Photos: Donald Powers

With no disrespect intended, the floor plan has some pretty serious limits. Sure, it's a tool that helps us understand floor and walls. But it gives no clue about the all-important third dimension—the ceiling. 

Unfortunately, many production homes ceilings consist of just one continuous plane with no variety or definition. This, in turn, translates to bland, undefined space with a thinness and lack of substance that gives production building a bad name. It doesn't have to be the case. 

Open floor plans are great because they result in spaces that are more social and that let more light and air flow through the house. But in embracing open plans (and in responding to the pressures of budget-trimming and delivering more space for less money), we've lost some good things—legibility, a sense of order, and the way a room can announce itself. Rooms themselves have lost their sense of comfort and enclosure—exactly the qualities that make a space feel good to be in. Customers don't always have the language to say so, but they know when a place feels right. 

At the intersection of the traditionally organized home and the way people want to live now, there's a solution. While the floor plane flows freely from one space to another, the ceiling can establish each room as a place of comfort, enclosure, and proportion. 

With a recent resurgence of TNDs, there's new interest in the quality and character of traditional homes. Take advantage of this. Spend a bit more time with drawings. Know where it's important to drop a soffit. Add some crown molding or entablature on all four sides of a room. It's high time to bring back the ceiling.