A Comprehensive Guide to Coffered Ceilings

image of restored coffered ceiling

When considering features that would aid in the restoration of an old or neglected period property, or when thinking of design elements that will aid in the enhancement of the aesthetic appeal of a newer build, it may be suggested that you have coffered ceilings installed. But this does not necessarily mean that you are familiar with coffered ceilings, or know what coffered ceilings can add to your project and its specifications.

This is why we have provided more in-depth information on coffered ceilings, their origins, and what they can provide for a restoration or interior refurbishment project. Read on to learn more, or contact us right away if you know you are ready to discuss designs that will be used to complete your work specifications.

What is a Coffered Ceiling?

A coffered ceiling is a type of ceiling-based architectural detailing, consisting of a series of grids formed by recessed sections or stuck-on mouldings. These grids, and the spaces left in between the beams, form a geometric pattern that may be further detailed, enhanced, and decorated according to the specifications of a work project or a property owner’s personal preference. Coffered ceilings are typically thought of as a traditional interior design element, but may be utilised in a modern interior just as easily.

To create a coffered ceiling, a professional will create the coffered panels, or “coffers”. These are sunken panels attached to a drop ceiling grid (also called a suspended ceiling), which will then be installed to create the new ceiling.

The Origins and History of Coffered Ceilings

The word “coffer” has its origins in the Ancient Greek word “kophinos” and its Latin counterpart “cophinus”, both of which translate as “basket”. This name is given following a coffered ceiling’s sunken panel design, which brings to mind the image of a wooden box that might be used for storage.

Popular belief states that coffered ceilings were first used within the Loire Valley Chateau in the early Renaissance period, but this is not true. Evidence suggests that the first coffered ceilings were created in the time of the Romans, with the remains of old ceilings having been uncovered in Rome in 2012.

The original purpose of a coffered ceiling in a property would have been to recreate the effect ordinarily provided by carved stone ceilings. These were more expensive and difficult to reproduce, therefore coffered ceilings provided a less expensive alternative that was both easier to produce and easier to install.

Over time, coffered ceilings also saw use as:

  • Load-bearers for domed ceilings
  • Methods of hiding structural flaws and oddities in ceilings
  • Methods of giving ceilings the impression of an increased height

Where Might Coffered Ceilings Be Installed?

image of ceiling coffer downstands


Most coffered ceilings will be seen in privately-owned properties. However, it is also possible to see them in a range of other public buildings and spaces, and even in monuments, all over the world, such as the following:

  • Art galleries and museums (including the British Museum)
  • Churches and cathedrals (including the Pantheon in Rome)
  • Courthouses
  • Hotels
  • Libraries
  • Lobbies and reception areas
  • Palaces and stately homes
  • Restaurants

The Benefits to Installing Coffered Ceilings

There are many benefits to installing coffered ceilings for your owned or managed property:

  • They can create the impression of a cosier, more welcoming room in a property with high ceilings
  • They assist in the maintenance of authenticity and historical value in older and period properties
  • They can hide existing damage, design flaws, and undesirable textures
  • They help in creating the impression of taller ceilings
  • They provide a sense of structure and definition in open-plan spaces
  • They absorb sounds, meaning that they will reduce noise and unwanted echo transference. This is particularly beneficial in a property with high ceilings, bare walls, and wooden or stone floors, where echo is likely to be an issue
  • They are versatile, offering a multitude of options for ornamental details and customisation

Considerations to Make Before Installation

There are several important considerations to bear in mind before deciding on the construction of a coffered ceiling:

Considering Your Ceiling Height

Coffered ceilings are designed to draw a visitor’s eye upward, towards the ceiling itself. This also means that the beams of a coffered ceiling extend downwards, meaning that they are likely to intrude upon a space if an interior has particularly low ceilings. This may result in an uncomfortable, claustrophobic sensation, and may cause a room to appear cluttered to visitors. Because of this, it is always recommended that coffered ceilings are installed in rooms with high ceilings.

Ceilings that are 9 ft (2.7 m) or more in height are considered ideal for the installation of this feature. It is also worth bearing in mind that the deeper the coffered indentations, the higher the existing ceiling should be. This ensures that the bottoms of the beams do not interfere with headspace, or visually overpower the room.

Deciding How Many Coffers You Require

Before construction and installation can take place, you must first decide on the number of coffers required to complete your project. At this stage, the beam depth and width should also be discussed and agreed upon. A uniform pattern can be achieved by ensuring that you have first noted down both ceiling dimensions and coffer dimensions.

Once the design has been agreed upon, this should be transferred to the ceiling that is to be transformed. Chalk or pencil lines should be created to represent the positions of the beams.

Deciding on Faux or Functional Beams

Most coffer ceilings will not be load-bearing. Instead, they are likely to be decorative and made from plaster or hollow wood. These faux beams offer the desired appearance, but will not support the additional weight. However, if additional weight is required to support a property’s second storey then they may be installed to obfuscate the necessary overhead support beams. This latter option is most often used if the property is a new build.

