial, but that ain’t gonna happen.

Our windows are far wider than they are tall. The ceilings are only 8 feet. And there’s nothing else. No crown or other applied mouldings.

What we have is everything that one rarely sees in magazines and even in the examples on your blog.

I guess I’m afraid that since the home wasn’t intended to have those things which I love so much, it’ll look odd to add them? I don’t know. But I’m figuring other people are in the same situation.




Brenda’s problem is very common. In fact, I have worked on many of these homes as there are a lot of them in northern Westchester County.

It’s always a challenge to make them look more charming. And even a lot of builder’s homes that proliferate around here are very plain.

But… there is no law that says that a modest ranch home could not become the charming home of Brenda’s dreams.


First of all. While eight feet is a lower ceiling, it is not a LOW CEILING.


Seven feet is a low ceiling and I once worked on an antique home with seven-foot ceilings.


That was 16 years ago!


It was in the December issue 2004 of Better Homes and Gardens. So, it’s also fitting as we are now officially entering the Christmas Season.


This is the home, an antique, built circa 1800 in the sleep hamlet of Waccabuc, NY.

Never heard of it?

Right. And that’s just the way they like it! :]

But, let me just say that if you are looking for God, this is where she lives. ;]



Waccabuc is one of the most beautiful places on earth. (shhhh… I’m not supposed to say anything)


Let’s go inside this historical home with low ceilings– only seven feet!



The living room where we intentionally layered an oriental over sea grass. See? I was doing this back then!

The wing chair had belonged to the client’s mother and we had it reupholstered in cream linen. The stools were hers and everything else we did. Love those Chinoiserie tea tables from Brunschwig and Fils. I don’t think they have them any longer. Not sure.

better homes and gardens december 2004 low ceilings laurel bern design
A shot from the living room looking into the dining room. And OH! Those are NOT my pillows! I had given my wonderful client two beautiful Aubusson pillows. They removed them and put in this cheap crap. But, it’s a case in point that what you see in a magazine isn’t always the designer’s work!

But, those are the original mouldings. The clients removed the paint from the fireplace before I became involved. This one would not have been painted.


The dining room is my favorite.The trim is wood here and there’s a lot of it which you can’t see here.

The only staircase in the home is behind this shot.


We took the valance straight up to the ceiling as you can see. I also made it proportionate to the seven-foot wall. Usually, a valance like this would be about 16″ but I believe these are about 13″. The wonderful toile is from Cowtan and Tout but was discontinued shortly after we did this room.

The table and chairs are from Baker Furniture. This was the most amazing table which is actually 54″ round, but it looks like they have the leaf in it. It’s discontinued.

The chairs are my favorite dining chair–ever. They were part of the Charleston Collection and also were discontinued. The scale, proportion is something I have never found again. And they are the most comfortable chairs!

The fabric is discontinued as well lol and one of my favorites that I did in other colorways from Pierre Frey.

Ahhh… those were the days! But alas, nothing stays the same.

I do love how the stylist decorated the table.

The walls are a cinnabar color that was troweled on by decorative artist and designer, Robert Hoven. He also did the checkerboard floor below.


Beyond the dining room is the kitchen/family room. Here, you can see how wonderful the mouldings and architectural details look. This area was completely gutted. I did not have anything to do with the architecture or kitchen, but think that they did a great job.

The clients turned the adjacent garage into the one tall (double story) room in the home. They called it the rec room, but it’s the one with the big TV. This project took two years. I don’t have the stomach for that but admire others who do.

I haven’t quite made the point yet, but perhaps it’s obvious, that just because a home is small or was built 60 years ago, doesn’t mean that it can’t become a charming home filled with wonderful architectural detailing.

That detailing is essential for creating a wonderful, traditional home.

Well guys. I have a lot more for you… but it’s Thanksgiving as all of us Americans know.

My kids are here and staying in my one-bedroom apartment. One is on the sleep-sofa and the other sleeps on the sofa cushion in the entry. Cozy. But it works!

So, I’m sorry but you’re going to have to wait until Sunday for the rest. I will explore other rooms with eight-feet ceilings and lots of tricks for making the ceiling appear taller. (not just hanging the drapes high) And lots of other beautiful spaces, too.

Please have a blessed holiday!



