Does anyone actually LIKE 2 story rooms?

Parkview603August 17, 2012

Our plan has a 2 story entry and living room with large windows. I have read many threads here and realize that many people hate these. We looked at other plans but we keep coming back to this plan that we have loved for years and really don't want to part with it. I do understand the issues - noise, heating/cooling, coziness.

So my question is, does anyone actually like having a 2 story room? If not, why do so many homes and plans have them!?

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It's the WOW factor. Anyone who walks in to a home with a soaring room gets the sense of vast amounts of space, which translates to a sense of money and prestige. The people who are actually living in them have finally figured out all their downsides and I think those people are behind the trend towards cozier spaces.

If you really want a soaring space (can't say I blame you- I like them, too), you should do a vaulted ceiling (the kind that comes to a point in the middle.) Straight up two story rooms give a 'warehouse' effect and are hard to clean/decorate (in addition to the downsides you mentioned above.) Two story rooms that are open to the second floor are downright dangerous, IMO.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2012 at 2:12PM
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In our current house we built 5 years ago we did the 2 story (17 foot) family room, with an entire wall of windows. Yes, it was for the wow factor, and it is beautiful.

In our new build, we are doing a family room with a cathederal ceiling, and made sure to NOT get one with the 2 story again. 2 Story foyer, yes.

As you said, the tv (70 inch wall mount, again perfect for the one huge wall) is just way to loud for the sleeping kids. Heating/cooling is a nightmare. The ceiling fan is a joke. The lighting is a joke. The amount of air that comes through the windows is bad. Had to hire a painter to paint that room. The ceiling fan has never been dusted, and luckily we got a remote for it...

Although the 9 foot fake Christmas tree that goes in that room looks nice, and it will also work in the new family room.

If you do it, then make sure to get additional zones of HVAC, good blinds, and then still prepare to feel the heat, or cool, at the space at the top of the back stairs. Which is another thing, another set of staris to clean. Ugh. And a telescopic light bulb changer.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2012 at 2:31PM
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Annie Deighnaugh

Our architect surprised us with a barrel vaulted ceiling in our dining room and we love is far more comfortable a shape than even a cathedral ceiling. I was in another house once that had a room with a barrel vault and it too was wonderful. 2 story spaces only make sense if the room they're in have sufficient sq footage to handle the ceiling height. You don't want to end up with a space that feels like an elevator shaft. Children of a friend of ours had a family room like that and it was awful.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2012 at 2:49PM
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If you like the plan so much, can you just add a bonus room over the living room? Almost all of the floorplans that the local builders had on their websites had that option. You could even make the living room have 10' ceilings and step up into a bonus room. We came across bunches of options for how to use the bonus space- bedroom, play room, office/library, and exercise room.

In the end, because of al the reasons listed by drewem, we opted for 10' ceilings on the entire first floor. Only our foyer is 2-story. The 10' ceilings seem great so far (we're still building), but I'm finding it difficult to select window treatments.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2012 at 2:57PM
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While I agree with the comments about the negative aspects to 2-story larger spaces, we found a benefit to our 2-story foyer. We have a pellet stove fireplace insert and live in the northeast. Our pellet stove is on an exterior wall but the two story foyer in the center of the house helps pull the heat upstairs. The entire house can be comfortably heated from the pellet stove alone.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2012 at 3:07PM
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I hate 2-story rooms. That said, you don't have to eliminate it to make it feel cozier. I have seen photos of homes with very high ceilings where they have run beams at a more normal ceiling height to create a more cozy feeling with sacrificing the "wow" factor of a high ceiling. Ceiling fans can help pull/push air up/down (just make sure your ceiling fan direction can be switched without an extension ladder!)

    Bookmark   August 17, 2012 at 3:53PM
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I had the option of a two story high living/dining room, but opted for something in betwee, at 15 ft.

Our room is quite large, and I thought anything less would feel cramped, also, we wanted a clear story over the patio cover so a certain amount of height was necessary.

Personally, I also prefer a flat ceiling over vaulted/cathedral ceilings.

Here is a link that might be useful: Link to our plan

    Bookmark   August 17, 2012 at 4:05PM
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I've been in many houses with two story living areas and have only ever seen one or two that felt "good" to me. Upon first entering, two story spaces with their banks of soaring windows tend to inspire AWE... that whole WOW factor thing. But, once you get over the initial impression, you start to realize that they are often rather cavernous spaces and, unless very carefully designed, tend to have horrible problems with echoes which makes conversation difficult even when there are no competing noises from elsewhere else in the house. Not to mention the difficulties with heating/cooling, noise transfer, changing out ceiling light bulbs, and repainting when necessary. So I would agree that the major reason they were so popular - and remain big sellers - is because the WOW factor makes them sell like hot-cakes to people who are easily impressed and want to impress others. It's the same marketing logic that makes builders label a 15ft x 17ft living room a "Great room" and, more recently a "GRANDE room." (yes, spelled with the E at the end because that is French and therefore more impressive than the English version.) LOL!

