This Is Why High Ceilings Are So Popular in Southern Architecture

Updated: Apr. 17, 2024

This quirk of Southern architecture isn't all for looks.

Even if you’re a fan of the simplicity and sophistication of contemporary home design, there’s no denying that historical homes charm—especially the ornate beauty of Southern home features.

We all know the type. Picture a stately home with a wraparound porch, Greek pillars and a long driveway winding through mature live oaks and weeping willows. There’s nothing quite like it, but the lavish design was never all for show. While Architectural Digest shares that many antebellum mansions were built to display the wealth of property owners, certain design elements served a greater purpose—let’s start with the high ceilings.

Here’s why porch doors are a thing in Charleston.

Why Are Southern Ceilings So High?

Modern construction usually puts the standard ceiling height at around 9 feet. You’re likely to notice anything that comes in above or below that, but if you step foot in a historical Southern home, be prepared to be swept away.

High ceilings are a display of grandness, but they were popular design choices in the South for another reason—air circulation. If you’ve ever experienced a Southern summer, you know how important A/C is, but people of the past had to make do without it.

According to New Orleans Architecture Tours, ceilings averaged a height of 10 to 16 feet. Classy, right? Looks aside, building homes with these high, vaulted ceilings helped move hot air upward, keeping rooms and gathering areas cooler and less stuffy. Not the most mysterious old home feature, but definitely one that looks good and works.

Speaking of strange home features—if you see a house with two front doors, this is why.

Unusual Southern Architecture Features

Though they’re definitely a feature we notice, high ceilings aren’t the only elements of old Southern homes that catch our eye. The following are just as grand and still serve a functional purpose:

  • Tall windows. Lots of windows and natural light are popular requests for modern construction, especially at a time when many of us work from home. It’s easy to be jealous of the tall windows lining homes in the South, but like vaulted ceilings, they promote airflow.
  • Greek columns. Their grand appearance is one thing, but the massive columns you see on a lot of Southern mansions are in place to support a second or third-floor balcony—another place for residents to cool off.
  • Porches. The wraparound porches of the South are a homeowner’s dream, and while they check the mark for curb appeal, they also provided some much-needed shade for hot days. And if you’re in South Carolina, here’s why you’ll see a rocking bench on Charleston porches.
  • Basements. Or rather, the lack of! Many homes in the South come without a basement thanks to damp soil and other geographical quirks.

Don’t miss our guide to the meanings of Southern paint colors.

1 / 60