Two-Story Great Room???

joybird8May 7, 2008

Hi! We are in the VERY early stages of building a new house. I am SO glad to have found this forum as I have already found a ton of ideas and useful information that I plan to use as we build.

We are still trying to choose a floor plan and my husband and I are at odds over whether to build a home with a one- or two-story great room. He likes the look and feel they give; I am more practical and have several concerns: sound carrying upstairs (we have small children), loss of square footage upstairs (I could get my 2nd floor laundry room and/or WICs in the kids rooms), energy concerns, etc... Having said all that, I do like the "wow" factor that they seem to add. Our builder thinks a better option for us would be 10-foot ceilings throughout the first floor (which I like the idea of) but my husband still needs convincing!

Could you share your ideas regarding the pros and cons of the 2-story great room

Thanks so much (and for all the great info shared on this site)

Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Hello joybird,
Are you planning on staying in the house many years?
I heard that some houses with doble hight great room are harder to sale. Pleople is concerned on heating bills. I also read that the tendency is that the double height will disappear but still people wants a minimum of 10' ceiling high in the living room.
I went to Washington to visit my best friend and I liked what I saw at her house, hopefully I can explain: The masterbedroom is over the great room. The great room is 12' high so once you are in the master area on the second floor she have like a seating area first and then 3 steps to the actual area for the bed and that is to allow the higher ceiling in the living area (12') it is interesting that if you are on the bed you can see the TV on the wall in the seating area and someone can be seating on the chair and it does not bother. Is a terric idea an concept. It also makes the master look more "grand"

    Bookmark   May 7, 2008 at 10:39PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Unless your home is in the 6,000 sf+ range (not counting basement) I find a two storey great room too great a waste of space. I do love soaring heights--usually at the entry or as the focus of a centre hall plan.

Octagonal dome in ceiling expands the first floor
to ceiling height to 21.5 ft. Later, a ceiling to
first floor chandelier will tie together and enhance
the space

Ten-foot ceilings in a large home give a wonderful spacious feel. They can work well even in small homes. My first home was maybe 900 sf. With 10ft. ceilings on the main floor--which was only two rooms--it didn't feel cramped.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2008 at 11:12PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I hate 2 story great rooms - feel very cold and uninviting.

We are going with a 11-ft great room ceiling to give it some volume but keep it cozy.

Just me 2 cents...

    Bookmark   May 7, 2008 at 11:19PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I have a 'cathederal' type: 9 foot side walls raising to 23 in the center. Not moved in yet, but it has a wonderful feel to it. There are several roof angles that come together in the middle, gables, windows making for lots of light and visually interesting geometry.

A couple logs hold up the roof beams, like full sized trees. That's the sort of sense it gives at this point-- almost as open as being outdoors, but sheltered by the trees.

It reflects the Rocky Mountain setting and the style [this week I'm calling neo-rustic] of the rest of the house. More importantly, it suits me: I like mountains and high places and tall trees, and when I'm up in the loft it feels like a tree house.

My other main floor rooms are only 8 feet, and I kind of like that--- more intimate spaces for the more intimate rooms, and makes a great contrast.

I guess my advice is do it IF it makes sense for your family. It may not, if you need the footage more than the feel...

    Bookmark   May 7, 2008 at 11:44PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

It sounds like you need the square footage. In our case we didn't need the square footage (do two people with no kids really need a fifth bedroom?). We also weren't able to increase the height of the ceilings on the first floor. With 8'3" ceilings on both floors (not counting the great room and master over garage with pitched ceilings) we barely squeaked into the height limits in town.

In a perfect world I would have done 9' on second level and 12' on the first floor, but that wasn't possible for us. Our 2 story great room is definitely a "wow" factor. The house is a traditional Nantucket Colonial, and then you walk into that room with the soaring ceiling. We love it. As far as sound transmission, the master bedroom is straight down the hallway from the second floor balcony. If we just shut the door there is no sound issue at all.

If you go with the 10' ceiling I would recommend you go with taller than average windows. Windows set at the 6'8" level won't do justice to the ceiling height.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2008 at 1:11AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

We have a 2-story great room in our current house. It has its pros and cons. It does look amazing and give the room a very bright airy feel. It makes a not so big room (15x19) feel much bigger. We did add a lot of mouldings etc to really make the most of it. Heating is not a huge issue, the room never feels overly cold. The upstairs does get a little warm when we run the fireplace.

