Jen’s *new* mid mod home in Florida has a beamed ceiling… she needs to add insulation… and writes in for advice: Does she need to keep the beams?

Jen writes:

Hi Pam,

I just recently found your blog and love it already! You’ve got tons of great info, and I’m desperately hoping that you and/or your readers can help me out with some advice. A few months ago my partner and I purchased a unique, mid-century home in St. Petersburg, FL. It has tons of great features and even more potential, but we’re having difficulty making design decisions. And so far, we haven’t been able to find anyone with an MCM mindset locally (designer, contractor, etc) to help.

Our immediate issue is in our living room, where we have exposed beams on a high angled/sloped ceiling. There is currently no insulation up there, and it is desperately needed, but I hate the thought of losing the look of the exposed beams. Our current plan is to insulate and drywall the ceiling flat, then add faux beams. We also plan to replace 2 ceiling fans with MCM style pendants and remove or replace existing track lighting, possibly adding recessed lighting instead. If we do faux beams, we need to determine how many and what size. If we do less than the exact size and number of beams that we currently have we can save some money, and it would still have the same effect, but they won’t match up with the exposed beam ends visible on the exterior of the house. Is this a big no-no? It wouldn’t be too obvious since there isn’t a contiguous view of the beams inside to out, but there are 3 high windows that could allow the interior beams to be seen from the exterior of the house. Oh gosh, does any of this make sense??

Please let me know what you think. We’re at our wit’s end, paralyzed by indecision! 🙂 I’m happy to provide more pics and more info – anything needed. Thanks! jen

Thanks, Jen for your nice comments about the blog, and for sending in your question. I’ll open it up to readers… But this time, I’ll start with my thoughts:

  1. Great house!
  2. Insulate the ceiling for sure — you must do what you must do, especially when it comes to saving energy.
  3. If you want, I think you can get away without recreating the beams altogether — by painting the ceiling and the back part of the wall that is still white. You seem to have that dusty blue going on below – put that on the ceiling and sort of “L” it to the back wall. Leave the white space on the sides (between the beige of the wall and the blue of the ceiling) and around the front windows alone. It think the whole scheme might be quite dynamic… sort of Mondrian, but not too too, because a sky is blue, too. Keep picking up that orange, too, throughout your decor.
  4. I don’t have a big problem with the ceiling fans — they are appropriate for your climate. Maybe get them in an antiqued brass base with wood blades, though… to add additional texture to the ceiling if you dispense with the beams.
  5. That ledge below the high front windows is perfect for a lighting solution. Is there some kind of uplighting there? For sure should be – would be fabulous!
  6. With a room that large — and a ceiling so high — I am not sure how good cans are going to do you … Those spots – they’re for the entry way, I get that, I think. Gosh, this whole issue of lighting is a big deal. I don’t have cans in my 45 x 15 living room/dining room — I have all task lighting — lamps. I prefer that for living areas. There are cans in my kitchen, though, because you don’t put lamps there.
  7. Paralyzed by indecision: We’ve all been there! Trust your gut. Good luck, the house is happy you found it.

Readers, what do you think Jen and her partner should do? Beams? No beams? ….  ?

  1. Paul says:

    Oh, I hate the thought of losing the beams! I think the fact that they carry through from the exterior makes it more important. Is there no space between the ceiling and the roof where you could add something? There are so many types of insulation available now – from rigid to blown-in – that I have to believe there’s an option for you to do something effective in even a very small place. Consider a roofing option too. There are reflective roofing materials that might help, and could be applied only on that very interesting roof over the beamed room. I understand that ceiling fans can help, but I think you’re right in taking them down for pendants. There are some interesting metal fans out there that might make an attractive option if you want to consider keeping them for comfort’s sake. The track lighting has to go! It’s not really right for the space. Lastly, since I’m urging you to keep the ceiling, look at changing the color as well. I wish I could come up with a color menu or photo to share, but some searching online may show you how stronger colors can really make woodwork pop. A warmer, yellow-white might add depth to the ceiling and could coordinate with the warmer taupe you have below. Maybe do all the white in Benjamin Moore Linen White or Navajo White? A less stark contrast can unite the space without detracting from the dramatic features. It is very likely impractical and more than you want to get involved in, but if the wood underneath is good, a medium-natural stain would be amazing.