7th edition rolodex-post-graphic - November 2020 - A unique shopping guide with hundreds of sources created by Laurel Bern

  • Kay - December 3, 2016 - 4:45 PM

    Ours is a 1964 house with anomalies because it was built by a woman who directed every aspect. Over the years we did quite a bit, including new doublehung windows instead of the old awning windows, and a new bathroom, but it was basically the same–featureless, clamshell moldings, flat luan doors, 7’10” ceilings. In 2013 we gutted the kitchen and ended up removing closets and pushing out the back by six feet to create a new living room. We now have a central hall with all the rooms opening out from it, a gorgeous kitchen with raised ceiling, French stove and marble counters, a beautiful living room with raised ceiling, fireplace, and a wall of builtins housing my husband’s music, French doors out to a greatly expanded new stone patio, and new window and door casings throughout the public rooms. I’ve learned that if you change the important things, other things that used to bother me a lot fade into the background. People love our house and tell me that it does not look like we overlaid boring with Versailles. I think I exercised restraint because I didn’t want it to look overdone for what it is. Yet it now satisfies me aesthetically. We still have flat doors and no crown molding, but those deficiencies give it a desirable simplicity. It is possible to turn a boring house into a lovely home, but unless you DIY, don’t plan on getting your money out of it.ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - December 3, 2016 - 5:51 PM

      Hi Kay,

      That sounds positively gorgeous! I love the word restraint. And simplicity does not = boring. ReplyCancel

  • Sue - November 28, 2016 - 3:24 PM

    It’s all relative I guess. Recently I moved from a traditional colonial built in 1941 that had 7’3″ ceilings to a home with 8′ ceilings. Although I only gained a total of about 200 sq. ft., my new (to me) home feels absolutely palatial :). Got the stained woodwork thing going on now too and a man who is against painting it. When I told him pine was meant to be painted I was informed that it’s “sugar pine” like that makes a difference…lol. Oh well, we’ll get there.

    Love your blog and your candor, Laurel. Usually I’m a lurker but I want to tell you that your blog is a beacon in a sea of gray and white farmhouse style decorating blogs and for that I am grateful. Please keep up the excellent work!ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - November 28, 2016 - 3:58 PM

      Thanks so much Sue. Beacon works for me. lol It’s true that one can have a small room but if the ceiling is higher it will feel incredibly spacious. And a 7 inch gain in ceiling height is significant. ReplyCancel

  • Diana Dahl - November 27, 2016 - 2:31 PM

    Maybe you have touched on this before regarding low ceilings, but…. I made the mistake of not going the tray ceiling route with our eight foot master bedroom ceiling. Would double crown moulding be overcompensating? Would it make the room (which is pretty good sized with a sitting area) appear too short? Wish I had found you sooner!ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - November 27, 2016 - 3:39 PM

      Hi Diana,

      If you do a cove moulding and then add a ceiling trim a few inches in from the wall and paint it all the wall color, it will visually make the wall appear higher than it is. Hope that makes sense.ReplyCancel

  • Jenny - November 27, 2016 - 12:49 AM

    Laurel I’ve missed your Wednesday post once again! Unbelievable. Well, it was one hectic holiday..and not in a good way..
    Together with that-I hope you’re enjoying yours, and yes, between the things I’m grateful for-your blog definitely IS. So excited to continue reading, especially given most of my new ceilings are 8 feet as well..and being from Europe-I’ve never had them before. They seem so low to me! Now we have these grand soaring ceilings. Which of course brings another dilemma-to make it cozier, and more.. human scale. Solved it with darker, warm walnut floor and lots of warm accents and textures. Plants help as well.
    (Another thing I’m grateful for-your blogging about colors..I did all sorts of tricks when painting our new-low-ceiling-place that I found extremely helpful)
    Okay, onto reading your next post, hey-hey!
    PS God is everywhere, and I could easily tell she had a blast creating Bora Bora..))Was in much more contemplative mood when it came to Judean desert..))
    Really, I didn’t see an ugly place on Earth yet. People interfere sometimes, that’s true..
    Beautiful home!
    As for discontinued stuff(why do they discontinue everything that’s good? maddening)-I have a feeling that perusing Craigslist with high dedication might sometimes result in wonderful finds.ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - November 27, 2016 - 9:14 AM

      Hi Jenny,

      Thanks so much for your lovely comment! That’s so weird about getting Sunday’s email but not getting Wednesday’s. I can’t think how that could happen since everything is the same on my end.ReplyCancel