That said we are just getting ready to build and this time I am not doing a big two story great room. More of it is to get all the bedrooms on the same floor. You do lose a decent amount of space going with that look. I included a link to some pics of my current room

Here is a link that might be useful: 2 story room

    Bookmark   May 8, 2008 at 7:38AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

You might want to consider the square footage of the room plus whether it will be primarily used for public/formal gatherings or for private/intimate gatherings.

A ceiling that is too high in proportion to the floor area makes you feel like you're standing at the bottom of a well and tends to be horribly echo-y. Conversely, a ceiling that is too low in proportion to the floor area feels like it is pressing down and can be downright claustrophobic.

Additionally, lower ceilings (but not too low) tend to help create a sense of intimacy while higher ceilings (but not too high) tend to create a sense of formality or grandeur.

So, do you and DH primarily want your great room to be an intimate place where you cuddle up with the kids and the dogs for intimate family times? Or, do you see yourselves having rather formal gatherings (eg. cocktail parties) there?

Personally, I decided that even tho we entertain large numbers of people quite regularly, our gatherings tend to be more informal plus the "wow factor" just wasn't important enough to me to sacrifice having larger bedrooms and a laundry room upstairs. Additionally, even when we have rather large gatherings, I still really want them to feel quite intimate. So we went decided to go with 10 foot ceiling in our 18' x 27' great room.

Painted several shades lighter than the walls and with appropriate uplighting, the ceiling can seem higher than it really is. And when the uplighting is turned off and only floor lamps are on, the ceiling seems lower thus creating a more intimate space. Best of both worlds if you ask me.

Ultimately, it all depends on the FEELING that you and DH want your great room to convey. Once you come to an agreement on that, I think you'll find it easier to decide what the right height ceiling for your family will be.

Attached is a link that you might find interesting and it might help to open up the discussion with DH a little.

Here is a link that might be useful: A Pattern Language - Ceiling Height Variety

    Bookmark   May 8, 2008 at 7:39AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I didn't read every-one's reply, but I will tell you we built a home in 2006 with a 2 story great room. It looked nice, and the heating didn't seem too bad, but it was a lot of wasted space under roof and air, and I wouldn't do it again... this of course is just my opinion, you ultimately have to decide!

    Bookmark   May 8, 2008 at 8:15AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo


What a wonderful tied-together, feature-full great room!

    Bookmark   May 8, 2008 at 8:38AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Count me in to the group that LOVES the Wow factor and the grandness but did not care for the negatives of sound echoing and heating bills. On this house, we took out the two story Great Room and did a 12 foot ceiling (10 foot everywhere else downstairs) and then put a Bonus room above it with 2 steps up. We really love how it came out. The room still has a nice big open feeling but no echo. We warmed it up with beams on the ceiling.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2008 at 9:46AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I LOVE a two story great room as well as a two story foyer! I love soaring open space that truly opens a house up and lets the light in. I don't care what real estate "experts" say they're going out of style - I've lived in houses with and without them and when it came time to design the new house I'm building, any plan without them was a deal breaker for me. I could have lived with 12 ft ceilings, but would not have loved them as much and probably would have regretted it down the road.

My DH and I don't have any kids, so maybe they're not the best choice with children, but we're building this house just for us. Your mileage may vary!

    Bookmark   May 8, 2008 at 11:23AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Our last house and current house has a 2 story great room.
I love them.
The great room in the first house was always cold in the winter.
In our second house, we worked with the ac and heat people and devised placement of vents in such a way that it is never cold.
We placed the bedrooms down the hall from the great room so noise is not an issue.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2008 at 11:47AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

We have a two story greatroom and love it. Ours has a 18' flat ceiling with a loft at one end. We have zoned heating/cooling and do not find it to be hard or expensive to heat or cool--we live in Wisconsin. Our house is two stories with 3,200 sq ft of finished living space above ground and an additional 900 square feet of finished space in the basement. Our great room is our main living space and I enjoy the two story aspect of the great room every time I use it. We do not need additional space so putting additional bedrooms/etc. above the great room would have been wasted space for us. But this really is a matter of personal preference and people either like them or they don't. We had a two story great room (cathedral ceiling not flat like our current house) in our previous house too where we lived for 20 years and had the same heating/cooling experience in that house as in our new house. Noise is not a problem for us, but the walls upstairs that abutt the great room space are closets or bathrooms (or else the loft) so they block the sound between the great room and the bedrooms.

