New Developments Include ‘Fifth Walls’ and Other Trimmings



THE fancy ceilings being built into new construction in these rough economic times would seem a counterintuitive touch. And yet, since the downturn a few years ago, embellishments like coffers, six-foot-wide foyer domes, barrel vaulted hallways, Gothic arches, and step and tray ceilings are increasingly being used to lure buyers, as the latest way to personalize otherwise cookie-cutter new construction.

“Detailed ceilings have become much more common, even at a price range under a million,” said Glen Cherveny, the managing partner of Axelrod & Cherveny, the Commack architectural firm that designed the Meadowbrook Pointe age-restricted community here, which started construction in 2006 and will eventually have 700 condominiums, town houses and villas. So far, more than 500 have sold.

In the 1980s, Mr. Cherveny said, contemporary design with cedar siding and sloping ceilings was the rage, and “a lot of ornamentation was removed.” A decade later, when home styles tilted back toward the traditional, budgets often didn’t allow for tin tiles, beadboard paneling or other fancy ceilings.

Then came the boom, and libraries with coffered ceilings, ornate medallions and extensive crown moldings “became a place to spend money,” he said.

Meadowbrook Pointe’s fantasy ceilings may not be quite that lavish, but tray ceilings are standard in its master bedrooms. Crown moldings are applied throughout each condominium unit and built in varying configurations; fancier ones can be added when buyers are wowed by them in the model units, to create either a beamed look or more formal coffering.


Accent beams on display at a model at Meadowbrook Pointe. Credit Kathy Kmonicek for The New York Times
The ceiling need no longer be a blank canvas, Mr. Cherveny said. Embellishments bring it “physically and emotionally into the architectural space.”

Kathy Sheck, a senior vice president of the Beechwood Organization, the developer, describes today’s ceiling as a “fifth wall” in new construction, and says the company is seeking to capitalize on its appeal. For instance, in Beechwood’s 970-square-foot $450,000-to-$500,000 one-bedroom Lexington model, the tray ceiling in the living room has a glazed, textured finish with a fleur-de-lis motif; it is framed by moldings that allow for hidden lighting.

Ms. Sheck said buyers had tired of soaring cathedral ceilings, and now wanted more of the “neo-traditional feel” that a dimensional ceiling can provide. With open floor plans, she said, “the sense of space and volume” is still present, but the ceiling does more to “help define the room a bit.”

Buyers “still want some of that sense of different areas,” she said, adding, “You are taking the walls down, so you define it more with the ceiling details and moldings.”

In the company’s Essex model, an 1,888-square-foot two-bedroom starting at $855,000, crown moldings in the living room form an elongated octagonal ceiling; a gold glazing makes the top of the room look like a gift box. The master bedroom has a stepped ceiling created with the use of crown molding; a chandelier hangs from a medallion at the center.

Textured wall coverings, Ms. Sheck added, “are often carried onto the ceiling,” whose nine-foot height allows for “details that you can’t get in a resale,” making it more distinctive.

A medallion in a model at Meadowbrook Pointe. Credit Kathy Kmonicek for The New York Times
Elliot Monter, the president of the Holiday Organization in Westbury, says tray ceilings are standard in all the master bedrooms in the 127 houses the company is building at the Hamlet Estates at St. James, priced from $699,000 to $800,000, and in the 40 homes planned next door at Country Woods at St. James, which start at $569,000.

“Years ago everybody used to waste away attic space,” Mr. Monter said. Redesigning a roof truss is “not an expensive feature designwise but it adds a lot to the house,” making rooms “look bigger and feel bigger.” Two-story foyers create the perfect spot for a ceiling medallion and a “wow” chandelier. “When you walk into the house,” Mr. Monter said, “that expansive space really feels good.”

Gary Gallagher, an architect in Melville known for designing high-end homes, said that over the last several years, increasing numbers of clients had wanted “interesting ceilings” among the design elements for their houses — both in new construction and renovations.

Rachel and Lawrence Morizio of Rockville Centre spent slightly more than $100,000 renovating the kitchen and dining area of their 1940 colonial as one large kitchen space with quartz countertops. To disguise the fact that the ceiling in the dining area was lower than in the kitchen, their contractors, Vita and Jerome Burdi of DJ’s Home Improvements in Valley Stream, installed raised and framed tray ceilings in both spaces.

“The tray ceiling creates more space in a small space,” Mr. Morizio said. Painting the inside of the tray in the dining area a creamy pearl to match the walls “made it even richer-looking.

“When people come in,” he said, “they notice that. It is unique.”