  • Rebecca Meals - November 25, 2016 - 9:51 AM

    Brenda shares the same concerns as I. My house was built in 1960 and is a dated ranch home. I have trailer home paneling in most of the rooms, but also orange knotty pine paneling in a couple of the rooms, and even plywood paneling in others. It is very ugly. The windows are also like Brenda’s – wider than they are tall. They are window openings that measure 60 inches tall by 84 inches wide and have two -42″ wide windows mulled together in the same opening. Also, they are squished all the way in the corner of the room. I have about 11 inches from window to the corner, even less if you consider the window trim. I also have 8 foot ceilings and no beautiful moldings to speak of. Brenda and I share the same concern of wanting to beef up the trim to add character to the house, but being wary of going overboard and having an architectural style identity crisis. Without spending the money to move walls and relocate windows (which is going to be way too expense with a brick house), what do we do to work with what we’ve got? I basically feel like you could have written “Sincerely, Rebecca Meals” at the end of her letter and it would have been 100% accurate, lol! Anyway, I guess this is just a note to say that I, too, am excited to see the continuation of this saga. I’d like to learn what I can do to transform my house into something beautiful that I actually WANT to spend time in.


    • Laurel Bern - November 25, 2016 - 8:03 PM

      Hi Rebecca,

      You are definitely not alone! Half of America is like this! The largest boom of home-building occurred post war in the 50s and 60s.

      And for some reason, the beautiful architecture of the 20’s and 30’s dissipated into something far less interesting. That is, unless it was decidedly modern. But there is so much that is neither here nor there.

      Hang on. I will do my best!ReplyCancel

  • Holly Blackorby - November 24, 2016 - 10:50 PM

    Happy Thanksgiving to you! Can’t WAIT for your info on ugly ranch. I’m not alone! We have an awful lot of blessings in our lives, however. (One of which is NOT my popcorn ceilings.) So very much enjoy your blog. I collect a few then hide in a corner to read . . . Thank you Laurel, you’re a doll!ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - November 25, 2016 - 7:58 PM

      Hi Holly,

      So are you! My sister is also Holly. Just got off the phone with her.ReplyCancel

  • Betty - November 24, 2016 - 2:18 PM

    Happy Thanksgiving to everyone.ReplyCancel

  • Melinda - November 24, 2016 - 9:05 AM

    Lauren, love that house with the 7′ ceilings. However, since you didn’t post a photo of the questioners home, I do not know what it looks like. But back in 2001 we purchased a very ugly mid century blah home in a neighborhood of mostly lovely 1920’s homes full of character, but which were out of our budget. Thankfully, the designer who helped me is very fond of architectural preservation and she saved me from implementing many changes I wanted to make to “traditionalize” the home. Instead, we worked with the architecture in a more transitional way and it worked out very well. And in the 15 years since then mid century styles have become much more popular so that is even an option. Since your question asker mentioned that her windows are far wider than tall, I suspect she has a home like mine was.ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - November 24, 2016 - 7:15 PM

      Hi Melinda,

      Your point is valid about going too far with some homes. But actually, I love mid-century furnishings in architecturally traditional homes. But of course, some don’t and I respect that.

      Jonathan Adler does a lot of mid century in more traditional settings.ReplyCancel

  • bfish - November 24, 2016 - 5:52 AM

    Hi Laurel and followers — I’m giving thanks today for your always-great and informative posts. And your humor is the extra seasoning that makes every one of them extra-special. Thanks also to the wonderful community you’ve built here — the many well-informed and creative folks who comment on your blog also add much to this reader’s enjoyment. Happy Holidays!ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - November 24, 2016 - 7:08 PM

      Hi Brenda,

      Thank you so much and I agree wholeheartedly that there are so many wonderful readers such as yourself that add so much. It’s wonderful how we can all learn from each other! ReplyCancel

  • April - November 24, 2016 - 12:44 AM

    Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family. Your blog is one of the things for which I am grateful.

    Can’t wait for the follow up on 7′ ceilings.ReplyCancel

  • HeidiP - November 23, 2016 - 10:28 PM

    Omg PERFECT TIMING. I’m so excited for the follow up!!! I too live in a non-descript 1960s colonial home in CT; 8′ ceilings downstairs, 9′ upstairs…huh? Yes.
    We’ve been here 3 years and I’ve always mulled whether it was worth it to put work (read: more money) into making this my dream home. We just had a friend (whose father was a builder) come by and he helped me put things into perspective: NO, this isn’t my 1800s dream house, but an 1800s dream house in this area requires a hefty amount of $$$ to maintain, bring up to date etc… even after the $$$$ purchase price. HOWEVER, our town, property size, layout and location (within the town) are prime, so we’ve pretty much decided to expand and continue to invest in our home vs moving to another home in our area that could check off all our requirements/boxes but would be above $1.1, and would still require work and updates.
    Anyway I’m looking forward to your thoughts on how much “beautifying” is too much in proportion to the home—or, is it never too much if this is going to be your forever home (20years+) respecting and understanding of course the rules of return on investment. (For example I’ve contemplated changing out all of the light switch plates, the AC registers on the floor, etc… to make things prettier.)
    I seriously LOVE you and your blog. <3
    CANT WAIT!!ReplyCancel

