Are Coffered Ceilings Worth It?
Learn about the costs and construction of this timeless ceiling design element and whether the investment pays off.
My first home was an American Foursquare with lots of Craftsman-era details like built-ins, oversized trim and coffered ceilings in the dining and living rooms. Of all the intricate work, we loved the coffered ceilings the most, because they added depth and elegance to the rooms without being overly formal.
Historically a traditional touch in homes and buildings, coffered ceilings have gotten a modern makeover and are still found in today’s homes. If you’re considering adding them to your home, read on to learn if coffered ceilings are worth it.
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What Is a Coffered Ceiling?
A coffered ceiling features recessed panels in a grid pattern created by extended cross pieces.
The concept of adding coffers, or sunken panels, to ceilings dates to Ancient Greek and Roman architecture, as decorative touches that also lightened structural loads in stone roofs and domes. This design feature has been found throughout the architectural world ever since, from the Palace of Versailles to the Library of Congress.
Also known as cross-beam or beam-and-panel ceilings, they became a staple in the homes of the wealthy elite in the 19th and 20th centuries, with crisscrossed beams and wood trim in square and rectangle patterns. Today, they’re incorporated into residential projects in various styles. They can suit any home, depending on the materials and design.
Coffered ceilings are typically found in large rooms with expansive ceiling heights. They can be incorporated into primary bedrooms, kitchens, libraries and dining rooms to add a sense of three-dimensional depth and visual interest.
How To Build a Coffered Ceiling
Today’s coffered ceilings are typically built by adding a roof beam or crossbeam framework to a flat drywall ceiling.
The protruding beams cause the space between to appear sunken but also take away ceiling height. For this reason, an existing ceiling should be a minimum of nine feet high to be a good candidate for a coffered ceiling.
“Nine feet is the bare minimum because the components you’re adding are lowering the perceived ceiling height,” says Chris Adams of Chris Adams Architect in Vermont.
The ceiling should also be flat and free of irregularities because the coffered elements will make them more pronounced.
How Much Does a Coffered Ceiling Cost?
Expect to pay between $22 to $60 per square foot for the labor and materials.
Labor alone will cost from $20 to $30 per square foot for a basic build, with increased costs for elaborate designs and additions. Materials will range from $2 to $30 per square foot. Drywall will run $2 to $3 per square foot, while PVC and hardwood (like mahogany) will run in the $20 to $30 per square foot range. There will be regional variations, but these numbers are a good starting place.
Chris Bonanno, owner of Northeast Custom Carpentry and Custom Picture Frames says, “For a 12- by 12-foot room, I would charge about $750 in materials and labor to put the drywall up, tape it and mud.”
For coffered ceilings, he says, “You could at least triple the price because it’s very labor-intensive. You could be looking at $2,200 at least to install a coffered ceiling in the same room, depending on the design and what materials are used.”
For those looking to DIY a coffered ceiling, those costs would be dramatically reduced. John Zieminski, a retired contractor living in South Carolina, installed coffered ceilings himself in two of his own homes and saved on the cost of labor.
“It’s a lot of work, but it was in my own house, so labor was no object because I did them on weekends,” Zieminski says. “I saved time by having rolling staging [scaffolding on wheels] and pre-staining the boards before installing them.”
Are Coffered Ceilings Worth It?
It depends. Paul Torville, a licensed Realtor in Massachusetts, says the cost of installing a coffered ceiling could be recouped if you live in the right area.
“We typically see coffered ceilings in higher-end homes, as a luxury detail signaling high-quality design,” Torville says. “So if you live in an expensive neighborhood, there’s a good chance you will get some of that money back at resale.”
But even if you don’t recoup the cost, there may still be value in installing coffered ceilings just because you enjoy them, like Zieminski.
“I liked doing it, and it allowed me to get creative and build something really beautiful that I could enjoy,” he says. “I wasn’t thinking about resale. They were a labor of love.”