But as I told my husband before we ever started designing our house, "I don't want a home where people walk in and think "WOW!!!" I want one where they walk in and think "aaahhhh...."

In other words, I wanted my home to be a place where folks walking in would feel any tension that they'd been carrying begin to oooze away. Homey, comfortable, warm... the kind of place where you feel like you can kick your shoes off, grab a mug of coffee, and curl up in a comfy chair with a good book. For that kind of comfort, you need architecture that is scaled down to human size.

IMHO, WOW architecture is appropriate for cathedrals, court houses, houses of parliament, monuments to great leaders, and other such public spaces. But homes should be "homey."

    Bookmark   August 17, 2012 at 4:34PM
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I think it is very much down to the site, the architect and the surroundings. If done well they can look great. If done badly, can be a pain.

One of the best examples I have seen is by Richard Meier in the Douglas House. The lakeside view from up high makes all the difference. Here a tripple height space is just perfect.

Often double height spaces in McMansions, sort of just do not cut it. After a while can be very tiresome.

Just my 2 cents.

Best, Mike.

Here is a link that might be useful: Douglas House

    Bookmark   August 17, 2012 at 4:50PM
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Sophie Wheeler

It'a all about scale. A room that is actually big enough to support a 20 foot ceiling is too big for a single use space unless you're talking a ballroom in a robber baron estate. You're talking about breaking up such a large room into many uses and conversation areas if you're talking real life.

When you're trying to talk to someone further from you than about 10', you're not having a conversation. You're having a mutual shouting match. You lose the nuances. The connections. A 20x20 room has room for 4 such areas, and that's not how most people envision using the space. They envision a giant sectional plonked in front of a fireplace capable of spit roasting whole mutton while they stare at a jumbotron mounted above it. That doesn't work either unless you have recliners for everyone to comfortably tilt back their heads to view the screen.

Scale. Human scale. This is where most people who design their own home get it really really wrong. The second place where they get it wrong is not considering the HVAC and energy efficience of the space while they are planning it. That goes hand in hand with giant caverns that are 101 degrees at the top and 63 degrees at the bottom of that mineshaft.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2012 at 5:19PM
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Beth Parsons

Personally, I love high ceilings and not because of any desire to impress anyone. I like the feeling of openness and space and after living with 7' ceilings for the last 8 years, I welcome the 15' vaults that will be in our new build. The kitchen will vault all the way to the 2nd floor loft area and the kids' bedrooms. We've lived with 20' ceilings before and fully appreciate the shortcomings they bring - HVAC issues, noise, decorating, light bulbs, etc, but those negatives do not outweigh the feeling of peace I get in a room where I feel I can breathe.

Our plan includes one of those 15 x 17 'Grand Rooms' (no 'e') with a high ceiling but we're going to eliminate that and the vaulted foyer in favor of a coffered 10' ceiling because I don't want that much height in the most public, formal rooms.

I must say, though, that we are outdoorsy people and spend a great deal of time camping, hiking and adventuring so that influences our home design preferences quite a bit. :)

Here is a link that might be useful: Our New Home

    Bookmark   August 17, 2012 at 7:52PM
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You might want to read "House Thinking" by Winifred Gallagher - a thoughtful book that explores how houses and spaces in a home affect how we feel. One of Gallagher's suggestions is to spend time thinking about different rooms you've spent time in over the course of your life and think about how you felt in those spaces. (Everyone is different - some folks love wide open spaces and others prefer small, cozy rooms.) After going through this process my husband and I realized we are both more comfortable in cozy rooms rather than spaces with cathedral or two story ceilings, so our new home will have ceilings no higher than 9'.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2012 at 11:40PM
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Current trend is to replace them with +3 ft room, so if your ceiling height is 9' frame family room let's say 15x19 with 12' add bonus space upstairs and couple of steps. Adds a little cost doubles sq ft.

Space feels comfortable, yet impressive.

    Bookmark   August 18, 2012 at 7:23AM
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I added an upper floor in one. It worked out very well.

    Bookmark   August 18, 2012 at 8:04AM
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I find the biggest problem with 2 story living spaces is that they are difficult to light well at night and that's when they are most often occupied. They are also difficult to heat and cool. Comfort should come first in a home.

    Bookmark   August 18, 2012 at 8:08AM
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Circus Peanut

There are a few historical styles in which they look good -- Northeastern shingle style vaulted dining rooms -- but otherwise, in their current use in the generic American suburbs, I find them craven and sterile.

