Vaulted Ceilings: Embracing The Past Through Modern Design

14 September 2020

Vaulted ceilings found their beginning in basilicas or cathedrals centuries ago, which is why they are sometimes simply referred to as cathedral ceilings since this is where they found their birth.

Mono Acoustic, museum 2012

Astrup Fearnley Museum, Oslo - Barrel Vault

The architectural impact of a vaulted ceiling on interior design and environmental comfort within a space cannot be understated.  By design, they create the illusion of space, openness and grandeur and allow greater airflow for a more comfortable interior space even before the benefit of modern temperature modification abilities.

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

Read on to learn more about vaulted ceilings and why they can be an advantageous inclusion into your design.  

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 means 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 you can choose from when you contemplate 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 are 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.  
  • Barrel Vault: This type of ceiling vault, also called a wagon vault or tunnel vault, because it gives off the illusion of the arch you would see in a covered wagon. It is usually a circular-shaped curve that is a 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.
  • 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 because it is more cost-effective in terms of labour and materials.
  • 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 as you would see 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.

Benefits 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 utilized in the design of today’s most elegant and luxurious modern spaces. The following are just a few of the many benefits of these types of ceiling.


  • The Illusion of 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 create the illusion of space or grandeur. It makes the space feel airy and light, without adding an inch of space in terms of square footage. Vaulted ceilings are ideal for a small space that needs to seem “larger than life” but is lacking in terms of actual usable space. A high ceiling will make your guest or shoppers feel as if there is all the room in the world.
  • Natural Light Incorporation: Vaulted ceilings allow for more windows, which bring in the natural outdoor light inside your space. This means you have to rely less on artificial lighting in your retail or restaurant space. Of course, you still need to consider your overall lighting design for night time 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.
  • Removes Stuffiness: One of the downsides of a crowded retail space or restaurant is the fact that it can feel stuffy and hot, especially during the summer when outdoor temperatures climb and air conditioners struggle to keep up. Thankfully, vaulted ceilings allow the heat in the air to rise away from guests, creating an airy feeling in the space that feels cooler and less stuffy. In general, it is just a more comfortable feeling when all that hot air rises high above their heads instead of hanging right above them.
  • Architectural Interest And Beautiful Design Elements: While there is nothing wrong with a plain ceiling and without the aesthetic flair, adding architectural interest with an amazingly designed ceiling is a great 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.  


Insulating a Vaulted Ceiling

Just because you call for vaulted ceilings in your design, doesn’t mean you don’t have to worry about insulating cathedral ceiling. In fact, insulation is extremely important to ensure the space between your ceilings and the roof resist mould and keep unconditioned or unheated air outside your conditioned space. One of the notable downsides of vaulted ceilings is trying to keep them well insulated and properly heated. While they are advantageous for keeping a space cool since heat rises, for the same reasons, it can be difficult to keep a space with vaulted ceilings warm and toasty during a brisk winter.

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.    

What About Acoustics?

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 a space. This is especially problematic in public settings where conversations are numerous as in restaurants. Therefore, when calling for vaulted ceilings, it’s important to counteract potential acoustic issues by using 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

Converting Flat Ceiling To Vaulted Ceiling Design

Thankfully, even if you are renovating an existing building that doesn’t currently have vaulted ceilings, you can still call for them in your design as flat, basic ceilings can be converted to vaulting ceilings. In fact, it is a great way to open up a small, dark space without adding any actual square footage, which can be an agreeable proposition for business owners whose budget is limited. 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 up.
  • Electrical Lines: You will often have to move electrical lines to vault a ceiling.

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 for a retail or restaurant space, we recommend you 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.