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Should Jen keep the beams in her beamed ceiling?

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. Lisa says:

    Agree with keeping the beams. As far as the ceiling fans: Here’s a link to a ceiling fan made by Hunter – better than any fans we found at the big box stores: Hunter Fans 25753 48″ The Retro Contemporary Indoor Brushed Nickel Ceiling Fan w/ Light & Blades. Found it on line and had installed recently in our 1960 ranch home. Works really well, both as a design element and in cooling efficiency.

    http://www.amazon.com/Hunter-Contemporary-Indoor-Brushed-Ceiling/dp/B0009N0VCK

  2. Delta Ess says:

    Gorgeous house! I have to pipe in and say keep those beams and the plank ceiling, they really fit in with the styling of the house and add a lot of interest as well. In the picture of the front exterior I thought I saw a column of glass blocks by the front door but from the interior they do not appear plus is the front door different?

    1. Jen says:

      There’s no glass block by the front door…I’m not sure where you’re seeing that. Yes, there are 2 different front doors in the pics. We recently replaced the old paneled door with the door with the 3 windows – it’s our new Crestview door and we love it! Still needs to be painted.

      1. Delta Ess says:

        (Fourth picture) What looks like glass blocks are probably house numbers – there are four of them stacked to the right of the front door in the “old door” picture. Love the new front door! Glass blocks would look really cool there too.

  3. eudora says:

    There are a number of different types of rigid roof insulation now that have excellent R factors (which several folks have suggested) applied on the exterior. These were originally invented, I understand, to insulate post and beam structures with exposed wood ceilings to preserve the integrity of the post and beam look. I found a site that explains the different types of rigid roof insulation products. The only trouble with these can be the treatment of the “edge” of the insulation at the end of the rafters. There has to be some carpentry option to camo the thick edge of the insulation. I believe I once saw an episode of This Old House on this, but couldn’t find the episode just now. Anyway, love the beams (and hate, hate, hate ceiling fans, I’m afraid) here’s the site that explains different approaches to rigid roof panels:
    http://www.buildings.com/ArticleDetails/tabid/3321/ArticleID/5646/Default.aspx

  4. Ted Cleary says:

    Hi Jen,
    Your home has a striking resemblance to many details of a particular MCM I hope to own one day — mixture of flat and shed (or “clamshell”) roofs — so I’ve ruminated about the same dilemma. Thanks for sharing so many pics of your terrific home; it makes it easier for all of us armchair experts to give feedback. (Looks like you replaced the front door between taking outside and inside photos?) There’s already a ton of fantastic & equally valid info in the previous comments — enough to make your head spin — but I’ll add my 2-cents’-worth. As a perfect example of the dilemma of what to keep original & what not to, I’ll make a strong case for going either way; read on (my apologies for the incredibly long reply).

    You’re right, it can be a real challenge finding builders, architects, etc. with that “MCM mindset”, whether it’s for the architecture, interior design, or landscape design…..you have to be a tireless advocate for preserving the right details & look, in the face of easy-but-inappropriate solutions that most contractors (and home-improvement stores) are ready to offer. And when you do find ones with a Modern aesthetic, they tend to be a lot less Mid-Century Modern than what I call “contemporary-Modern”; I see a lot of really cool examples of the latter, but mid-century design was not all about hard straight 90-degree angles in homes, patios, and swimming pools. Seems like there’d be some like-minded folks, though, right down the road from you in Sarasota (where MCM was so prominent it even gave rise to its own “Sarasota School” style).

    In the first case, i.e. if you keep the same exposed rafter look to the ceiling, since you obviously need to go with insulation on the OUTside, research various local roofing companies; here on the East Coast we don’t have the advantage of those on the West, where literally thousands of MCM owners face the same issues, with their Eichler, “Eichler-like”, Ain, or similar homes. My fear is that you might find a flat-roofing contractor whose recommendations may be fine for industrial or commercial roofs but not quite the right approach for a residence & its particular aesthetic concerns, since it’s just not common [in your area]. Besides RetroRenovation, your new friend should be the Eichler Network website, which is an amazingly rich resource for both design and nuts&bolts info — this article in particular: http://www.eichlernetwork.com/HDinsulate2.html That approach is to use sprayed-on closed-cell foam insulation (whereas cut-to-fit foam panels might not be quite as perfect a seal against protrusions, espec. over time), followed by a couple of layers of a sprayed-on elastomeric polymer. White roofs (as this finished surface is) are proven to be extremely effective against the “heat island” effect of our cities; I think they also offer it in tan or light grey, if that brightness would be objectionable to you or neighbors. Of course this means first stripping off your existing roof surface (I’m gonna guess it’s tar & chip), whether it’s worn out or not. I dunno what this technique costs per SF, but from what I’ve read anecdotally it ain’t cheap. But it’s a great way to go. Even when/if you do find a roofing contractor(s) to do this in your area where it’s probably uncommon, keep in mind that limited competition means you may get wildly varying quotes. The advantage of this technique, over one linked in a comment above where there’s a ‘sandwich’ of airspace with OSB (wood sheathing) on top, is that it’s a lot thinner (like 2″-3″ for all the R-factor you need, varying on the flat sections of roof to ensure drainage), thus you wouldn’t hafta go to the add’l. expense of a wider fascia all around the roof edge. (But that OSB type would be great for other home styles where you need to nail on conventional shingles — take note, all you mid-Century Modest folks. For example, it’d look ridiculous to have a sprayed-on roof on a steeply-sloped Cape Cod…..also, I dunno how that technique addresses flat roofs.)