    Bookmark   August 18, 2012 at 9:02AM
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My personal experience is with my parent's house. Their's is a 2 story foyer and family room. With an upstairs cat walk that over looks both.

My father has hearing problems (veteran). He would watch the TV loud. I would be in my room with the door shut and would come out and ask him to turn it down everyday, several times a day. Finally he started turning it down, but it still was noisy.

Let's not get started about when my boisterous family came over...ughhh.

I did like throwing laundry over however.

    Bookmark   August 18, 2012 at 1:32PM
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This is a good discussion about them. There are comments from people who have them and like them if that helps OP at all.

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   August 18, 2012 at 1:34PM
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I just had lunch at a friend's house. They were putting a family room over their 2 story living room. Her husband and a worker were literally placing the engineered joists up while I was there. Their main reason was for another living space in the house. But their comment was that there were so many echoes in the room and when there were several people, it just got NOISY!

    Bookmark   August 18, 2012 at 6:50PM
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parsonse: just out of curiosity, what are your plans for lighting for your kitchen island and the counter run to its left? (It looks like those will be your main prep zones, as the range is flanked by openings.)

I seem to recall someone with a very tall kitchen ceiling asking this question but I can't remember what their resolution was. (I think they were wavering between long cables from the ceiling that you'd see from the loft, or beams halfway up the space with lights installed in them.)

    Bookmark   August 18, 2012 at 10:22PM
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Beth Parsons


We have rearranged the kitchen just a bit, eliminating the 2nd opening to the right of the range, but the long counter run will be illuminated with undercabinet lighting and we plan on hanging pendants on long cables over the island. I really like the idea of installing a beam, though. It would certainly make changing the fixtures out at a later date easier!

    Bookmark   August 19, 2012 at 12:25PM
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parsonse: just in case you're still reading this thread...

mythreesonsnc has a beautiful 2 story kitchen. Slightly different than yours because there are no rooms looking over the space, but I thought you might like to see how they did the beams (gorgeous!) Also shows the chandelier over the island. (And I love the barn doors by the pantry.)

I think the dark beams and multi-height cabinets help make the tall wall so much more interesting.

Here is a link that might be useful: mythreesons 2 story kitchen

    Bookmark   August 21, 2012 at 1:21PM
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Thanks for the input, everyone!

Are there any other options to keep this plan but lose the 2 story great room? We don't need a bonus room upstairs (we have a full basement and there are 3 bedrooms upstairs and will use one as a playroom.) My husband thinks it is silly to build this house without having the 2 story great room but I was wondering if we could do something else with the ceiling - bring it down to a better height or add something decor wise? We have a second plan that we love (one story) that has a coffered ceiling and I love it, but we for some reason can't let go of THIS one!

    Bookmark   August 21, 2012 at 3:33PM
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This whole conversation made me decided to change the ceiling height in our own great room from 15' to 12'. Our house is single story, so slightly different situation, but this whole conversation still helped!

    Bookmark   August 21, 2012 at 3:43PM
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Parkview - if you post a link to the plan you like that has a 2-story great room, perhaps someone can suggest a way to alter it for you. Be sure and tell us what it is you love about the plan (the room layout? the front elevation? etc?) so we don't recommend a change that would get rid of the very thing(s) you most like.

    Bookmark   August 21, 2012 at 4:09PM
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Beth Parsons


Thank you SO MUCH for that link! Love those beams! Definitely something to look into. While I love the height I'm going to enjoy in my kitchen, I dread staring at blank, huge wall space. I think this might be a wonderful solution!

Parkview, if you dropped your ceiling height by simply flooring the ceiling, could you use the resulting space as storage? That's what we were going to do but our roofline allowed us to get rid of a huge dormer that existed solely to create a 2 story grand room. It was easy to eliminate in our case but we didn't have wasted space anywhere.

    Bookmark   August 21, 2012 at 6:26PM
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My house was built with open foyer. Due to problems with some of the subs, I ended up doing much of the interior finish with my own two hands. In the process, I built a balcony in the upper part of the foyer for bookcases and a desk. One of the best choices we made. Build strong for any area with bookcases.
Since our build was from our accumulated savings, no lender was pushing the schedule.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2012 at 9:21AM
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Good idea!

We love the exterior elevation. We love the kitchen overlooking the great room and having an office/library. I like how the kids' rooms are upstairs and since we only have 2 kids so will use the 3rd bedroom as a playroom or guestroom.

Honestly, we chose this plan years ago and loved the two story rooms and windows. That was before we had kids and a home of our own to know the problems it could bring. I wanted lots of light and an airy feeling which is what I thought of with this plan.

We COULD use the space as a playroom but we will have a basement for that as they get older and so it seemed like overkill to have that many places for toys!?