    I agree with Pam on the lighting. Exploit that ledge for some uplighting, perhaps and avoid ceiling cans, which will be distant and hard to maintain without special tools. There are great floor and table lighting options that you can scout over time and that are true to the era.

    I think the room is so spectacular and hope that you can find a solution that lets you keep the beams.

  2. wendy says:

    You don’t need the beams – it will look great without them. If you add them, the ceiling will probably appear too low. They will also sit too close tops of the windows, which will look odd.

    Here’s a cool ceiling fan to consider. I’ve been in love with it for years, but never had a space it would work in. Your high ceiling would be perfect: it’s the Cirque Ceiling Fan by Minka Aire.

  3. Michael Braun says:

    You can always add the insulation to the roof. The current membrane or other roofing material can be removed and rigid foam board insulation can be added to the deck before a new membrane is rolled out over that new insulation. No mess inside and no loss of interior features. Hope this helps.

  4. Retro1 says:

    I had a similar situation in the MCM Ranch that I bought. My solution was to attach a nailer strip inside of each beam 3 1/2 inches from the ceiling. Fill the space with R13 then drywall the space between the beams. The beams in my house are 9 1/2 inches deep so I only lost 4 inches of depth.

  5. John says:

    Hi Jen,
    One thing I would suggest is pick up a copy of Atomic Ranch magazine before you do anything to that ceiling. They feature many MCM homes such as yours. They also have a large resource of architects and designers that deal with such homes.
    A few questions you might try to answer before changing the architecture of your homes. 1. Was it designed by a known MCM architect? 2. Is the home a classic example of his work.? 3. This might be a big one, will changing the ceiling lower the value of your home?
    I personally LOVE the look of the exposed beams. Is there another way to address the energy needs? I learnt the hard way with my home on a few things. Don’t change anything drastically till you have lived with it for a while. Especially structural details.
    Beat of luck, John AKA AtomicHipster

  6. Kristin says:


    I am an interior designer that works for a general contractor that performs both commercial and residential work. Recently, we had this same dilema with a older lake cottage that used the exposed beams and 3 1/2″ tongue and groove doug fir boards to support the roof. The solution to this problem was solved by using a product called Cool-Vent, a roof panel system that is actually applied to the exterior of the house. The advantage in doing this is that you wouldn’t have to change the look of the beams or the decking on the ceiling. Now the disadvantage of doing this is that you have to strip off the roof (I’m not sure if you are in need of a new roof) and then apply the panels, reinstall a new roof on top of the panels and then modify the fascia on the exterior of the house to cover the panels. The roof will look a little “thicker” from the exterior.

    I’ve attached a link to see some pictures about the product… this is not my company’s website… I know nothing about them, however, the pictures on their website show pretty clearly how the product is used.

    I hope this helps!

    Love the website- as I find inspiration from it everyday too!!!

  7. Al Curnow says:

    Hey Pam,
    I am a long time reader and fan of your website. This morning however I feel compelled to comment on the subject. I think that it would ruin the MCM vibe of
    the house. Interior work like that is messy and expenisive and can alter the property value. I have seen the same roof-ceiling deliema solved with Cliff May
    homes and others with post and beam construction by insulating the roof deck
    with a high densety foam and osb sheet material similar to sips panels this is then roofed and can be done by local roofing companies. Check out the Cliff May
    Ranchos website for more info. thanks Al

  8. pam kueber says:

    Wow, this is why I love Retro Renovation readers – cumulatively there is so much knowledge out there. I really like the idea of insulating from the outside! My knowledge of this type of issue is limited… Thanks!

  9. Anna says:

    That is a great house – can the roof be insulated from the outside with foam insulation so that no changes are required to the interior ceiling? Maybe you need a new roof anyways? I like the wood planks just as much as the beams.

    I think the end walls should be all one colour up to the ceiling – but I do like the white ceiling & the white around the clerestory windows and the fact that the brick/block walls and ledge are a different colour.

    How about a fan from Minka-Aire?

Commenting: Information

All comments are moderated, generally within 24 hours. By using this website you are agreeing to the site's >> Terms of Service, << which include commenting policies, and our >> Privacy Notice. << Before participating, read them in full.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.