To Ms. Frank, using the ceilings means making the most of every square inch of her apartment. “You have to be creative in this city,” she said. “The whole city builds up, and we are too.”
Across the city, New Yorkers are finding practical and decorative ways to use their ceilings, either for storage or to enhance aesthetics.
“Ceilings are one of the most unused surfaces in apartments, and it’s pretty valuable real estate,” said Neila Deen, founder and president of Urban Casa, a city-based interior design company that specializes in apartment living. “Especially in a smaller, challenging space, you want to look up, you want to do things vertically.”
For many city dwellers, ceilings provide extra storage space. When Ali Martillotta, a 26-year-old who works in public relations, moved here in 2012, she shared a room in a Stuyvesant Town apartment with her best friend, Alan Oakes, to save money. They thought they would set up a room divider, but then realized that it would leave them with almost no space to move around in.
So they took some wooden planks found by the side of the road and hung them from the ceiling — horizontally — between their beds. The floating shelves created not just a divider but extra space to put bulky items like shoes. “It was definitely an urban grunge look,” Ms. Martillotta said. “Luckily, none of the planks ever fell from the ceiling. Looking back now, that was a miracle, because we really put a lot on those shelves.”
Andrew Hodges, 32, a founder of an investment firm, Value Investment Professionals, keeps both a road bike and a mountain bike in the city. His building in Hell’s Kitchen has no bike space and does not allow tenants to leave bikes in the hallway.
One day, having taken note of his unusually high ceilings and the empty hallway between his kitchen and bedroom, he went to a hardware store and built a rack for two bikes, then attached it to his ceiling and painted it over. “Would I rather have a closet on the first floor of the building? Sure,” he said. “But this works.” He added that it might not work for shorter people; he is over six feet tall, and can easily get the bikes on and off.
Ms. Deen has some clients who hang pots and pans from the kitchen ceilings, even large baskets for food storage and other necessities. She advises clients to make sure that their ceilings are structurally sound before hanging items, and that the space below is clear.
Other New Yorkers are adorning their ceilings, as a way to enhance the ambience or décor of their homes.
NYCeiling, based in the financial district, specializes in creating custom looks. The company has transformed a bedroom ceiling into a starry sky embedded with LED lights and Swarovski crystals. It has decorated living room ceilings with 3D patterns that look different from every perspective (think of a Magic Eye poster or book). It can make ceilings shimmer like glass surfaces, reflecting what is below.
Alexander Navitski, the company’s vice president, said many clients gave no thought to adorning their ceilings in the past. “Most people don’t really care about a ceiling, but it’s because they’ve never seen anything interesting,” he said. “It’s really cool when you walk into a room and see a ceiling that nobody else has. It’s a custom product. Instead of putting something on the wall like artwork, you put artwork on the ceiling. It’s not difficult.”
Daniel Park, 35, an interior decorator and furniture designer, recently bought and renovated a riverside apartment in Long Island City, Queens, for himself and his partner. Wanting something bold, he decorated his new apartment to look like a “James Bond sexy bachelor pad,” he said. “Everything is dark and dramatic.” But when the renovation was complete, he realized that the apartment’s original popcorn-textured ceilings ruined his look. “I looked up at the ceiling, and it just didn’t match the design that came out of my walls and my floors and my furnishings,” he said.
He gave them a glossy, polished look, and installed LED lights. At night, the entire apartment glows. “Now I go downstairs, across the street and one block away to stare at the building,” he said. “You can see this clear bead of light in my apartment.
“One valuable lesson I learned is that the ceiling is not the stepchild,” Mr. Park said. “It’s not a surface you should forget about.”