    So Option #2: insulate on the INSIDE….luckily you have plenty of room to drop the ceiling a bit, even on the low side of the ceiling, and without coming too close to the windows……in fact I think it’d even benefit from coming lower visually on that low side. This approach means you could put [much less expensive] fiberglass batts between the rafters (they appear to be 2x6s; you might even want to add shims along the bottom of each to have a more effective 2×8 insulating cavity). Then cover with 1/2″ sheetrock. (I’m a dedicated D-I-Yer, but good sheetrock contractors are cheap, fast, and create a minimal mess….not to mention you DON’T want to have to install sheetrock against a ceiling yourself, believe me.) Here’s the part I’d HATE to give up: the look of the T&G ceiling! I’d investigate some kind of thin wood paneling to apply to the sheetrock with nails & glue to match that grooved look, similar to the fake beadboard panelling so popular in recent years that looks virtually identical to separate boards once painted. (I know there’s a company on the Eichler Network that’ll create styles of exterior grooved wood siding; you may want to talk with some local lumberyards about custom-milling such panels, if not off-the-shelf available. You could instead, of course, install actual thin boards, but I think that’d be unnecessarily costly both in material & labor.)

    Then I’d create fake beams attached to the new ceiling. (Now, I’m all about purity in architecture, and preservation, but hear me out.) The existing rafters — 2x6s, they look like, spaced probably @ 16″ o.c.; what we call ‘stick-built construction’ — while not exactly unseen in MCM homes, would nonetheless look “more MCM” if it was a “post & beam” style, which used big ol’ 4″ x 10″ solid beams of Doug Fir, spaced farther apart. Since such wood is nearly impossible to source nowadays, the common substitute is “glu-lam” beams (sandwiched thinner wood glued & laminated for super strength). A MCM home I recently toured had a sensitive new addition with glu-lams, covered in “1x” (“one inch-by”-something wood planks) to appear solid like the original beams elsewhere. You don’t need any structural support — you already have the rafters — you just need to make hollow, lightweight, three-sided, boxed-in beams of 1x’s nailed to a 2x framework against the ceiling. I’d suggest being really painstaking in filling in any gaps along edges with wood putty or Bondo, after assembly, to avoid giving away the fakery. You do the same thing on the OUTside overhang (without sheetrock of course) to carry the beam look out through the wall. As far as beam spacing, I’d go about 4′ or 5′ o.c., dictated by the width of the wall into even increments….and of course, between the windows rather than over them (since they’re supposedly “resting on a support post”, right?) Incidentally, I don’t really have a problem, visually, with you giving this central raised roof the beam look, while the flat-roofed side wings are “beam-less”; that’s the case already.

    As far as color, you might want to consider a dark brown (“bronze”) for the beams, then maybe a very-slightly-beige ceiling color so as to not be too stark a contrast. You might wanna use a solid-color stain, as Eichler homes did to allow the wood texture to convey better.

    To take this all a step further, if it were me, I’d consider actually replacing those clerestory windows with ones of better proportions that would make sense as far as the beam spacing…..might as well go with energy-efficient double-glazed ones, which Code might dictate anyway……not as overwhelming a project as you might think; just a matter of opening up that wall around them and re-framing in new ones with different header widths. The location/widths of the present clerestory windows don’t have a lotta rhyme or reason to the rest of the facade so it’d be an opportunity to correct a fairly-prominent feature.

    I’m personally not so opposed to “can lights” as other readers here; yeah, they aren’t authentic to the period, but the whole idea is that the light source is not the focal point, just its effect, espec. if you put a dimmer switch in as you should. (In the same way, I don’t have a problem with a new stainless-steel range in an MCM kitchen.) Eichler owners are often vexed by how to run wiring in their exposed ceilings; you wouldn’t have that problem. By if you do stay more authentic & nix the can light idea, I LOVE that ledge with the canted fascia; great place for indirect lighting (again, dimmer-switched). We could go on & on with landscaping ideas & suggesting a cork floor to replace the ceramic tile, and……but I’m sure I’ve already surpassed the RR too-much-information record!

      1. Ted says:

        Hah! Would love to. Can we put it off a couple of months? — I think FL might be a bit too warm for me right now. 🙂

  5. The ceiling is an integral part of the architecture…. It would be a shame to hide even more of the home’s details.

    I know it’s not exactly close by, but Sarasota has a large MCM community and you may be able to find local resources/contractors with midmod sensibilities to help you with ideas.

  6. I have nothing to offer re technical solutions to the insulation problem, but I HAD to register my delight with this gorgeous home. What a treasure! I think other commenters are right: try at all costs to preserve the original beams and ceiling – they MAKE that room.

    Good luck, and enjoy your fabulous space!

  7. Lisa - Overland Park says:

    Keep the beams…they tie in the exterior to the interior in a very obvious way to me.

    Just say no to faux…..

  8. Edwin Wilson, Jr. says:

    Beams are AWESOME = do not remove them!

    I may be duplicating some of the suggestions from above, but you can install a radiant barrier that will act as reflective insulation. You can install it a variety of ways so that you don’t have to change the interior.

    Hopefully your house is in need of a new roof and you can perform the insulation work at the same time as you install new roofing.

    All the best,
    Edwin in Charlotte

  9. Tut says:

    If you don’t want the added trouble and expense of the solutions that required you to strip the roof and do outside insulation, I’d definitely add new beams after you insulate and sheetrock it. Make them the same size as the real beams so it still looks like the beams you see outside continue on as if nothing happened.

  10. atomicgrrl says:

    Oh no! Please don’t cover the beams! This house has “structural integrity” as the architects like to call it. Please no ‘faux” anything! I would explore what other options might be available for insulation. I think you might really regret it if you change the nature of the house. It’s a beautiful house and a fine example of mid century architecture.

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