Here are out actual gas bills for all of 2007 and part of 2008 cut and pasted from our utility's web side(column 1 is Read Date, column 2 is # Days, column 3 is Therms, Column 4 is Heating Degree Days, Column 5 is Therms/Degree Day, and Column 6 is the $ Amount of the bill):

Apr 09, 2008 29 82 827 0.099 $111.45
Mar 11, 2008 29 128 1,404 0.091 $159.47
Feb 11, 2008 32 185 1,549 0.119 $213.66
Jan 10, 2008 31 147 1,260 0.117 $165.83
Dec 10, 2007 31 128 1,123 0.114 $144.19
Nov 09, 2007 31 47 490 0.096 $56.74
Oct 09, 2007 28 22 107 0.206 $30.25
Sep 11, 2007 33 30 19 NA $39.20
Aug 09, 2007 29 19 2 NA $29.01
Jul 11, 2007 30 23 3 NA $35.14
Jun 11, 2007 33 29 113 NA $42.94
May 09, 2007 28 37 349 NA $48.79
Apr 11, 2007 33 87 770 0.113 $103.34
Mar 09, 2007 28 135 1,240 0.109 $155.35
Feb 09, 2007 30 174 1,528 0.114 $190.76
Jan 10, 2007 30 115 893 0.129 $134.57

Here are our actual electric bills (column 1 is Read Date, column 2 is # Days, column 3 is kWh, column 4 is kWh/Day, and column 5 is $ Amount):
Apr 09, 2008 29 719 24.8 $99.89
Mar 11, 2008 29 499 17.2 $71.99
Feb 11, 2008 32 694 21.7 $97.68
Jan 10, 2008 31 774 25.0 $104.71
Dec 10, 2007 31 707 22.8 $95.36
Nov 09, 2007 31 580 18.7 $79.80
Oct 09, 2007 28 577 20.6 $87.26
Sep 11, 2007 33 1,138 34.5 $168.31
Aug 31, 2007 127 0 NA -$3.52
Aug 09, 2007 29 675 23.3 $103.72
Jul 11, 2007 30 982 32.7 $146.15
Jun 11, 2007 33 633 19.2 $94.25
May 09, 2007 28 521 18.6 $75.09
Apr 11, 2007 33 664 20.1 $89.00
Mar 09, 2007 28 600 21.4 $79.91
Feb 09, 2007 30 652 21.7 $86.72
Jan 10, 2007 30 723 24.1 $95.27

To help you put the above amounts into perspective--We have a natural gas Carrier Infinity furnace (the most efficient one) and an electric Carrier air conditioner (not the most efficient). We have a natural gas cooktop and water heater (no pilot light on either), but all of our other appliances are electric. The fireplace in our basement is gas with a pilot light, and our other fireplace is woodburning. We do not have a pool or a hot tub. We have lots and lots of Andersen 400 series windows--the great room has twelve windows (each 30" x 72"?), the dining room, and the bedrooms and office each have 5 windows--all of them 30" wide and various heights, but mostly tall). The kitchen has a triple slider, a french door and a window. In our area, you can look up anyone average utility bill on our utility's web site and you may want to do that for houses that are similar to the one you are considering building to get an idea of what the energy costs would be for your house. The great room is the only two story space in our house--the foyer is not two story. We have 9' ceilings on the first floor and 8' ceilings on the 2nd floor. We have a ceiling fan in the great room, but no place else. I think that zoning your heating/cooling system is really important if you have any 2 story spaces in your house. Good luck!

    Bookmark   May 8, 2008 at 12:19PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I like marjen's great room; the mouldings tend to 'right size' it. I've seen too many that either have the 'well effect' (teeny floor space) or are huge, cold and pretentious -- more 'hotel lobby' than home. Big windows are great...if you have a view other than the house next door.

We have two rooms with 16-foot cathedral ceilings. Love the Library. Hate the Guest BR.

IMO public buildings want to impress. Homes embrase families and friends.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2008 at 2:03PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

For our new house, we are closing off our 2 story great room and making a room above it. We are going w/ higher ceilings in the great room (thereby creating steps into the room above) so we can coffer the ceiling if we want. We currently have cathedral ceilings and an overlook into our great room and I HATE it!!!!! They are indeed loud and are an absolute waste of heat and space. The biggest thing I hate about it is how in the winter the cold air from upstairs falls on top you while you are sitting in the Great Room. We are constantly wrapping up in blankets because of the constant draft. Decorating is also a pain in the tush. I will be glad to be rid of the cathedral ceilings!

    Bookmark   May 8, 2008 at 7:51PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Our whole house is really kind of a two story space. Entry, Living Room and Family Room are all two stories separated only by arches or stairs but all of the living spaces are generally connected. Won't allow for much privacy in the common spaces but it does have a very open and "free" feel to it. In my opinion it all comes down to personal preference. If you have a taste for the expanse of high ceilings and architectural interest I would consider it. If you're looking for pratical square footage go with a more traditional layout.

