Think Coffered Ceilings For Out-Of-The-Box Style

    Coffered ceiling with contrasting paint by Melissa Clark/flickr

    As an elegant example of “everything old is new again,” a coffered ceiling adds the perfect finishing touch to today’s decor. This stylish detail works beautifully in living rooms, great rooms, kitchens, master bedrooms, and grand entrance foyers.

    Learn all about coffered ceilings and how they can enhance your home. (And yes, we’ve got coffered ceiling photos for you at the end of this article.)

    What is a coffered ceiling?

    The distinguishing feature of coffered ceilings (also known as waffle ceilings) is a grid, usually of squares or rectangles, though it can be intriguingly curved. How did the style get its name? “Coffer” -- from coffre, French for chest or box -- refers to the empty spaces between the beams that make up the grid.

    You might want to combine a coffered ceiling with a tray ceiling for extra oomph. Tray ceilings feature a recessed center area surrounded by a perimeter several inches lower.

    Is a coffered ceiling structural?

    Coffered ceilings historically functioned as a structural element, designed to distribute the load and thus reduce the weight of exceptionally broad ceilings. Generally they were used in public edifices such as houses of worship, government buildings, or museums.

    In most modern homes, however, this ceiling style is a type of finish carpentry, installed for decorative purposes only. In fact, if wood beams are used, they are often hollow, to reduce both weight and cost. Lightweight, inexpensive faux beams can be created from materials such as high-density polyurethane (HDP).

    Do coffered ceilings make a room look smaller?

    Yes and no. Installing beams will physically lower the ceiling and can make a small bedroom, for instance, feel even more cramped. That’s why this style is recommended for rooms that are on the larger side and ceilings 9 feet high or taller.

    On the other hand, a striking coffered ceiling tends to draw the attention upwards, creating an airy impression of height and openness.

    How deep is a coffered ceiling?

    Common depths range from 3 to 5 inches. Flat panels are also possible.

    Be sure to make the beams proportional to your ceiling height and room size for the most pleasing effect.

    How much does coffered ceiling installation cost?

    Average cost to install coffered ceilings: Approximately $25 per square foot when you hire a qualified carpenter.

    Total cost for a 200 sq ft ceiling: Typically about $5,000.

    The cost will be affected by:

    • Type and amount of beam material -- various species of natural wood, MDF (medium-density fiberboard) or other composite wood, plywood, drywall, HDP, or even Styrofoam (TM)
    • Intricacy of the design
    • Finishing touches

    While not cheap, high-quality coffered ceiling installation tends to add value to your home, especially when the construction features real wooden beams attached to ceiling joists. In descriptions of upscale properties for sale, “coffered ceilings” take pride of place.

    Get the look for less: Consider PVC tiles designed to mimic the effect of a coffered ceiling. Faux-coffer tile installation costs about $4 per sq ft (or $800 for a 200-square-foot ceiling) as a DIY project.

    Coffered ceiling ideas

    1. Match. Create a ceiling that harmonizes with existing architectural details like crown molding or a handsome fireplace mantel.

    2. Vary. Add interest to your space by varying the coffer size, always keeping a balanced layout.

    3. Slant. Install beams on the diagonal for an eye-catching design.

    4. Stain. Show off the beauty of natural wood beams with stain.

    5. Distress. For a rustic effect, install distressed wood beams.

    6. Paint. Paint beams and ceiling in coordinating or contrasting colors.
    7. Wallpaper etc. Apply a colorful wallpaper to the coffers … or try shiplap, beadboard, or fabric.

    8. Tile. Embellish ceiling surface with attractive tiles of tin or other lightweight materials.

    9. Display. Go bold and transform your coffered ceiling into a gallery displaying your favorite artwork.

    10. Light. Accent your new ceiling with just the right lighting – a chandelier, recessed lights, or pendants. Alternatively, transform a few of the coffers into skylights.

    11. Add a single box. Install a single beamed box in the center of your room for a coffered ceiling effect that won't overwhelm your decor or your budget.  

    Coffered ceiling photos

    Coffered ceiling crowns a staircase by ceilingstucco/morgueFile

    Coffered ceilings detail by Brock Builders/flickr

    Ornate coffered ceiling by abarth76/pixabay

    Living room ceiling by Brock Builders/flickr

    Bedroom coffered ceiling from Pexels

    Italian paint finished coffer by Mark Nordgren/flickr

    By Joó Zoltán, CC BY-SA 4.0,

    Coffered ceilings go modern by Andrea Davis/pexels

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