The Househunter: Low Beams in Milton Keynes

It’s Fantasy Friday again and we’re looking at the property market to see what we might buy or be inspired by this week. So far this year we have been to a palatial property in south London, a 60s terrace (complete with serving hatch and short curtains) and now we are heading to a low ceilinged beamed cottage overlooking fields of sheep.

This 18th century four bedroom cottage is low and low and is located in the city but in a rural location. It’s a ten minute drive from the station and a half hour train journey from Euston station in London. It’s on with Inigo for £900,000.

Now many of you ask about low ceilings and smaller rooms so we can look at how they have dealt with that in this house. The first option is, of course, that you can paint the beams the same colour as the ceiling to make them disappear. Of course the ceiling won’t be any higher but by “disappearing” the beams they won’t catch your eye and so you won’t be constantly reminded that the ceiling is low.

The other thing is always to consider your context. This house, despite being close to the centre of the city, has a rural aspect and the beams add to the country feel. This style has been emphasised by the bare brick and natural doors and windows. Exposed brick is an interesting look because you can have it in a city warehouse and it will seem very industrial because of the large open plan spaces but in the country you can make it look more rustic.

The other point about country houses is that the windows tend to be smaller. This is often down to the fact that they were old rural buildings – this is 18th century – and glass was expensive so people used it in smaller quantities. This is why many houses like this can be dark – low ceilings and small windows. As I said above painting the beams can help with this.

Now moving into the sitting room and you can see that the red thread for this house is beginning to emerge. Dark blue as the predominant paint colour with more exposed brick and natural wood frames. A couple of points to note in this room – the painted radiator. It’s not a cast iron feature one so make it vanish by painting it to match the wall. Use either wood and/or metal paint which will flex with the heat so it doesn’t crack.

The other thing is that there are no ceiling lights in this room. Now, as you will know, I’m not a fan of a spotlight anywhere other than a kitchen or bathroom, but this house has low ceilings so pendant lights are also tricky. If that’s you you need to look at wall lights in addition to lamps.

Wall lights have traditionally been regarded as old fashioned and dated but they are coming back into fashion which means there is a lot more choice. You can also buy plain ones that can be painted to match the wall so all you will see is a soft wash of light up the wall.

Now you will see there are spotlights in the bedroom. Go figure. But another thought on the pendant or big light. Regular readers will know I have often found the central light in a bedroom to be problematic. Mostly they end up hanging over the end of the bed lighting a patch of floor. Or in the middle of the bed which feels like bed feng shui. If you have a low ceiling, or you don’t want either of the above placements then try moving  a hanging light to a corner. This means it will still light the room but it’s not in the way. I have just done this in our bedroom and it hangs low in a corner with a small table and plant underneath which makes a feature.

In a sitting room you could hang two pendant lights low at either end of a sofa with an occasional table underneath which then leaves more room for the Gin. You can, of course, also do this either side of a bed and have two pendant lights instead of bedside table lamps. So the message here is that even if you have low ceilings you can still have pendant lights. You just have to give a bit more thought to where you put them.

Now on yesterday’s podcast we spoke about trends and yes of course, you don’t have to take any notice of trends but it can be interesting (and sometimes useful) to know what the conversation is about even if you only want to listen rather than join in. Now one of the places we referred to in the show was the trends report from Pinterest and I think that’s interesting because it’s not about style writers deciding what’s in and what’s out it’s based around the actual searches that people are doing so in that sense it’s a real time reflection of what real people are actually looking for and trying to create in their own homes.

And the point, for now I am there, is that one of these terms is the slightly cringe-inducing word “hipstoric”, which means (because trendsetters love a buzzword even if there’s nothing new behind it) mixing old and new. And that, my friends is what we are all about here and on this blog in general. And this image above sums it up perfectly. That’s a mid-century vintage chair coupled with an antique desk and a modern rug. Three items from different periods that work together brilliantly.

Now before we go we’ll just nip upstairs to the bathroom where we see more mixing of styles. This panelling is perfect for a country cottage but you’ll see in the bathroom below that the look is more modern.

Here the window frame has been painted black and the classic metro tiles have used dark grout as well. Two bathrooms in the same house – both work – metro/subway tiles – are a classic as is wooden panelling. Now dark grout was briefly very fashionable but it’s so much more practical that pale. White grout tends to become discoloured over time with soap stains and so a dark colour prevents this and will keep things looking fresher for longer.

And we’ll end with a look into the bathroom from the bedroom. See how the dark walls on this room lead your eye to the dark window frame beyond. The wooden window frame is balanced by the wooden chest on the other side. And not a spotlight in sight.

I hope this has given you some ideas and workarounds for your own low ceilings and lighting issues. And if you didn’t need that perhaps you just had a lovely stroll around this house. Do let me know if anyone buys it.

Kate Watson-Smyth

The author Kate Watson-Smyth

I’m a journalist who writes about interiors mainly for The Financial Times but I have also written regularly for The Independent and The Daily Mail. My house has been in Living Etc, HeartHome and featured in The Wall Street Journal & Corriere della Sera. I also run an interior styling consultancy Mad About Your House. Welcome to my Mad House.


  1. I think they have done a wonderful job with the space. There is however no matter how good the design is, the low ceiling never ceases to feel oppressive.

  2. Hi, really insightful advice on lighting to consider. Out of curiosity, what lighting could be used around wardrobes for getting dressed/changed in the evenings when it’s dark? What lighting have you used in the dressing area you have created?

    1. I’ve used small ceiling lights -a surface spotlight in my dressing area. Ideally you might have a lamp for evening and a brighter light for the morning. I’ve just done the ceiling lights but they have a shade on them so while the beam is bright and directional it’s not without atmosphere in the evening as there is a shade. It’s these from Corston and you can alter the direction as well so they’re the perfect thing.

    2. I am not Kate but this might help you, Yogita. I use lights that has sensors so it lights up when I open the door to the wardrobe. I bought “Översidan” from IKEA. Easy to install with a wall plug. Might be something to look into. Love mine and just installed the same solution in my kitchen pantry. Forces you to close the doors as well to turn off the lights 🙂

  3. Painting the beams the same colour as the ceiling works and my daring husband painted the dining room ceiling and 18th C beams Matt Lamp Black from Little Greene. They had been painted with gloss dark brown paint CA 1985. Yuck. The walls are Theatre Red on the upper half and the paneling below is painted intelligent Matt Lamp Black all from Little Greene. Sounds awful but seeing is believing. With the rest of the furnishings in we call it our fantasy French Bistro and guests never want to leave. Two years on it is still our favourite room in the house.

  4. I grew up in a house with low ceilings not far from this property. I remember the shock and joy of moving out of my tiny bedroom with a beam and low ceilings to my first Glasgow tenement flat!
    Kate – I know you have talked before about Colour drenching rooms and looking at the images of the sitting room, would you consider painting the ceiling dark or would this not work with the low ceilings? Would it make it feel lower and claustrophobic?

Comments are closed.