Looking out living room to family room.

Looking out Living Room to Balcony

Rear Family Room wall

Family Room looking back to Living Room and Balcony

    Bookmark   May 8, 2008 at 9:54PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Glorious space! I love your design. Your great room is very similar to ours and has the same kind of view. Beautiful house!

    Bookmark   May 9, 2008 at 9:02AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Thank you all for your insightful and thoughtful responses.You have all made so many good points and brought up a few things I never thought about. I now feel "prepared" to discuss the pros and cons with my husband. We'll see! Thanks!

    Bookmark   May 9, 2008 at 9:18AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I am with oruboris. We have a tall cathedral ceiling in the great room. It goes with the tall trees and Mtns. in our locale. We also have a great view (especially from our loft seating area) through the large picture windows.

    Bookmark   May 9, 2008 at 12:31PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

It definitely is a personal choice, but do consider the size of the great room in making the decision. We have a 2 story living room, and while I LOVE high ceilings, it doesn't really work because the room isn't large enough to carry it, so the feel is rather that of a room stood up on its side.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2008 at 1:33AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I love my 2 story great room during the day, but at night my spirits drop as the room fills with shadows, no matter how much art/color I put on the walls or lamps I add to the room. Has anyone experienced this and found a solution?

    Bookmark   May 11, 2008 at 10:03AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

aliakas, I had the feeling with the great room in our old house but I never have it with the 2 story great room in our new house. The difference between our old house and our new house is ceiling material and lighting. Our old house had a wood cathedral ceiling that sucked all the light out of the room at night. Our new house has a flat white ceiling and it never feels dark. Another difference is that we have lighting at the ceiling in our new house and we didn't at our old house except over a little balcony, although we really only use the ceiling lights in the loft in our new house because the white walls and ceiling and light spilling into the room from the loft keep it light at night. I recommend that you contact a lighting consultant to work out a light plan that will have light subtly shining up towards your ceiling, especially the corners. If you have a dark ceiling, consider painting it white. I know people with a dark wood cathedral ceiling who put up lights (concealed behind molding) all around the room where the walls and the cathedral ceiling met and that worked great. As for us, we just used recessed lights in our flat ceiling, which work fine for us. But for me anyway, it was all a matter of lighting. Good luck.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2008 at 9:23PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

We had a two story foyer and great room in our last house, and while the climate wasn't cold, I thought the rooms felt cold and uninviting. I don't think I'd do that again.

Our current house is a fairly contemporary ranch, and the living areas start at 8 ft and ceilings slope up to about 12 feet. That provides us with a "large" feel without getting out of hand.

    Bookmark   May 12, 2008 at 9:13AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

The comment by aliakas reminds me of posts we've had here about windows becoming 'black holes' at night. If you have a huge bank of them -- presumably because you have a great view! -- think about how to fight glare during the day and the black glass effect at night. Lighting some landscaping can help.

    Bookmark   May 12, 2008 at 11:43AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Thanks carolyn for the input on the lighting...our ceiling is white luckily...we have had some ideas about ceiling lighting and exterior landscape lighting...perhaps to help the situation with the windows becoming "black holes" at night...chisue - that's a perfect description! We are having a consultant come out next week...he believes he can find a solution! Keeping my fingers crossed. This is the one thing I did not think about when we were building!! How brainless!

    Bookmark   May 13, 2008 at 7:44AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo


TIme for $.02 more?

We built a home 20 years ago with a 26 x 26 great room that has a ceiling that is 11' high at the outside wall, and then climbs to 20+ feet over a second story loft.
We did it mainly for two reasons, 1. we had a nice view out the large windows in the back (windows on both sides of a fireplace) and 2. we enjoy several large pieces of art that we needed larger walls for.
We still like the room, we spend most of our living time in this room and it entertains well also. We also have features in this room that bring it in some also. The loft overlooking the room and a curved stairway with a half wall around it (to the side of the great room) make the room more intimate than we expected when we built.
We have not had heating problems, but we do have audio problems with surround sound, in that the very high ceiling and complex room configuration confound tuned audio systems.
I would build it again. I still like higher ceilings in this kind of room better than 2 story ceilings in an entryway, which strikes me as emotionally cold when I walk into them. (That is definitely personal choice, and doesn't necessarily fit anyone else).

