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Ceilings And Store Design

Furniture World Magazine


Your store's ceilings can help lift sales to new heights.

While growing up, most of us learned the importance of making a favorable first impression. Whether on the job, or simply during the rigors of our daily lives, the first impression plays a significant role.

A crucial first impression for retailers is made the instant your customers enter your store. It is in that moment that your potential customer begins to confirm his expectations, or doubts about your store's character and identity. As store planners and interior designers of home furnishing selling environments, we have many ways of helping retailers to hold on to those first golden minutes.

One of the most prominent areas that can create a positive impression is the ceiling. From the French word ciel, meaning sky or canopy, the ceiling surface of your store represents its single largest design element. Together with the floor, it embraces and encompasses the entire display and selling area. However, unlike the floor, the ceiling area is seen almost entirely at once. It is usually seen virtually uninterrupted, except by walls that extend to the ceiling to form display areas. Structural level changes, forms or treatments can also block full vision of a ceiling.

By utilizing the ceiling directly above your front door, you can create a dramatic entrance that captivates and stimulates the minds of your shoppers. A lower ceiling level above an entrance module creates an intimate, comfortable space. A space that gives a definite sense of entry. It can also create the impression of a large store as they walk past the entrance and into the area of higher ceiling. In this very special area, you may choose to use a particular ceiling that incorporates spectacular design and lighting. Upon entering, the fantasies your customers have about what your store offers, or even about how you may help them to attain beauty in their homes are fulfilled. By allocating a percentage of your interior budget to the entrance module, and particularly the ceiling above, you are using one of my firm's "Profit Planning" design techniques. A technique that will give you a competitive edge in creating that important first impression.

The main types of ceilings seen in retail spaces are plaster, sheet rock and acoustical tile. Today, plaster ceilings are seldom used due to the inherent expense and labor involved in installing them. Sheet rock ceilings (gypsum wall board), when properly installed can present a look very similar to a plaster ceiling. Sheet rock ceilings lend themselves nicely to paint and other decorative finishes, as well as lighting sources. Acoustical tile ceilings are by far the most popular. Most ceilings are composed of simple, lightweight acoustical tiles suspended from the building's structural ceiling by means of wires, and rods. Acoustical tiles are available in an almost endless variety of colors and finishes. They are prefinished, easily maintained and quickly installed. More recently, we have seen a variety of metal ceiling systems. They may include mirror and reflective finish surfaces. Open grids, metal fins, panels and louver systems are also becoming quite popular. Most metal ceiling systems are installed in a similar manner as acoustical tile systems. They are usually modular and reveal either joints or "t-bars."

A ceiling's main purpose is to provide a barrier, or finished overhead surface between the display floor below and the "work" space or plenum above. The plenum is the area that contains the mechanical systems such as sprinklers, ducts and the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system. In most retail environments, the acoustical properties of the ceiling are not very important. In fact, the sounds created by busy shoppers, and the sound of the cash register ringing up a mountain of sales have become an important element of the successful shopping atmosphere.

Ceilings at differing heights and of various materials can be used to successfully define and organize departments. The changing heights and decorative treatments allow you to experiment with an endless variety of lighting effects. They can define different areas of the store and the merchandise displayed there. With this advantage comes the ability to attract and direct the attention of shoppers.

Introductions to departments such Dining Room or Bedding become spectacular with dramatic lighting that focuses attention on the displays. It highlights the color, texture, and style of the merchandise. In combination with ceiling design, a good lighting system will not only enhance furniture and consumers, it can actually change the perception of your store in the minds of your customer. You can imply low end or high end merchandise by the lighting systems you use.

Another way of achieving flair, drama and excitement in your store is to implement various ceiling planes or levels to your existing store. Not only will you be enhancing the store ambiance but, by directing the focus of your shoppers you may be significantly impacting and increasing your revenues.

Use the suggestions in the colored boxes throughout this article to "Bring Your Ceiling to New Heights!"

A shopper entering your store is much like an actor stepping onto a stage. The store, can be thought of as the theater. The stage, of course is the selling floor. Your upholstery, bedrooms, dining rooms and other merchandise are the props. Customers become the main players while the sales staff act as the supporting cast.

Let's not forget you–the retailer. With your investment in the merchandise and the building itself, you can be considered the all important producers and directors of this elaborate production. In an actual theatrical production there would most likely be a glowing article written in the local newspaper. Naturally, in any retail store it's the sound of the cash register ringing that is music to the ears. Lighting, color, finishes, displays and especially the large ceiling plane set the ambient tone. All of the consumer's senses are primed for a shopping experience.

By making variations to design elements such as ceilings, lighting, colors, materials and other finishes the designer creates spatial excitement. Repeating them in select areas will begin to create a unique identity and character. It becomes a unified identifying signature for your store. A successful store image becomes part of your store's identifying character and an integral part of your marketing campaign.

-Randahl Ramos is a principal with Curtis Randahl Assoc., a store planning firm based in San Francisco. Questions can be directed to him care of Furniture World,Call him direct at (415)863-1031 .

Paint your existing ceiling "T-bars" an accent color. Another quick and effective way of adding color and dimension to your existing acoustical tile ceiling is to use an exciting accent color on the grid or T-bars only. In special areas, particularly those that have a natural separation from the rest of the ceiling, like behind a header, bulkhead or soffit, this easy treatment can really help to spark sales. For example a dining room department will take on the traditional look of a coffered ceiling when the 2x2 grid is painted an accent color. This technique is recommended for 2x2 grid systems only.

Open grid ceilings will lend a contemporary or lively feel to any area below. We like to use 2x2 suspended ceiling grid systems without the tiles. They are effective and economical. This simple ceiling treatment makes quite a statement when painted Primary Red or Yellow. When used in a Youth Bedroom area it becomes a whimsical feature certain to attract children. Experts tell us that children wield considerable influence in their parents purchase decision making process.

Drop a bulkhead or soffit in select areas to highlight the focal points below. A new bulkhead or soffit will do wonders for your store when placed in select areas. It will delineate departments and direct attention to the merchandise below. In addition to creating interest on the ceiling plane, a new bulkhead or soffit will provide you with an ideal place for signage. Be certain that signing is both prominent and well lighted.

Consider the use of pendant mounted track lighting. If your ceiling is high enough to allow you to do so, you may consider "dropping," or pendant mounting a predetermined configuration of track and track fixtures just below it. Ideally, it should be approximately 18-24 inches below the existing surface. Because the track becomes a modular architectural element it creates a sense of ceiling. Place the fixtures approximately three feet on center. Be certain to include a few low voltage halogen fixtures for accent and sparkle. There are countless track lighting systems to choose from. You may select one in a color that matches your existing ceiling, or chose a contrasting color to create a new contemporary look.


  • Replace old fluorescent fixtures
  • Use pendant mounted track
  • Drop a bulkhead or soffit
  • Create open grid ceilings
  • Paint existing ceiling "T-bars"

Replace a few of those old fluorescent fixtures with a ceiling mounted track system. Simply eliminate some of your tired, old "lay-in" fluorescent fixtures and supplement the lighting with a new track lighting system. Not only will you be adding a new variety of light sources such as halogen and PAR lamps, but you will actually enhance the presentation of upholstery and other merchandise. The entire showroom will come alive.

Randahl Ramos is a principal with Curtis Randahl Associates, a store planning firm based in San Francisco. Questions about store design/planning can be directed to FURNITURE WORLD Magazine at editor@furninfo.com.