Coffered Ceilings – What You Need To Know

A coffered ceiling is a grid pattern of recessed panels bordered by deep heavy beams. In architectural terms, coffer means indentation.

Coffered Ceilings

The coffers are almost always a series of squares, rectangles, or octagons–although there are other designs. A ceiling with squares resembles an upside-down three-dimensional checkerboard.

Coffered Ceiling History

Coffered ceilings date back to ancient Rome. Builders used them to reduce the weight and volume of stone ceilings. They used wood cross beams to create square or rectangular coffers in a repeating pattern. Coffered ceilings regained popularity during the Renaissance and the 19th and early 20th centuries–almost always in the homes of the wealthy because of cost.

What to Consider Before Installing Coffered Ceilings

As beautiful and impressive as coffered ceilings are, they don’t suit every home. Here’s what to consider before installing a coffered ceiling.

Coffered Ceiling Height

Coffered ceilings can create a very heavy-feeling room. Rooms 8’ high or less are not good candidates. Since beams can be 6-12 inches high, only consider coffered ceilings for rooms that are at least 9’ high. More height is better. Ten feet to twelve feet high provides the option of building deep coffers using wide and tall, heavy-looking beams.

Coffered Ceiling Locations

Coffered ceilings work best in large expansive rooms where you might desire a more formal look. Living rooms, dining rooms, family rooms, and entertainment/theater rooms are good candidates for coffer ceilings as long as ceilings are high enough.

Coffered Ceiling Camouflage

Faux coffered ceilings are the perfect way to disguise unwanted ceiling flaws. For example, you could cover pipes or make immovable beams part of the ceiling design. Use the opportunity to repair the ceiling by putting up another layer of drywall, MDF, or plywood before adding beam detail. Entertainment rooms will benefit from the sound-suppressing qualities.

Coffered Ceiling Finishing

Coffered ceilings usually have lighter colors–white or beige–in the coffers and darker colors on the beams. Other options include using the same shades for the entire ceiling–such as a light yellow in the coffers and darker yellow for the beams. Ceiling colors should complement and enhance wall and floor colors.

Coffered ceiling design is limited only by imagination. Homeowners can use wallpaper, decorative medallions, lighting, and metal ceiling tiles, along with coloring in the coffers. You can decorate beams with ridges and scallops along with paint and stain to create a three-dimensional effect.

Coffered Ceiling Cost

Most modern coffered ceilings use a flat smooth conventional ceiling as a base. Faux beams are added to create the raised coffered look. Reclaimed wood beams, extruded polystyrene beams, and built-up beams–usually MDF augmented with various types of trims–are expensive.

Creating a coffered ceiling is not an easy DIY job. Proper measurements and installation are required to produce a dramatic effect. Budget at least $25.00 – $30.00 per square foot of ceiling area for a coffered ceiling.

Even faux beams will add a significant amount of weight to a ceiling. Having an engineer involved to make sure there will be no structural problems is a good idea and may be necessary to meet local building codes.

Coffered Ceilings – Pros and Cons

Coffered Ceilings - Pros and Cons

Coffered ceilings create a sense of extravagance in any room. They also have some added benefits and a few drawbacks.


  • Height. Coffered ceilings create the illusion of higher ceilings and larger rooms.
  • Noise. Coffered ceilings are known to absorb sound, eliminate echoes, and prevent noise from escaping into other parts of the house.
  • Value. Coffered ceilings will increase the resale value of a home. Sometimes significantly.


  • Cost. Coffered ceilings are decorative. Paying around $4,500.00 to coffer a 12’ x 12’ family room might seem a little expensive to some people.
  • Function. Faux beams can add 1,000 lbs. or more to the weight of a ceiling–possibly requiring an engineer’s certification. Using real beams–if not supported by the building structure–requires more reinforcement.
  • Feel. Coffered ceilings in small or low rooms are overpowering. They make the ceiling feel low, and the room seems small and uncomfortable.