Interior design

Vaulted Ceilings: Embracing the Past Through Modern Design

April 5, 2022

Vaulted ceilings are a controversial subject. On the one hand, their old-world elegance and grandeur appeal make any place stand out. On the other hand, they may appear out of date or a waste of energy and space.

Using Rockfon Mono for Vaulted Ceiling in Astrup Fearnley Museum

Rockfon Mono Acoustic in Astrup Fearnley Museum, Oslo, Norway

Building owners, architects, and interior designers all have strong feelings regarding vaulted ceilings, making it easy to get caught up in other people's preferences while losing sight of your own. 

Whether you're purchasing, building, or renovating a property with vaulted ceilings, it's a significant investment that should be carefully examined. We've highlighted the advantages and disadvantages, along with expert guidance on how to elevate vaulted roofs with excellent acoustic solutions, below. 

What Is a Vaulted Ceiling? 

A vaulted ceiling is any ceiling that arches up toward the roof and extends higher than the typical 2.5 to 3 metres height of average flat ceilings. While the phrase "vaulted ceiling" originally referred to ceilings with a self-supporting arch in classical architectural design, it is now commonly used to denote any sloped, high ceiling.  

Vaulted ceilings found their beginning in basilicas or cathedrals centuries ago, resulting in them being referred to as cathedral ceilings. The architectural impact of a vaulted ceiling on interior design and environmental comfort within a space cannot be understated. They create the illusion of space, openness, and grandeur — allowing greater airflow for a more comfortable interior space. 

Today, you can find vaulted ceilings incorporated into the interior design of every feasible space beginning in residential homes and on into commercial offices, medical centres, and even retail spaces

Read on to learn more about vaulted ceilings and why they can be an advantageous inclusion or a drawback to your interior space. 

What are Different Types of Vaulted Ceilings? 

There are various types of vaulted ceilings you can incorporate into modern commercial and residential design. By pure definition, vaulted ceilings mean an arched ceiling. However, in practical application, as implemented today, any raised ceiling, even without an arch, can be defined as such.  

There are a few basic varieties of vaulted ceilings to choose from when contemplating either adding them to a space or transforming a flat ceiling into a cathedral variety. Modern-day vaulted ceilings are created with a hyperbolic paraboloid. This is a surface featuring both concave and convex forms on different axes. More information on specific types of vaulted ceilings is outlined below: 

Partially Vaulted Ceiling

With this ceiling design, you feature a standard ceiling in part of your space and then vault the other part. If you can’t embrace a full ceiling vault in a space due to restrictions, you can add the visual interest of a vaulted ceiling by incorporating it into half the space or at least part of it. This is ideal for two-story buildings as you can create a landing of sorts with one level looking down into another. 

vaulted ceiling, living room, half vaulted, natural light

Barrel Vault

This type of ceiling vault, also called a wagon vault or tunnel vault, since it gives off the illusion of the arch you would see in a covered wagon. It is usually a circular-shaped curve that is semi-cylindrical. It is formed by the extrusion of a pair of curves or a single curve. This is considered the simplest form of a vaulted ceiling.

vaulted ceiling, glass dome, galleria, Italy, barrel vault

Double Vaulted Ceiling

Also known as a double barrel vault, groin vault or groined vault, this type of vaulted ceiling is created by intersecting the right angles of two-barrel vaults. You can either have arches rounded or pointed with a double vault. This is considered an advantageous design over some types of vaults as it is more cost-effective in terms of labour and materials. 

vaulted ceiling, royal residence, Spain, groin vault

Gothic Vaulted Ceiling

This type of vaulted ceiling is officially called a ribbed or rib vault. It is an architectural design feature that spans a wide space like in a church nave. Variations have been used in Byzantine architecture, Roman architecture, Islamic architecture, Romanesque architecture, and most especially Gothic architecture, hence its name.  

A Gothic vaulted ceiling is formed by creating a framework of diagonal or crossed arched ribs. This design trick allowed Gothic cathedrals to feature huge windows with thin, high walls. 

vaulted ceiling, cathedral, France, gothic vault, blog posts

What Are the Pros and Cons of Vaulted Ceiling Designs 

With a historic ancestry spanning centuries and playing a key role in many of the most famous buildings throughout time, it is no surprise that vaulted ceilings are still heavily utilised in today’s interior design.  

Pros of a Vaulted Roof: 

The following are just a few of the many benefits of vaulted roof: 

  • Create More Visual Space: We all want more space; it is human nature. Thankfully, through the incorporation of vaulting ceilings in your retail or restaurant space, you can make the space feel airy and light, without adding an inch of space. Vaulted ceilings are ideal for a small space that needs to seem “larger than life” but is lacking actual usable space. A high ceiling will make your people feel as if there is all the room in the world. 

  • Offer More Opportunities for Natural Light: Vaulted ceilings allow for more windows, which bring in the natural outdoor light inside your space. This means you can rely less on artificial lighting in your interior space. Of course, you still need to consider your overall lighting design for nighttime or cloudy days.  

