Making the Most of a High Ceiling

All, Inc., a St. Paul/Minneapolis-based "whotailer" selling cabinetry, plumbing, appliances and home decorating materials, recently embarked on creating two new showrooms.

Fortunately, the company's search for the ideal spot in St. Paul produced an existing building.

The structure, formerly a finished goods warehouse, presented numerous opportunities. After some consideration, it was determined that gutting and creating an entirely new space was the best plan.

"Starting with a blank slate is good, but it can also present some unusual challenges," explains Paul Zugschwert, sales manager of the showroom.

Zugschwert, who began his career with All, Inc. as a product representative, served as a team member on the showroom project, pulling together the planning details. He had his work cut out for him when designing the showroom.

"When we started, the space was nothing more than an open floor plan," he says. "Imagine a 2'x4' truss ceiling with cool panel fluorescent lighting. Everything was dingy and produced a cold feeling. We knew we had to make a lot of changes, and we had to get it right the first time."

To create a master plan on paper, Zugschwert worked with a simple CAD program on his laptop. "I worked on one part of the showroom and then another, until we had a workable design for all areas of the showroom," he says. "Once that was approved, we moved to solving problems and filling in the details."

One of the more tricky problems to solve was the extra-high, 14-foot ceiling. The design team felt that the ceiling was so bright and "hot" that it actually took attention away from the product. In addition, the light produced by the bulbs made it very difficult for consumers and designers to distinguish between product features for example, white, almond and bisque appliance colors. As Zugschwert put it: "The consumer will not pay more for a color when he or she cannot even tell what color it is."

One consideration lowering the ceiling would have been costly and could have made the space feel smaller. The designers also liked the tall ceiling. Because of this, they opted for another solution.

Originally, the space had open fluorescent fixtures, all with cold white bulbs. While others might have kept this common, general lighting to save money, All, Inc. favored a more comprehensive approach.

To make the high ceiling work, the designers chose to upgrade the lighting fixtures, using simple parabolic louvers.

Then, while most of the staff was out during the lunch hour, all the bulbs were changed to warm white fluorescents. This upgrade took the focus off the ceiling and put the emphasis back where it was most desired: on the products on display.

With lighting in place to set the stage, it was time to pull together the decorating materials. Owner Mark Rutzick had the perfect suggestion. Upgrading the lighting still left an unusually high ceiling, exposing about four to five feet of wall above eight-to-10-foot-high displays. Rutzick contacted a friend in the sign business and asked him to join the team to facilitate his idea. Together, the team came up with a cost-effective solution that added impact, advertising value and aesthetic appeal.

For the overall wall treatment, the team selected a lighter-colored commercial grade vinyl wallcovering to keep the showroom bright and clean. Next, they applied the same quality wallcovering in the mid-value, gray tone. The three-foot-wide paper was applied horizontally, around the entire room, starting just below the ceiling line.

The group then decided they needed more color strong blue, to be exact. So, to add a bit of accent, they applied two-to-six-inch wide stripes to the top and bottom of the border in the same quality vinyl wall covering. This combination created a custom border paper in the size they needed to fit the room's proportions.

With the wall background in place, the sign specialist obtained manufacturers' logo artwork and made color vinyl transfers that were applied, leaving three to four feet between each logo. Wherever possible, designers placed the logos closest to each brand's display.
"This is a solution that's easy to install and update as needed," Rutzick observes. "This design gave us a polished and professional look, without much cost."

Zugschwert estimates the cost of the graphics, wallpaper, other materials and labor at $5,550, or about $17 per foot pretty affordable for a solution that serves so many purposes.

"As consumers enter, they can see all the brands we carry, even if they're not easily recognized by product display alone," he notes. "Its message is bold and clear."

Once the graphics were in place, attention returned to lighting. It was decided that the border needed better lighting to make the logos "pop off the wall." Since this type of illumination could not be achieved with the overhead showroom lights, the designers added track lighting with pendant lights. To provide "jewelry store quality and clarity," they chose easy-to-find, economical, improved low-voltage halogen bulbs.

This concept has been so successful and simple to achieve that All, Inc. is planning to add the same effect to a separate bath and carpet showroom. One of its greatest benefits, Zugschwert says, is that consumers ask more questions sooner.

"They look up and see all those brands and want to know more specifics right away," he reports.

If you want to try this technique, consider the following tips:

  • Place a quality vinyl wallpaper perpendicular or horizontal to the top of the ceiling wall.
  • Make sure your ceiling is high enough to allow for one to four feet between the product and the graphic accent stripe, to allow for focus and air space from the product itself.
  • When you're out of logos and have more room to fill, repeat them.
  • Try to place the logo above, or close to, the brand display area.
  • Consider working your company colors into the scheme. However, before you begin, make sure your company logo colors are up to date. Updates should occur every two to six years.
  • Make sure the color of each logo coordinate. They can be different in color just as long as the pattern does not become too bold in one part and too light in another part.
    In addition, working with a sign professional will help you ensure that the coloration of each logo will harmonize with other logos and the entire room.
  • Offer vendors a chance to participate. They'll love seeing their names "in lights."
  • Correct lighting is essential. Consult a lighting professional for advice on fixtures and bulbs.
  • Be sure to select quality vinyl paper so it will lay well and hold its color over time. Select a paper that will tolerate the removal of logos. However, keep in mind that wallpaper color will fade over time, so the removal of logos may be noticeable.

Sarah Reep, CKD, ASID, CMG, is the newly named director of design for the Middlefield, OH-based KraftMaid Cabinetry. An award-winning designer and nationally recognized leader in the kitchen and bath industry, Reep is a renowned speaker and educator who has taught courses for the NKBA, Southern Illinois University and Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Australia.