Choosing Types of Ceilings is an Important Design Decision

It’s typically the last place people look, yet its style can make the biggest difference in a room: The ceiling. Many types of ceilings are options for dressing up a space or adding more style. Even called the “fifth wall” by many designers, ceilings are taking center stage because homeowners are choosing to extend finishes like bold colors of paint or wall covering up onto this surface.

Vaulted ceilings that incorporate beams are super dramatic.View in gallery
Vaulted ceilings that incorporate beams are super dramatic.

The ceiling is an integral part of your décor and can set the stage for your design scheme as much as the flooring does. No matter what the type of ceiling, it’s important that it pair well with the walls and the rest of the room. Typically, a ceiling is finished with a space above to conceal wiring, pipes and ductwork. Once purely utilitarian, ceilings types are now getting the designer treatment as homes become more and more coordinated and stylish. In addition, ceilings can affect the mood of the space and how it feels. Small boxy rooms with a low ceiling will feel claustrophobic, and a small room can be made more spacious by lifting the ceiling.

While you can choose the types of ceilings you want, it’s best to take into account the style of home you have, what your budget is and the look you want to achieve. Before building or renovating, it’s key to understand the different types of ceilings, what they look like, how they are used and what their advantages and disadvantages are. We’ve rounded up some examples of the most common types of ceilings to help you plan your project.

Conventional Ceiling

Most homes have ceilings that are 8 feet high, but in a custom home, the first-floor ceiling can be 9 feet high. Most are typically finished flat, with a surface just like the walls. Older homes might have textured ceilings that are called popcorn ceilings, because they are sprayed with bits that look like popcorn kernels, according to Stanton Homes. Be forewarned: Popcorn ceilings long ago outlived their desirability because they are hard to paint, even harder to clean and not considered attractive, often looking dingy very quickly. They also seem to suck up all the light in a room, making it feel darker. Most homeowners don’t want these ceiling types.

Conventional ceilings are smooth, with recessed vents and visible lighting fixtures..View in gallery
Conventional ceilings are smooth, with recessed vents and visible lighting fixtures.
Popcorn ceilings are no longer desired by homeowners.View in gallery
Popcorn ceilings are no longer desired by homeowners.

Tin Ceilings

Tin ceilings are a popular choice for a vintage touch. They originated in the 1880s as a technique for embellishing the ceiling, write This Old House. More than just decorative, tin ceilings were also an element of fire protection, which was always a risk with open flame cooking, heating, and lots of candles. Originally called steel ceilings, tin plating was later added to inhibit rust. These days, the panels you can use on these types of ceilings are much thinner and lighter than the old-fashioned ones – and they no longer play a role in fire prevention. Regardless, today’s tin ceiling panels can be installed in the original silver color or in an array of hues to match your décor. They are appropriate in vintage, eclectic and traditional style homes, but partial tin ceilings can be an accent in many other interior décor styles.

A tin ceiling can be used in a tray to accent a space like this kitchen island.View in gallery
A tin ceiling can be used in a tray to accent a space like this kitchen island.
A full tin ceiling can include recessed lighting as well as traditional fixtures.View in gallery
A full tin ceiling can include recessed lighting as well as traditional fixtures.
Tin ceilings in different colors lend a more dramatic air to a room.View in gallery
Tin ceilings in different colors lend a more dramatic air to a room.

Exposed Ceilings                                    

The elements usually hidden in a ceiling  — like beams, trusses or piping – are left out in the open as a design element in this style of ceiling. In older homes, renovations often expose things like wooden beams, trusses or original brickwork to highlight the building’s history. In newer construction, beams constructed to look just like wood highlight a ceiling and in modern or industrial style décor, duct work and piping lend just the right ambiance to an interior. These types of ceilings lend a more industrial or modern look to a space.

Exposed ductwork and pipes complement the concrete elements of this loft.View in gallery
Exposed ductwork and pipes complement the concrete elements of this loft.
Exposed trusses finished in a warm color add a great deal of interest to this kitchen.View in gallery
Exposed trusses finished in a warm color add a great deal of interest to this kitchen.
This kitchen mixes a modern look with a rustic ceiling and exposed electrical conduits.View in gallery
This kitchen mixes a modern look with a rustic ceiling and exposed electrical conduits.

Beam ceilings

This ceiling treatment was common decades ago and is now seeing a resurgence in popularity. Typically associated with rustic-style homes, beams made of various materials are being installed into renovations as well as existing homes to add interest and style. Beams work best in a room that has a high ceiling of some sort. Used on a low ceiling, they can make a space feel smaller.