Good luck with your design,

    Bookmark   May 15, 2008 at 3:40PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

The optimal, although pricey, solution to the heating of a two story room is radiant floor heating. Both forced air and radiant systems invariably create air movement which allows warm air to rise. Since the warmest part of the room is at ceiling level, that energy is wasted (unless you're hosting bald NBA players).

With radiant floor heating, the heat is evenly distributed all over the floor. It can't rise because there's no way for cold air to get underneath it to replace it as it rises. Consequently, the floor is the warmest part of the room and the ceiling is the coolest. And since your extremities are the first thing to feel a chill (especially as you get older), your room "feels" warmer than the reading on the thermostat.

We have a two story living room and radiant heating throughout the house. The previous house I built had a two story great room without radiant and that's why radiant was a must for this house. Incidentally, it saves energy in rooms with ceilings of only 9-10', too.

That said, recognize that in most places, you'll still have to install forced air ducting for A/C (and may want to install a furnace to deal with radiant's lag).

One final thought on high ceilings. Lighting shouldn't be a problem if done correctly. Our ceiling has cans on dimmers in a box beam ceiling. That plus accent lighting works great (see below).


    Bookmark   May 15, 2008 at 11:02PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

In my post above, I said, "Both forced air and radiant systems invariably create air movement which allows warm air to rise." I meant to say, "Both forced air and BASEBOARD HEATING systems invariably create air movement which allows warm air to rise." Baseboard heating systems run a hot water pipe along the baseboard and air is pulled up from the floor, heated by the pipe and rises up the walls. These currents are what ensure that most of the heated air ends up at the ceiling level.


    Bookmark   May 16, 2008 at 11:41AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

For me it's simply the matter of preferring intimate to grand. I want my home to feel comfortable and warm and cozy, and to me that means no cathedral ceiling. I don't want to live in a place so wide open, I just don't like the feeling. Some people do, some people don't and it's hard to know which one you are until you've lived in both. Have you ever lived in (or spent significant time in) a place with cathedral ceilings?

    Bookmark   May 16, 2008 at 11:57AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Wow, Montalvo. That room is AMAZING. Simply gorgeous.

My husband and I are currently deciding what we want in the house we are planning to build. We have decided we most definitely DO NOT want a 2-story with balcony. In our current house our "great" room is nowhere near the 2-story foyer and stairs, and yet I can be up there and hear quite clearly what is on TV downstairs. So if sound can travel like that in our CURRENT house I want to try to remove that possibility in any house we build. So we are absolutely not having a 2-story foyer.

I do dream of having 10-12' ceilings on the first floor though. We're in the south and I think that would be extremely beneficial in the summertime when we're roasting.

    Bookmark   May 16, 2008 at 6:11PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Thanks for the compliment, Jaynees. But a couple of comments on the house you're planning.

Regarding soundproofing, don't assume that sound transmission will be a problem simply due to having a two-story room. Most tract houses don't put insulation in the interior walls and that can make a huge difference. In addition, if you have a concern with sound transfer between two specific walls, you can do what we did between our MBR and exercise room; in addition to insulation, we double-sheetrocked the exercise room wall. Even with the TV blaring, the fans blasting and the elliptical machine running, there's NO sound coming through to the MBR.

As for 10-12' ceilings, recognize that you'll be adding four to eight additional stairs to the second story over what you'd have with eight-foot ceilings.


    Bookmark   May 16, 2008 at 7:01PM
Sign Up to comment
More Discussions
Smart Homes Ideas
I am curious about the ideas that people are incorporating...
It's March 2015: How is your build progressing?
Zorro-anyone can start one. :) Link to It's February...
Need Layout Ideas
Hello - we are purchasing the lot shown below. As you...
What is your favorite feature about your house?
Do you have one or several favorite features or a...
Darla Grossman
Protecting hardie from splash up?
Our builder is wanting us to add a few layers of brick...
Sponsored Products
Serena & Lily Playa Stripe Dhurrie
Serena & Lily
Kartell | Usame Table
$350.00 | YLighting
Hand-tufted Beerse Safari Tan Floral Wool Rug (12' x 15')
Modern Indoor/Outdoor Accent Rug: Artistic Weavers Rugs Castelar Golden Raisin
$70.97 | Home Depot
Blue Sophia Duvet Cover Set
$69.99 | zulily
Boxwood Rustic Bronze Finish One Light Outdoor Wall Sconce with Clear Beveled Gl
$59.99 | Bellacor
Gourd Drum Pendant
$259.99 | Dot & Bo
Hughes Leather Ottoman - Brighton Ciment Gray
Joybird Furniture
© 2015 Houzz Inc. Houzz® The new way to design your home™