    • Celeste - November 24, 2016 - 6:39 AM

      Mmm, our goal town has in general three styles of homes, adorable MUCH too small 1950s ( that is my favorite but I’m leaving a 1200sq ft home, and NOT to move into another), just the right size, has everything we need, hideous 1970-80s homes, so bad. So bad. And neat Victorians which will be a lot to maintain plus we’ll have to deal with the historical home rules. The buy in is about the same as the hideous 1970s homes, but I’m sure the upkeep is a killer.

      I just don’t know if I can be happy in an ugly white box with that icky oak trim and you know. But I do fear it looking ridiculous if I try and make it look how I want.ReplyCancel

      • Laurel Bern - November 24, 2016 - 7:11 PM

        Hi Celeste,

        I hear you! But I believe most plain boxy homes can have certain upgrades and look a lot better. Plus I have some other tricks up my sleeve.ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - November 23, 2016 - 11:43 PM

      Hi Heidi,

      I lived in the same town as my client, but a different Hamlet and the town, Lewisboro borders Connecticut. (Ridgefield and New Canaan)

      But I am very familiar with the homes of that era so hang on!ReplyCancel

      • HeidiP - November 24, 2016 - 7:55 AM

        Yes that’s exactly where I’m located in CT 😉
        Happy Thanksgiving!!!ReplyCancel

        • Laurel Bern - November 24, 2016 - 7:12 PM

          Hi Heidi,

          I had a hunch! Happy TG to you as well!

  • Chris - November 23, 2016 - 9:45 PM

    Gorgeous! What a challenge with 7″ ceilings and you did an amazing job! My husband is 6’5″ so he would go nuts in there though. I had really never heard of Waccabuc, so of course I had to go to my Redfin site to peruse the “for sales” there. Oh, my goodness! What beautiful countryside! What gardens, what swimming pools, what lakes!!!,viewport=41.30931:41.25345:-73.54291:-73.66445
    Thanks for the tip Laurel, I’m always looking for new places to live…and this looks great!
    But I’m afraid of the eastern winters. We hardly have winter -rarely a sprinkle of snow- up in the Pacific North West, which I really like. But wow, it is nice in Waccabuc. It’s no longer a secret, you let the cat out of the bag! Wishing you and your sons a very Happy Thanksgiving!ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - November 23, 2016 - 11:37 PM

      Hi Chris,

      Yes, God loves cold weather. lol Some people love the winters and some like me, hate most of them.

      Happy TG to you too!ReplyCancel

  • Libby - November 23, 2016 - 9:34 PM

    I’m so glad for you and us that your project was memorialized with such beautiful and atmospheric photography. Really marvelous. I would have enjoyed seeing the Aubusson pillows. Thanks for filling us in on the swop/staging. The greenery, trees, lights and creamy flowers look wonderful in your interiors. The dining room with the warm walls, toile, gleaming table and gorgeous light from the windows is so beautiful.
    Best wishes for your Thanksgiving holiday!ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - November 23, 2016 - 9:40 PM

      Thanks so much Libby. There were more photos. They did a terrific job. The photos were actually taken ten months earlier, in February so that there would be snow cover.ReplyCancel

  • Maria - November 23, 2016 - 9:13 PM

    Happy Thanksgiving!ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - November 23, 2016 - 9:35 PM

      It’s not meant to be private. The clients sold the home a couple years ago and no longer live there. ReplyCancel

  • Dolores - November 23, 2016 - 6:55 PM

    I find that house as beautiful and desirable today as it was twelve years ago- It’s décor is absolutely timeless, and at most, would need only a tiny refresh. I just love that dining room, it’s so cozy and warm and welcoming-it’s just what we need to escape the world’s turmoil.
    I want to wish you and your family a wonderful,rewarding and happy Thanksgiving.
    Thank you for your generosity and kindness and for sharing a bit of your life with us.ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - November 23, 2016 - 9:20 PM

      Hi Dolores,

      Thank you so much! And wishing you the same! xoxoReplyCancel