The design possibilities with these types of ceilings are nearly endless, not just with the base material but also with the trims and moldings that can be added to beams. Traditionally, beams are made from wood, but now there are also many faux options that can be attached to the wall and ceiling for exactly the style a homeowner wants. Beams made of metal or other materials can work in modern homes that need an edgier look.

Build.com notes that there are different types of beam ceilings to consider. Hammer-beam ceilings provide a lot of vertical space. Short both horizontally and vertically, these types of beams are attached to the walls to help support the roof. Hammer beams are also located close to the walls, which keeps sightlines open through the main part of the room. Boxed beam ceilings are arranged in a waffle pattern, similar to the design in a coffered ceiling.  These can be natural wood or painted – whatever works best in the room.

While beam ceilings create outstanding visual interest and there are many design options, the website points out that the height required for these dramatic types of ceilings can make a room feel less intimate, drive up construction costs and increase heating and cooling expenses.

A traditional post and beam home is a good example of traditional beam use.View in gallery
A traditional post and beam home is a good example of traditional beam use.
Contemporary spaces can incorporate beams that are lighter in color for a totally different look.View in gallery
Contemporary spaces can incorporate beams that are lighter in color for a totally different look.
Metal beams that mimic the window frames work well in a luxe modern home.View in gallery
Metal beams that mimic the window frames work well in a luxe modern home.

Tray Ceilings

A tray ceiling is a conventional ceiling that has a recessed section. Typically, the recessed portion is at least 6 inches deep and is centered in the room. Stanton Homes says that this is an excellent artistic feature that offers lots of opportunity for customization.

Tray ceiling cut-outs can be any shape and can be completely vertical or angled. Designs sometimes combine several concentric sections that create a very dramatic effect. Combined with paint and types of molding and lighting, tray ceilings can be the focal point of a room. Once only a custom feature, lots of builders are now including these ceiling types as a standard bonus in custom homes. Traditionally they were used in bedrooms and dining rooms, but now these types of ceilings are increasingly making their way to the kitchen area as well.

Tray ceilings can be accented with moldings and different color treatments.View in gallery
Tray ceilings can be accented with moldings and different color treatments.
Wood panels in a neutral gray accent the tray ceiling in this kitchen.View in gallery
Wood panels in a neutral gray accent the tray ceiling in this kitchen.

Coffered Ceilings

A tray ceiling has one recessed section, but a coffered ceiling has many and covers the entire ceiling area of a room. The recesses are generally in the pattern of a square or rectangular grid. These types of ceilings are most common in traditional spaces and add an element of elegance and sophistication – as well as height and depth.

Originally designed to make stone ceilings lighter, coffered ceilings have evolved to be a design element used to add interest to a room. These ceiling types date back to 7BC, in San Giuliano, Italy, but examples can also be seen in early Islamic and Chinese architecture. In fact, the large dome of Rome’s Pantheon was built with recessed stone coffering to lighten its load.

Trims and moldings are used to embellish the beams and joints in a coffered ceiling, and are often painted. It is also possible to have a stained coffered ceiling, but as SF Gate points out, this is a decidedly luxury option and has a price point to match. It’s also important to keep in mind that the right lighting is particularly critical to give these types of ceilings the right look.

Coffered ceilings can improve acoustics and increase the value of a home, but they are also more expensive than some other ceiling options and don’t work well in small rooms.

Coffers can incorporate recessed lighting to maintain a clean look.View in gallery
Coffers can incorporate recessed lighting to maintain a clean look.

 The coffered ceiling features a custom shape painted in a muted dark tan color.View in gallery

Coffered ceilings can be done wth a larger grid to convey an open feeling.View in gallery
Coffered ceilings can be done wth a larger grid to convey an open feeling.

Vaulted/Cathedral Ceilings

More an architectural design element than the previous types of ceilings, a cathedral or vaulted ceiling immediately expands the feel of a space, lifting it up. These ceilings have sloping lines that run from the top of the wall to the point of the ceiling. Cathedral ceilings often expose rafters and can soar to 15 feet high and more.

Vaulted/Cathedral Ceilings have typically been used in living rooms and great rooms on the main floor, but are increasingly popular in master bedroom suites – even in the bathroom. Vaulted and cathedral ceilings are best planned at the time of construction or renovation, because using this type of ceiling on the first floor requires design adjustments. It is easier to add a vaulted ceiling to an upstairs bedroom when there is only a roof or an attic above.

Open plan spaces are a natural place to incorporate a vaulted ceiling.View in gallery
Open plan spaces are a natural place to incorporate a vaulted ceiling.
Window design can amplify the effect of a modest cathedral ceiling.View in gallery
Window design can amplify the effect of a modest cathedral ceiling.
Highly traditional room styles can benefit from a vaulted ceiling for a more open feel.View in gallery
Highly traditional room styles can benefit from a vaulted ceiling for a more open feel.

