Spark Better Creative Thinking With Extra Headroom

Creative Thinking

It’s a bit of a cliché… the artist’s loft with soaring ceilings as the ideal environment to unleash a masterpiece. But does that type of space really have anything to do with creativity?

Spaces with tall ceilings certainly seem more inspirational, right? That’s why it’s the second thing your real estate agent points out (right after “Look how big it is!”), and why you might feel a sense of elevated spirituality in a cathedral.

Turns out there may be something to this.

A study (PDF) seems to have confirmed that higher ceilings can, in fact, help with creative thinking. Essentially, expansive spaces prompt higher levels of big-picture abstract thinking, while confined areas lead to more granular, detail-oriented thinking.

Here’s what Rui Zhu, co-author of the study, has to say:

When a person is in a high-ceiling environment, they are able to process information in a more abstract, creative fashion. Those inside a room with relatively lower ceilings will process in a much more concrete, detail-oriented fashion.

So according to these findings, you want a bit more “head room” for creative thinking. But when it comes to action (and those devilish details), a confined space might help you focus.

What do you think? In your experience, do high ceilings prompt creative thinking?

Via Tall Matters.

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Responses to this Post


  1. They used similar dynamics when they made the original movie “Twelve Angry Men.” As the movie progressed, the kept shrinking the size of the room to add more tension, drama, and feelings of hostility.

    High ceilings gives you a spacial feeling of freedom and allows you to stay and browse. Lower ceilings make you want to complete your business and get the hell out of there. Even pay a higher price for items of necessity and guilt.

  2. If you look at Philippe Starck’s talk on, you’ll see him talking about the difference between people who look at the floor when they walk along, and people who look up when they walk down the streets, etc.

    He says it humorously, but he’s making a point, and I think there’s something in it, and I’m sure Damien Hirst said something similar in “On The Way To Work” (book of interviews).

  3. It sounds like complete and utter nonsense, but.. I think there might be something in it! I definitely seem to write better when outside or in “larger” spaces. I find large (but reasonably empty) rooms to be quite energizing. Of course, this is all very anecdotal, but whatever works.. 🙂

    The only problem is, I live in a tiny 1500 sq ft house with 7ft ceilings.. ah, back to daydreaming and procrastination for me then..!

  4. I’m going outside to work

  5. My experience bears this out. When I’m facing a particularly difficult challenge, I tend to seek out an environment with high ceilings and plenty of space with few demands on my time. This provides the “space” to think without restrictions or pressure.

  6. Why do you think they built cathedrals with soaring ceilings?

  7. Fascinating, thanks for sharing!

    Maybe if you have a bigger box you don’t need to think outside of it so often 😉

    I’m thinking artist’s lofts…lofty thinking…give me room to think… creative space… openness… full of light… give me room to breathe… to express myself…

    Life as a mirror…

    tiny creative space = tiny creative mind that keeps hitting the ceiling.

    Speaking of which, I’d leave this broom cupboard I’m in and go outside (like Ed) but there’s not much blue sky thinking to be had in the UK today! Battle-ship grey sky thinking just doesn’t have the same ring about it!

  8. You’re probably right. But I would say there’s more: a big window right in front of you with a big view of nature. And then there’s the door. Just going out to where there’s no ceiling at all is the best. And not just because of all the room over your head, but also because you’re away from your work.

  9. I prefer a sense of space when I create whether that is tall ceilings, an uncluttered clean room or being outside.

    Something I have found very interesting is that some of my best creative ideas happen when I’m travelling by air.

    Now is that because I’m thousands of miles in the air albeit in a cramped tin can or to do with the clarity of the atmosphere? (I might add here that I always travel economy so it is not the luxury of first class that’s creating it!)

    I haven’t worked out why, but it’s one of the reasons I look forward to flying!



  10. The whole concept of the artist’s loft with high ceilings is not a cliche at all…in fact if you read “Brain Rules” by John Medina, he really distills how important “expansive” thinking is and it’s relation to creative thinking. There’s a great example that he gives with reference to education where he says that children learn better when they’re free to think and not confined to desks for lengthy time periods…connects nicely with your post.

    “The Fastest Way To Eliminate What’s NOT Working…”

  11. when am stuck during writing assignments i stare outside the window..i have made sure right from the beginning that i got a place next to the big window..looking out..watching the traffic flow..or even just simply gazing out helps me when i get stuck during work..come to think of it..even when i go out to eat..i prefer a place which allows me to gaze outside the window..hmmm..interesting..never consciously thought about this before reading this blog post..

  12. In a sense I agree, in as much as my bedroom ceilings are so high, that when my lightbulb blew recently, and it became apparent that we had no ladder, I was forced to ‘create’ an inpromptu ladder involving various bits of household furniture.

  13. I have done a good amount of work with people and their work spaces over the years, usually in cities where physical boundaries tend to be tighter. In my experience it is not the size of the space as much as the space folks leave themselves mentally and physically within it.

    I have lived with tall ceilings and in English basements and find that, after a period of adjusting my expectations of the space itself, one is as good as the other for the theory building/creative work that goes on in my home office. (Full disclosure–it is my preferred form of headwork from the start)

    It’s like that whole house/home distinction. What makes it work is deeply personal, the result of life experiences, and expectations have a lot to do with income level.

    If I want to spark my creativity, it sometimes helps to edit the objects taking up space in my office–or get away from my desk. Raising the ceiling is just so much work…

    Success in a Digital World

  14. In my current city condo I have a funky room on the third floor that has a sloped ceiling. I’ve placed a sofa and some good books on the side of the space with the highest ceiling, and a cozy workstation opposite in the more confined low side. In between I have a narrow table that’s perfect for spreading work out. The working footprint of this room is tiny (8×9, plus a niche where the workstation is), but because of the high ceiling and the fact that the space encompasses the stairwell used to reach it, there’s “enough room to think.” I doubt the developer had the study referenced here in mind, but for me it does bear out the notion.

  15. In my opinion, some people are just born with a “high-ceiling” mind than others. Others can’t get past the superficial and are therefore incapable of big-picture/critical thinking. Being in a high-ceiling or low-ceiling room makes for a good metaphor but hardly a factor.