However, on bright, sunny days, you will benefit from natural light, which is the best type! A vaulted ceiling also gives you the option of installing skylights or roof windows, which allows even more natural light to flow into your space. If you’re looking for how to make your space lighter, check out this 7-step guide here. 

  • Reduce Stuffiness: One of the downsides of a crowded space like a restaurant, a retail place is the fact that it can feel stuffy and hot — especially during the summer when outdoor temperature climbs and air conditioners struggle to keep up. Thankfully, vaulted ceilings allow the heat in the air to rise, making the space feels cooler and less stuffy. 
  • Add Architectural Interest and Beautiful Design Elements: There is nothing wrong with a plain ceiling and without the aesthetic flair. However, adding architectural interest with an amazingly designed ceiling is a fantastic way to create intrigue, ambience, and allure within a space. You can instantly transform a bland, dull room into a remarkable space with the right type of vaulted ceiling. 

Cons of a Vaulted Roof: 

Vaulted ceilings have a few disadvantages for building owners: 

  • Increase Energy Costs: Because vaulted ceilings increase the volume of a space, heating and cooling a home with particularly high ceilings can be substantially more expensive. Furthermore, because warm air rises, vaulted ceilings can draw warm air away from the ground-level living space and trap it near the rafters, making the room draughty or cold even when the heat is turned on. 

  • Creates the sense of space: While vaulted ceilings are an excellent technique to make a space feel more open, they do not increase your building's usable floor space. If you need more room and want to extend your property, raising the ceiling height may be a costly design choice with insufficient payback. However, if you invest in real estate with a vaulted ceiling and need more space, you may be able to convert the ceiling into a loft space. 
  • Increase construction costs: Vaulted ceilings are expensive to construct. A vaulted ceiling can increase the cost of a building by 5 to 20%, due to extra design and labour expenditures. Vaulting can be considerably more expensive if it is part of a renovation rather than a custom-built project, due to the time-consuming complex work of removing existing ceilings and repurposing the attic space. 

  • Make It Difficult to Maintain: Vaulted ceilings can make routine maintenance more difficult because you won't be able to reach the ceiling to dust ceiling beams, change lightbulbs, operate ceiling fans, service chandeliers, or other light fixtures, or repaint. 

How to Insulate a Vaulted Ceiling? 

Just because you call for vaulted ceilings in your design, doesn’t mean you don’t have to worry about insulating them. In fact, insulation is extremely important to ensure the space between your ceilings and the roof resist mould and retain heat. One of the notable downsides of vaulted ceilings is trying to keep them well insulated and properly heated.  

Thankfully, though, installing the right kind of insulation material will ensure the space is sealed correctly and remains comfortable, no matter what the weather is like outdoors.     

Vaulted Ceilings with Great Acoustic Solutions 

Along with temperature control issues during the winter, another common complaint about beautiful, vaulted ceilings is their tendency to echo back sound and amplify it through space. This is especially problematic in public settings where conversations are numerous likes in restaurants. Therefore, when calling for vaulted ceilings, it’s important to counteract potential acoustic issues by using a sound-absorbing acoustic ceiling solution.  

Impressive vaults with sound-absorbing materials

Impressive, uniform vaults were created in this monumental Polish church thanks to the Rockfon Mono Acoustic system. Modern acoustic solutions based on sound-absorbing ceiling tiles made of stone wool ensure an optimal atmosphere for sound. 

Church of B.F. Stefan Wincenty Frelichowski - Toruń, Poland 

Roman Catholic Parish Church pw. Bl. Frelichowski,Poland,Torun,800 m2,ProSystem Krzysztof Dziewulski,Bartosz Makowski,ROCKFON® Mono® Acoustic,1200x900,White

An inspiring renovation with beautiful, vaulted ceiling design

To give la Comédie-Française optimal use of their new space, both technically and acoustically, Rockfon Mono Acoustic was installed throughout the curved Dôme between the metal structure, entirely preserving the original vaulted ceiling design.  

La Comédie-Française - Paris, France 

Comedie Francaise, Mono Flecto, leisure cafe

Bottom Line: Ceiling Vaults 

Vaulted ceilings are airy, grand, and visually interesting. They turn a plain space into one with intrigue and atmosphere. Therefore, when contemplating your next design do consider it as an option. By incorporating a vaulted or cathedral ceiling into your overall design, you will be able to manipulate the space’s atmosphere, improve the overall feel of the space and embrace some century-old design tricks to create a classically beautiful interior. 

To determine if vaulting is a possibility in your space, take a trip up to the attic and look for the following elements: 

  • Roof Framing: Consider whether your attic has trusses or is framed. Framed attics leave some space to work with, while trusses can be difficult to counteract and open. 
  • Electrical Lines: You will often have to move electrical lines to vault a ceiling.