Here is a link that might be useful: House Plan

    Bookmark   August 22, 2012 at 3:54PM
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hollysprings: Your comment.."It's all about scale" .... caught my eye.

Our new design has the open floor plan; ie; kitchen open to the family room/kitchen dining area. My husband likes the idea of having the family room / kitchen dining area ceiling extend up to the 2nd story... having it open to a library/loft area. After reading this thread I'm not so sure.

The room dimensions of the family room/kitchen dining area are 22W X 33L. This space will be multi-purpose; A sectional will divide the eating area from the family room area. The loft/library will be viewable on the 22W side.

With regard to your "scale" comment -- how tall of a ceiling is appropriate for this size of room ..??..

Not sure I've provided enough information...[??] ... but do appreciate any comments/suggestions/links.

    Bookmark   April 14, 2013 at 11:17AM
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But as I told my husband before we ever started designing our house, "I don't want a home where people walk in and think "WOW!!!" I want one where they walk in and think "aaahhhh...."

Bevangel, you just summed up my feelings about my whole house. I think I was into "Wow" when I was younger (and couldn't afford it). Now that I can have pretty much whatever I want, "Wow" makes me think "Ehh" and often "impractical, inefficient, overpriced".

    Bookmark   April 15, 2013 at 9:45AM
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We have a two story living room in our current house and had one in our prior house and loved them both. I don't think it is necessarily a WOW as much as what feels good to you. For us, we love the light, the view and the feeling of space that you get with a two story room. I don't understand why it is impractical or inefficient. We live in Wisconsin and our room is not difficult to heat or cool and is comfortable. The thing with a forum like this is that everyone has their own personal feeling about what they like and feels homey to them. You should be concerned about what YOU like and what will feel homey to you.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2013 at 1:07PM
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Everything MrsPete said.

Personally I don't feel comfortable in tall rooms. 9'-10' is my comfort zone.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2013 at 4:07PM
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What did you decide? I notice this thread was revived, but not by you...
If you are still thinking, I'd consider using the over GR space as your bedroom space upstairs, and not using the over garage space, which is also notoriously known to be difficult to climate control...

    Bookmark   April 15, 2013 at 4:10PM
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I love 2 story rooms. I wouldn't build a custom home without one.

To each their own.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2013 at 9:03PM
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Exactly--to each their own.

Our current house and previous house have/had two story family rooms that are open to the upper level. The house before that had a story and a half or two story vaulted family room.

My FIL never felt comfortable in the space, but I suspect he never felt comfortable in the entire house. It represented too much psychological baggage for him. He didn't visit often.

For us, the two story space was a practical choice. We have some original artwork that is large. The smaller piece is about 4 x 6 ft. Artwork that size demands a larger wall space. On a smaller wall, it would make a room claustrophobic and could not be displayed properly.

The room is comfortable without echoes, heating/cooling issues, etc. Our family benefitted as we always felt we were "in touch" with each other although we might be in different areas of the house. When our children were young I was able to keep tabs on them very easily. If it became too quiet upstairs, I knew to check on things. The noise from the main level never disturbed their sleep. It's just how they grew up.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2013 at 6:46AM
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We have changed house plans but are still going to have a 2 story room. Thankfully, we know ahead of time the downfalls and are doing things to prevent them. Extra soundproofing upstairs, radiant heat from the floor, moldings to help break up the wall space.

I think, like so many things, you have to do what you love and not worry what others might think about it. That has been hard for me to grasp but in planning our dream home I want to make US happy!

    Bookmark   April 16, 2013 at 12:40PM
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Since the OP simply asked for opinions, "to each their own" is pointless if not condescending.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2013 at 12:46PM
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My sister just got rid of her two story living room by adding a gameroom on top of it for the kids. It looks so good and only took 2 weeks to complete. The downstairs room still has 9' ceilings so it doesn't feel tight at all.

I hate my two story entry (with gameroom "balcony" overlooking it.) I also do not really like my two story family room, but it is vaulted so it's not as bad.

I would rather have no two story areas at all. It makes me feel like I'm in a hotel lobby.

    Bookmark   February 28, 2014 at 6:07PM
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We have a vaulted ceiling in our great room, which is the center half (or so) of our house. It does have a nice "wow" factor, especially when you consider that the ceiling is pine and the exterior walls of the house are 10 inch logs. We have 4 four foot tall wall sconces - vintage snowshoe lights - so the tall ceiling helps keep those in scale. Unfortunately, it doesn't lend to coziness, and the house tends to be noisy. So - we are doing what we can to minimize those negatives. For instance we're thinking about hanging an old quilt up at the top - might be a neat look and a way of quieting the house. When we are in the "living" area of the great room, we turn off the lights in the dining and kitchen areas. That shrinks the great room visually.

    Bookmark   February 28, 2014 at 7:39PM
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