Installation Costs

The construction of a coffered ceiling will take considerable manual labour and skill. It is also recommended a professional undertake this task if you do not have the experience necessary to complete the installation. The cost of hiring an expert to carry out this work may also vary, depending on:

  • Your location
  • The size of the project you intend to carry out
  • The skill and experience of the installer
  • The plainness or ornateness (complexity) of the intended project
  • The materials you intend to use (whether the coffered ceiling will be made of wood, high-density foam, or plaster)

To ensure that you are presented with the most accurate quote for the work, it is important that you know and understand your project’s specifications beforehand. This information may then be presented to the professional you have chosen, who should be able to offer you an estimate.

The Installation of Coffered Ceilings

If you intend to install a coffered ceiling within a property, you will need:

  • The beams you wish to install (wood, plaster, or high-density foam)
  • A ladder
  • A primer, paint, or wood stainer (depending on the beam material used)
  • A nail gun
  • An industrial-strength adhesive

The standard method of installation for coffered ceilings begins by positioning the main base beams. These run perpendicular to the direction of the existing ceiling joists. Early in the construction the base beams will only be pieces of lumber, but may later be wrapped with wood or plaster to create the impression of larger beams.

The base beams will also serve as support beams for the rest of the ceiling. As such, it is important to ensure that they are attached securely with your chosen adhesive and the nail gun.

The base cross beams, which will complete your intended grid pattern, should be made from the same material as the main base beams (you will not need to check this if you purchased all of your beams together, as in cases where the beams come in a kit). The base cross beams will run parallel to the joists and not attach to them.

Instead of this, the base cross beams will connect to the inner edges of the main base beams. This should be achieved using your chosen adhesive and the nail gun again. As a result of this, the ceiling should resemble a checkerboard – the skeleton frame of your coffered ceiling.

Construction of the faux beams should take place after this, and it is highly recommended that the wood is stained or painted before installation. It is also an option to frame the sides and bottoms of the faux beams directly on the base beams, depending on the ceiling design and the material chosen.

Alternatively, faux beams may also be constructed as 3-side boxes that are then lifted and installed over the base beams. Ornamental coffer trim and detail elements should be installed where applicable after this before the feature as a whole is left to dry.

Ideas for Coffered Ceiling Installations

The aesthetic potential for coffered ceilings does not simply end at their installation. Depending on the specifications of your project there may be requirements that need to be met and instructions that should be followed, but there may also be the opportunity for you to exercise creativity. In these cases, we may be able to provide you with some starting ideas to enhance the appeal of your coffered ceiling:

Painting Your Coffered Ceiling

The most straightforward method of enhancing the appeal of a coffered ceiling is to consider your options for painting it. For a period property, or for a property of any kind that has particularly large windows, this may mean choosing lighter colours such as white, off-white, and duck egg blue, to offer the impression of even more space. Modern properties or properties that display a particular colour theme throughout, on the other hand, may also benefit from having the coffered ceiling painted in these colours.

To give an example, a room which makes use of white and deep blue design elements may benefit from having white beams and deep blue recessed sections.

Installing Embellishments

The beams of a coffered ceiling may be professionally installed with details already produced, but it is also possible to make use of the recessed space and install other embellishments. For example, an Art Deco period property may benefit from the installation of smaller, more intricate geometric designs within the squares already provided.

Utilising Lighting

Lighting, whether from a modern or classically-styled source, may be of great use when searching for methods of enhancing the appeal created by a coffered ceiling. In a modern property, LED lighting may be hidden within a coffered ceiling to create a softer, more relaxing light level. This is ideal for many living and dining rooms.

For a period property, a coffered ceiling may also offer the same type of enhancement as a ceiling rose when a light fitting such as a chandelier is installed; this creates a focal point for the interior space, drawing the eyes of visitors towards the most impressive features of the room.

Utilising Interior Space

A coffered ceiling does not always have to be comprised of square beam grids. Depending on the shape of the interior space, it is also possible that you may decide on other shapes instead. For instance, a particularly long or thin room may benefit from the installation of narrow, rectangular-shaped grid spaces to complement the dimensions of the room. Coffered detailing is also popularly installed in shapes such as octagons.



For a Quote on Fine Plaster Ceiling Features

If you have been searching for a reliable, experienced team to provide your property with exquisitely made bespoke features for its ceilings, Artisan Plastercraft is here to assist. We are more than confident that we can produce the pieces necessary to restore any period property to the height of its golden era, or to offer a newer build with a classic charm that allows it to achieve its full aesthetic potential.

Our staff will be fully prepared to speak to you about your needs and specifications for a coffered ceiling and to offer you a quote on the work that will need to be carried out, as soon as you get in touch. Alternatively, you may also wish to explore some of our projects to gain inspiration if ideas are still required before you begin placing an order. We will be glad to replicate any design ideas you come across if these offer the most complete finish for your project.


Contact Us   Our Projects


Sign up for our newsletter

And don’t worry, we hate spam too! You can unsubscribe at anytime.

We understand that choosing the right company for your project is important for project success, budget efficiency and your reputation.  We manufacture and install superior custom plaster mouldings, we re-create period plaster features as well as offering traditional lime plastering & lath and plaster.