Vaulted Ceiling Design Ideas

A pitched ceiling can open up your home by adding light and space. Emily Smith explores how to make the most of this feature
by Emily Batesmith
6th January 2018

Achieving a real sense of spaciousness doesn’t necessarily come down to how large a room is; often it’s the ceiling height that’s key. Vaulted areas are a clever architectural trick for providing a feeling of volume and there are many variations of this look.

Choosing a style

Symmetrical spans reaching up to a central apex are popular, but rounded ceilings and partially vaulted schemes can add an interesting, contemporary twist.

Tall, cathedral-style ceilings are the ideal partner for open-plan living areas because of the massive sense of space they offer. This looks great for both new builds and extensions, but you’ll need to overcome varied ceiling heights in the latter – read the Q&A below with architect Julian Owen for more on this topic.

Loft conversions are another project where vaulted rooms are often seen, but because of the nature of these spaces ceilings are often lower, with the slope reaching as low as floor level. Integrating rooflights or dormer windows will help to make these potentially confined areas feel less cramped.

Pitched ceiling by Hyve Architects
The pitched ceiling in this property by Hyve Architects is topped with a roof lantern that helps to filter natural light down into the room below

Make sure vaulted spaces stay well-lit by incorporating lots of windows. Spans of tall glass doors, rooflights, glazed gable ends or a clever mix of all of the above will help to fill the home with natural light.

Design details

Vaulted ceilings are great for showing off trusses and rafters – whether structural or faux – and this style is incredibly popular for pairing with oak frame buildings. But other exposed elements can look equally attractive – steel ties can bring an industrial edge, for instance.

Mezzanines and galleried landings will help to make the most of double-height zones because they create more floorspace without losing the sense of volume. Alternatively, room pods can create division but won’t lose any ceiling height above – this is a great solution for barn conversions.

One potential downside of a vaulted ceiling is that it will be difficult and costly to extend upwards in the future. A tray ceiling (where a section of the area is recessed) is an alternative to consider.

Browse the gallery for more vaulted ceiling designs:

The Expert View

Build It’s design doctor, Julian Owen, shares his top tips for including a vaulted ceiling.

In what kinds of projects is adding a vaulted ceiling a suitable design option?

It’s a nice feature to put into new houses that isn’t very expensive to include as you’re building from scratch anyway – it would be a lot more pricey to retrofit into an existing dwelling. It’s also great if you’re constructing an extension and there’s no reason to keep a loft for storage or to make into more rooms.

If your new extension is going to have a vaulted ceiling and you’re creating an open-plan space that stretches through to the original part of the house, then you’ll end up with what’s called a bulk head (where the original ceiling height of the existing building meets the new vaulted roof).

Be aware that there will be a feeling of division between the spaces, so I wouldn’t place a dining table directly below this connection, for instance. A nice way to add a better sense of unity is to integrate a lighting track out into the extension from the join.

What options are there when it comes to lighting a vaulted space?

You’ll want reflective illumination that bounces off the side of the roof. Directing artifical lighting up into the vault at night will produce great results and help to make the unusual ceiling shape look even more interesting – so go for wall washers and uplighters.

Ensuring you maximise daylight is another key consideration. Glazed gables are the perfect partner for vaulted ceilings, but beware of solar gain if you’re facing south – an external overhang of around 500mm will provide good shading, as would fixed louvres.

Rooflights work wonderfully in pitched ceilings, but it’s best to go with motorised openings and automatic blinds, as they are likely to be out of reach. Also, think about how you’re going to integrate curtains and blinds if you’ve got a pointed window – especially if it’s a bedroom.

Exposed beams are really popular, but can I have a vaulted ceiling without them?

Structural beams are there to avoid the weight of the roof pushing out to the eaves (this is called roof spread). It would probably be okay to go without beams in a very small open roof because the weight of the top would prevent spread, but there are two ways of achieving this in a taller ceiling.

One is for a big steel rod to go along the ridge, but be aware you can’t have a fully glazed gable that reaches the apex because you’ll need to hide the steel. Alternatively, you can use metal rods to go across and up in an upside-down T-shape.

These are then tensioned to stop roof spread; the result looks minimal and less visible than the truss approach, and works wonderfully in contemporary spaces.

How much more should I expect to pay for this kind of focal feature?

There will be more plastering and the insulation will be more costly than simply laying a glass fibre solution at joist level in the loft. This is because you’ll need something that offers great thermal efficiency but that isn’t too thick – something like Celotex will do the trick.

Alternatively, using structural insulated panels (SIPs) on the roof is great for this. As long as it’s insulated and ventilated properly, it’s fairly straightforward.

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