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Coffered Ceiling Design

What is a coffered ceiling?

The word coffered originated with a French word for box – coffre.  Some buildings with coffered ceilings surfaced in Italy 2012 showing that the first coffered ceilings could date back as early as 79AD.  In the 1800s they became a status symbol as the very wealthy were installing them in their homes.  Famous mansions showcase these ceilings such as the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina built by George Vanderbilt in 1895 (photo below).

Biltmore Estate NC

A coffered ceiling is created by constructing a boxy grid with beams attached to the ceiling in a criss-cross pattern usually diagonal or horizontal. Sometimes this type of ceiling is called a “sunken ceiling” and is often created in three different patterns: straight, diagonal and octagonal.  A straight pattern runs boxes that are parallel to the walls. The diagonal approach turns the coffers 90 degrees creating diamonds.  Lastly, an octagonal pattern can be installed in the center of the ceiling with beams radiating from the center of a grouping of octagonal beams that can form a pattern.

Coffered Ceiling Design Adds Value

To create further interest in your design the ceiling can be painted in contrasting colors.  The coffers can also be stained for a rustic look and contrast against a painted ceiling.  Or as in the photo above the coffers can be painted in a coordinating color matching other trim and molding in the space.  This can create a very dramatic look.

Many times coffered ceilings can offer a place to run wires and cables in lieu of across the floor or along the wall.  This is especially helpful when remodeling older homes. A coffered ceiling can also hide imperfections in the ceiling.  It has been said they help deflect sound and reduce echoes in a home with high ceilings. A flat ceiling surface can cause the sound to bounce and the coffers can break-up the sound.  If you are dealing with a noise problem in your home consider installing this type of ceiling.

LED strip Lighting in ceiling in family room


Do you live in a neighborhood with builder-grade finishes that looks just like the one next door?  Up the ante and create a home that is unique by installing a coffered ceiling in one or several of the rooms.  Setting your home apart from the rest when considering resale is an added bonus.  Coffered ceilings offer a touch of luxury and sophistication to any room and the choices are limitless. These elegant ceiling treatments can make the greatest impact in living rooms, libraries, master suites with high ceilings, dining rooms, and any area you entertain guests.   Some features you can keep in mind when creating your design are:

  • Molding:  Ridged, scallops or other ornate finishes can give the room a more formal look. If a contemporary style is yours plain and smooth beams will be the ticket!
  • Width & Height:  The smaller the panels between beams can make the ceiling look more textured and busier.
  • Deeper:  When the beams are deeper the panels appear more recessed.
  • Area:  Installing a coffered ceiling in a smaller space will draw attention to your ceiling design versus installing it in a larger area.
  • Create Illusion: Enhancing spaciousness when using narrow beams closer to the ceiling or a coffered ceiling can make the ceiling appear taller.
  • Decorative: Install tin tiles between the beams or a medallion attached where the chandelier is installed.  Also, finials can add interest at the intersections of the cross beams.  Create excitement by wallpapering the panels with your favorite patterns and colors.


The material you choose to build your coffered ceiling will impact the cost.  To save money you can choose a synthetic material such as MDF, fiberboard or particleboard.  The visual appeal will still be high but you will paint these choices in lieu of staining.  An even more economical choice would be to build the beams from drywall or plywood.  This is feasible only if you plan to paint the ceiling.

Real wood offers the ability to stain the beams showing off the wood grain and giving the room a bit more of a rustic look and is also more durable.  The home’s value is also increased by the real wood coffered ceiling.  The choice of wood will also impact the cost with Red Oak and Mahogany leading.  A negative with real wood can be a material waste due to knots in the wood or other imperfections whereas a synthetic material is consistent throughout each piece.  Another drawback can be the possibility of real wood warping, swelling or shrinking due to humidity levels and temperature changes.

Contact a design professional to help select the best design, material, and finish for your coffered ceiling.   The design possibilities may depend on the height, shape and other factors in the space you are considering.  An example would be a bump out fireplace or built-ins. They can sometimes affect the type of coffered ceiling design that is practical for your home.  A designer or a design-build contractor can provide all the information and advice you need.

Coffered Ceiling Gallery