If you’re looking to make an impression, a cathedral ceiling may be just what you want.

Also referred to as vaulted ceilings, raised ceilings, and high ceilings, among other names, these cathedral ceilings come from a tradition of architectural design spanning back hundreds of years.

They lend a sense of grandeur to any home and can really add to the atmosphere.

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There are many smart cathedral ceiling ideas out there as do-it-yourself home designs and improvements have become more popular. There are a number of factors that go into including one of these cathedral ceilings in your home. Here’s a guide to the ins and outs of cathedral ceilings.

What is a Cathedral Ceiling?

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A cathedral ceiling is a vaulted style of ceiling that first became common in cathedrals (as you might guess) and basilicas hundreds of years ago. It is a unique design that produces an amazing visual effect, drawing the eye upward and making spaces seem bigger.

The cathedral ceiling started out as a domed ceiling. Domed ceilings are essentially hollow sphere that have been sliced in half. Domed ceilings have been made from a variety of materials, including mud, wood, stone, brick, concrete, glass, metal, and plastic.

Sometimes they have been coated in precious materials, like gold, or decorated in mosaics both inside and out.

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From there, architects designed the barrel vault (also called the tunnel vault or wagon vault).

This is a simple kind of vault, being essentially a semicircle stretched into a continuous arch. The groin vault is the next kind of cathedral ceiling. This vault is a ceiling where two barrel vault cross one another to create an ellipse intersection referred to as a groin.

What are the Advantages of a Cathedral Ceiling?

More Natural Light

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Cathedral ceiling lighting is done to best effect with many tall windows. This leads to even more natural light coming into the room. Natural light is the best kind of lighting.

It imbues a space with more atmosphere, making it more relaxing. If you’re concerned about energy efficiency for heating and cooling, consider double glazing the glass in the windows to help with energy efficiency. Large windows are a great answer for those wondering how to decorate high walls with cathedral ceiling.

Add Character with Exposed Rafter Beams

Exposed ceiling beams are very trendy right now.  To be honest, they have had appeal for a very long time and will probably be popular for many years to come. A cathedral ceiling is a wonderful way to expose and showcase the rafters of your home’s ceiling. It prevents any sense of claustrophobia while adding charm and character.

Makes Practical Use of Attic Space

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Often, attics become “dead spaces”, unused and wasted. A cathedral ceiling can alleviate this issue. They take the unused attic space and turn it into a striking architectural addition.

It makes your home much more beautiful. Even if you do use your attic, careful organization can still allow you to use a portion of it as space for your cathedral ceiling.

Increased Visual Interest

Your regular old ceiling is not the most interesting thing to look at. Cathedral ceilings don’t have this problem. They’re beautiful and fascinating, adding some spectacular oomph, transforming your ceiling from background to the star of any space. This is true of Old World stylings and modern takes on vaulted ceilings alike.

Exit for Hot Air

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If you design your cathedral ceiling just right, they offer a venting area for unwanted hot air. This is very useful in spaces that deal with wet, hot air, like bathrooms.

These spaces need to dry out as soon as possible in order to prevent the growth of mold and many other kinds of damage to the structure and materials in the room. What’s more, additional natural light is always a bonus.

Unique Rustic Appeal

A cathedral ceiling covered with wood planks is the ultimate in rustic charm. Their high positioning means that they are one of the first things in a room people will notice. This natural wooden warmth will set the perfect tone for your rustic room and welcome visitors to your home in style.

What are the Cons of a Cathedral Ceiling?

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Less Coziness

Because cathedral ceilings make space feel airy and larger, they don’t lend themselves to making a space seem cozy and intimate. Cathedral ceilings are not great choices for rooms where intimacy is key, like bedrooms. If you’re looking for that kind of cozy feel, you should look for another kind of architectural feature.

Everyday Upkeep Can Be Difficult

You can’t just pull up a chair and dust your ceiling fan or change a lightbulb with a cathedral ceiling. You’ll need at least one ladder, though many cathedral ceilings are so high that you’ll want to contact professionals for something as simple as changing a lightbulb.

You should consider this sort of expense and difficulty before you go for a vaulted ceiling in your home.

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Increased Energy Usage

On cold winter days and hot summer days, the large spaces created by cathedral ceilings need more energy to either warm up or cool down. Many consider this sort of energy inefficiency a waste and an unnecessary expense. This extra air isn’t being “used” by the people in the house, which may not appeal to you.

Difficult to Impossible to Retrofit

If your home is not built with a cathedral ceiling, adding one in is going to be challenging, invasive, and expensive. It may even be impossible. It is one of those architectural features that usually works best when you integrate it into the original building of the house.

How to Decorate a Cathedral Ceiling

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You’ll find that a cathedral ceiling gives you a lot of empty space above your head. This can be intimidating, but it’s really a great opportunity. Add in a statement chandelier, for instance, something that you can’t do with many other ceiling styles.

