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 other designs can be used. A ceiling with squares resembles an upside-down three-dimensional checkerboard.

Coffered Ceiling History

Coffered ceilings were developed in ancient Rome to reduce the weight and volume of stone ceilings. Wood cross beams were used to create square or rectangular coffers in a repeating pattern. They regained popularity during the Renaissance. Also during 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 can be, a few things need to be taken into consideration before making a final decision.

Coffered Ceiling Height

Coffered ceilings can create a very heavy-feeling room. Rooms 8’ high or less are not good candidates for coffered ceilings. Even faux beams can be 6” high. Some beams can be 12” high depending on the design. Coffered ceilings should only be considered in rooms with ceilings 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 a more formal look might be desired. 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. Cover pipes. 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 of coffered ceilings.

Coffered Ceiling Finishing

The color choice of coffered ceilings usually has 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 use wallpaper, decorative medallions, lighting, and metal ceiling tiles along with coloring in the coffers. Beams are decorated 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 even be necessary to meet local building codes.

Coffered Ceilings – Pros and Cons

Coffered Ceilings - Pros and Cons

Coffered ceilings do increase a sense of extravagance when used 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 almost always purely decorative. Paying around $4500.00 to coffer a 12’ x 12’ family room might seem a little expensive to some people.
  • Function. Faux beams can add 1000 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 can be overpowering. They make the ceiling feel low and the room seems small and uncomfortable.

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