Barrel Vault Ceilings

Although these types of ceilings have “vault” in their name, they are typically not as steeply pitched as a regular vaulted or cathedral ceiling. A barrel vault ceiling  — also sometimes called a tunnel or wagon vault — looks like a barrel that was cut in half and used as the ceiling. With origins in Roman architecture, these types of ceilings are usually found in the main rooms of a home or a long hallway. For extra drama, opt for designs with stone or brick are dramatic. Or for a more modern look, choose light-colored or white-painted barrel vault ceilings. The style of a barrel vault ceiling can range from rustic to traditional depending upon the details incorporated.

Different ceiling types can be combined with this shape. Add coffering to a barrel vault and it instantly looks more luxe. Also, windows can be arranged to mimic the barrel vault used in a room, whether the curve is slight or more pronounced.

Even a slight barrel vaults lends extra character to a modestly sized room.View in gallery
Even a slight barrel vaults lends extra character to a modestly sized room.
This kitchen combines a barrel vault with a tray ceiling for extra drama.View in gallery
This kitchen combines a barrel vault with a tray ceiling for extra drama.
Barrel vault ceilings can offer unique design opportunities.View in gallery
Barrel vault ceilings can offer unique design opportunities.

Domed Ceilings

Usually included in a tight hall or entryway, a domed ceiling expands the feeling of an area, lifting the ceiling as an accent. Domes are wonderful locations for painted embellishments, mosaics or spectacular lighting fixtures. Inset lighting gives domes an entirely different look as another option. Also, if domes are used in a garden style room, these types of ceilings can be constructed to resemble an old-style gazebo. Last, and certainly not least, domes are starting to appear in bedroom ceilings as an accent above the bed, adding ambient light and another dramatic design element.

A tall, beamed dome ceiling makes a smaller room spectacular.View in gallery
A tall, beamed dome ceiling makes a smaller room spectacular.
The dome in this bedroom adds drama to an already luxurious space.View in gallery
The dome in this bedroom adds drama to an already luxurious space.
A domed kitchen ceiling brings the focus upward and reflects more light.View in gallery
A domed kitchen ceiling brings the focus upward and reflects more light.

Cove Ceilings

A cove ceiling is one that has a section that extends from the four walls toward center of the room to accent the actual ceiling. It’s almost like a frame for the ceiling. Traditionally, a cove is curved, from the wall upward, however that has been changing lately to include more angular designs. Coved ceilings are usually painted to match the trim in the room to tie them together stylistically. Inset lighting is often included, which heightens the drama, adds ambient light and makes a very stylish accent on these types of ceilings.

The recessed lighting and lack of molding are the right choice for a modern cove ceiling.View in gallery
The recessed lighting and lack of molding are the right choice for a modern cove ceiling.
This is a modern twist on a cove ceiling, with its different sections.View in gallery
This is a modern twist on a cove ceiling, with its different sections.
A traditional space incorporates different types of lighting for a grander effect.View in gallery
A traditional space incorporates different types of lighting for a grander effect.

Dropped Ceilings

Dropped ceilings, sometimes called suspended or false ceilings, are lower than the true ceiling in a room. Used extensively in commercial buildings, in homes, these types of ceilings can conceal an existing ceiling or piping and ductwork that cannot be moved. They are especially popular for refinishing basements or converting raw areas into living space because installation is easier and often more affordable than adding a true ceiling. A dropped ceiling consists of a metal grid on which the tiles are suspended. The grid is attached to the walls but it is also supported by metal wires that hang from the original ceiling. Many options exist for the tiles used – from fiberglass to plastic, tin and cork. Moreover, repair of these ceilings is also easy because they can be slipped out and replaced.

One major caveat for installing a these ceiling types is to consider whether the original one is high enough. A finished dropped ceiling height of 6.8 feet is generally the minimum required for habitable rooms. Otherwise, the ceiling will be too low. Also note that recessed lighting is typically the best – or only – choice for lower dropped ceilings.

Dropped ceilings are very popular for basement and garage renovations.View in gallery
Dropped ceilings are very popular for basement and garage renovations.
New styles and colors offer much more choice for these types of ceilings.View in gallery
New styles and colors offer much more choice for these types of ceilings.

Before choosing a ceiling, take a good look at your budget, the space you have to work with and the kind of style you want to achieve. Even though you might be limited in some ways, all the different options for types of ceilings really do offer a wide range of choices no matter your situation.