Add in large beams to your cathedral ceiling. This adds a rustic feel, something you especially want for a country-style home. They also have a deep color that balances out the optical illusion of the incredibly high ceiling.

If the height isn’t your concern, but you are worried about the cathedral ceiling’s plainness, there’s a simple fix. Just use shiplap to add a bit of pattern to the space. It won’t be too busy, but it will add some life to the empty, plain space.

In some cases, a cathedral ceiling is too gothic, making the space seem dark and dreary. In these instances, think about installing a skylight to add natural light up high. This will lighten up the space. You can install more than one to help combat the dreary feeling.

If the space is simply too much, it’s fairly simple to close up a cathedral ceiling. Adding a ceiling that sits part of the way down, you can split the difference to create a room with an airy feel and a sense of coziness at the same time.

Another way to make your cathedral ceiling cozier is to cover it with rustic wood. This can make the space seem more cottage-like and less grand while maintaining that sense of space.

If you don’t want the cathedral ceiling currently in your home and don’t have the money for it, the best way to deal with it is to figure out a way to use the space to your advantage.

Add in a loft to create a reading nook, or create a gallery that goes as high as your ladder can go. Build tall, grandiose bookshelves that take up the entire wall. Find something that turns your cathedral ceiling from something you dislike into something you love.

How to Light a Cathedral Ceiling

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While natural light is the most spectacular form of cathedral ceiling lighting, the sun has to set eventually, so you need other lighting options. The wrong lighting can turn your amazing cathedral ceiling into an oppressive vaulted ceiling from Frankenstein’s castle. Here are some great cathedral ceiling lighting ideas.


Skylights allow natural light into a room so that the heights of its vaults don’t become gloomy. They don’t have to be flat panels. They can be domed or triangular or almost anything at all you need for your home.

Some of them are fixed in place for the sole purpose of letting light into the room.  Others can be opened and closed either manually with a long rod or electrically with some form of switch or remote in order to allow for more ventilation. The light allowed in by skylights will allow you to save on your daytime energy bills.

Hanging Lights

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Chandeliers and other kinds of hanging lights bring in a sense of elegance and even decadence. They’re a great way to show of the grandeur of your cathedral ceiling.

Chandeliers cast light outward and upward across the large space that is created by a cathedral ceiling. You should avoid getting hanging lights that direct light downward, as they will make the very top of the ceiling dark and foreboding.

Avoid placing any hanging lights at the very highest point(s) of the ceiling, since they accent the height will not allow the light to penetrate the whole room. This causes the room to feel cold and dark.

Recessed Lighting

Recessed lights are lights that are fitted into the ceiling. They cast a downward-facing light. This can work great if your cathedral ceiling is in a room where you make a lot of use of light, such as one where you read, work, or socialize around a table.

Recessed lighting is simple and does not interfere with the room’s décor. It does lend itself to a more modern look, however, which may not be what everyone is looking for. For a more traditional look, stick with more traditional styles of lighting like chandeliers.

Directional Spotlights

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These spotlights give you a way to direct light in any direction you’d like. For rooms with cathedral ceilings, you’ll usually want to direct it upward.

They also work well if you’d like to sit and read in the room. Just use the spotlights to direct light to the sitting area. However, directional spotlights can be a bit intrusive, negatively affected the room’s décor.

Track Lighting

These lights are similar to directional spotlights. They consist of several lights mounted on a track as a single lighting fixture. You can aim each individual light on this fixture wherever you want. You can mount it anywhere you like on the ceiling. It doesn’t need to be at the highest point of the cathedral ceiling.

How to Insulate a Cathedral Ceiling

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Cathedral ceiling insulation is crucial for making sure that your home remains energy efficient and the room is as comfortable as possible to spend time in.

An impressive, amazingly decorated room with a cathedral ceiling that is unpleasant to sit in does no one any good.  You need to make sure the temperature is controlled like it is in the rest of your home.

Image source: Parker House Inc.

The best time to install cathedral ceiling insulation is when you’re building it. It may the only time to really do it. Cathedral ceilings are insulated much like attics.

Retrofitting one will require a lot of work to get the insulation right. Hire a professional to make sure your home is still pleasant even in the fiercest heat of summer of the most bitter winter cold-snaps.

How to Choose Colors for a Cathedral Ceiling

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Because a cathedral ceiling is so dramatic, you need to carefully consider your paint to take advantage of their look. You don’t want anything too dramatic or too subdued.

One thing you should do is vary the shade. Paint the ceiling itself a slightly darker color than the colors on the walls. Also, remember that warm colors make for warmer rooms. Even if the room has cooler tones overall, a warm ceiling can help make the room keep a cozy intimacy even if the ceiling is very tall.


A cathedral ceiling is an amazing décor opportunity. They pose their own challenges, but their appeal is hard to deny. Use these cathedral ceiling tips to help you make the most of this amazing architectural feature.

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