6 Creative Options for Ceiling Construction

Chandelier hanging over dining table in room with high ceilings light-filled windows

The Spruce / Christopher Lee Foto

Sometimes called the 5th wall, the ceiling often goes ignored during home remodeling. Constructed as a flat drywall surface, the ceiling usually gets a simple paint job with matte white paint, and that's that. Paint stores stock huge quantities of "ceiling white" paint for a reason: many, many homes do nothing more with the ceilings than paint them white. At most, it might get painted darker than the walls or some fun, unusual color, such as yellow, orange, or purple. If embellishments are used at all, they are usually no more than a crown molding or a medallion around a ceiling light.

But how about entirely rethinking the ceiling? In addition to the traditional flat white drywall ceiling, here are five more ceilings ideas you might want to consider for your own home, all of them radically more interesting.

  • 01 of 06

    Traditional Flat Drywall Ceiling

    Traditional Flat Drywall Ceiling
    Oktay Ortakcioglu / Getty Images

    What: This is the simplest ceiling possible—a flat, unembellished ceiling constructed of drywall panels, which are then painted or sometimes covered with texture.

    Why:  This is a good choice if you want the cheapest ceiling possible, or if you want your ceiling to visually recede. A flat drywall ceiling painted with white ceiling paint mostly goes unnoticed, with other parts of the room gaining prominence. Where wall treatments or furnishings are visually complex, for example, a plain white ceiling can keep the overall look from being too busy.

    How: Sheets of 4 x 8-foot  or 4 x 12-foot drywall panels are attached directly to the ceiling joists above. Seams between the sheets are filled with drywall compound and sanded down flat. Edges of the ceiling meet seamlessly with the walls.

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  • 02 of 06

    Exposed Beam Ceilings: an Early 20th Century Urban Look

    Home with exposed Beam Ceiling
    Norbert Schafer / Getty Images


    What:  In this approach, the ceiling is left completely uncovered, thus exposing the main support beams, as well as the joists and floorboards of the floor above. The exposed framing members and flooring is usually painted a uniform color.

    Why: The ceiling look creates an urban, industrial early 20th-century look. Or, alternately, it can create a tony Martha Stewart country home look.

    How: This ceiling treatment can be created retroactively by removing the existing ceiling covering, but you may find unpleasant surprises, such as electrical wires and plumbing pipes that run through the joists. And the materials above are sometimes uninteresting, such as  when waferboard or MDF panels are used for the subfloor above.

    If mechanicals can be re-routed, you may still need to deal with the nails jutting out from the floor above. All of these things are manageable, though not easy. Such a look is easier to create with new construction or during major remodeling when new mechanicals are being routed. 

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  • 03 of 06

    Partial Drop Ceiling: Creating Borders Without Walls

    Partial Drop Ceiling
    Ivan Hunter / Getty Images

    What: With this ceiling design, one section of the ceiling drops lower than the surrounding main ceiling.

    Why: Partial drops give your house a distinctly modern feeling. You may want to add a partial drop to hide recessed lighting or define a smaller space within a larger open-concept room, such as a living room or kitchen. Visually, this defines the boundaries of a space without the need for walls.

    How: This look can be created retroactively, during remodeling. Your "second ceiling" can be constructed of drywall or wood and suspended on stanchions. It can also be included as a feature in original construction for a new house or major room addition.

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  • 04 of 06

    Coffered Ceilings: an Old World, European Style

    Coffered ceiling living room
    David Papazian / Getty Images

    What: With this approach, the ceiling is divided into smaller squares or rectangles by a framework of raised beams. Individual panels appear to "sink" upward. The beams that divide these sunken panels can be painted a color that contrasts with the sunken part, or they can be left as unpainted wood.

    Why: A coffered ceiling gives a room an elegant Old World look. It should be used sparingly; it becomes overwhelming if used in every room in the house. Dining rooms, dens, and family recreation rooms are popular places to apply this treatment. 

    How: Modern coffered ceilings don't actually sink upward; it's all an illusion. They can be created during new construction by skilled carpenters. For retrofit applications, such a treatment can be created by framing and boxing in beams against the original ceiling. There are also several kits are available, such as the Tilton System, that allow you to create a coffered ceiling on top of an existing flat drywall ceiling. Systems such as Tilton's are pricey but they look like the real thing.  

    Stay away from cheaper solutions, such as coffered ceiling panels that work in conjunction with drop ceiling gridworks. These are usually unconvincing, because the sunken portions are quite shallow. No one will be fooled into thinking that this is a real coffered ceiling.


    Faux beams made out of foam are a great alternative to real wood beams, and will not add to much additional weight to the ceiling.

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  • 05 of 06

    Tray Ceilings: More Space, Less Vault

    Tray ceiling
    dit26978 / Getty Images

    What: The tray ceiling is like the coffered ceiling, except it's just one coffer. Ninety percent of the ceiling appears to "sink" upward, with the 10 percent perimeter section apparently remaining at ordinary ceiling height.

    Why: This design creates a cozy feeling in a room and allows for indirect lighting fixtures to be hidden along the perimeter section. If you like the feeling of airiness provided by vaulted ceilings but hate the vaulted look and 1980s associations, tray ceilings are a great alternative.

    How: When not part of original construction, this type of ceiling is created by lowering the perimeter area with a dropped ceiling. Thus, it works best in rooms with high ceilings, 9 feet or more in height. Structurally, it is essentially a lowered soffit that circles the room, framed with a box of 2 x 2s and 2 x 4s, then covered with drywall. It is quite easy for an electrician to run wiring for light fixtures in the hollow framing of the lowered section before it is finished off. 

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  • 06 of 06

    Vaulted Ceilings: More Space, More Room To Breathe

    Bedroom vaulted ceiling
    Jupiterimages / Getty Images

    What: A staple of 1980s homes, vaulted ceilings passed out of fashion for a time but are slowly gaining in popularity again—despite their energy-wasting qualities. In this design, the finished ceiling surface hugs the profile of the angled roof rafters, occupying space that in most homes belongs to an attic or second story. 

    Why: This ceiling design provides a greater feeling of space and airiness. It is a popular treatment for "great rooms" and other open-concept spaces. 

    How: This type of ceiling is almost always built into the home's original design, since it is difficult to build retroactively, especially in a home framed with roof trusses. A vaulted ceiling can, however, be accomplished in a room addition project if you have the builder design it that way.

    The vaulted ceiling is often regarded as an "energy vampire" because during the heating season, heat first must fill the higher vault of the room before it can reach living spaces.