Types of Ceilings

Guide to Common Ceiling Styles and Terms

This handy guide to ceiling terms, by NC custom home builder Stanton Homes, will help you understand some of different ceiling options available. 


Types of Ceilings | NC Custom Home Builders

Exceptional NC custom homes typically exhibit at least one ceiling that does more than hold the room together.

The treatment of the top of a room is designed to evoke expression, and specialty ceilings can do this in a variety of ways.

What is a Conventional Ceiling?

Usually 8 feet high, conventional ceilings may be either flat (look just like the walls) or textured, most often called “popcorn” (sprayed with particles that look like painted popcorn kernels.)  A “smooth ceiling” is flat.  If your contract doesn’t mention smooth ceilings, ask what kind of ceiling is included.

In a custom home, the first floor ceilings are often extended to 9 feet in height.

  • Homes at the upper end may even have 10, 11 or 12 ft high ceilings.
  • Requesting ceilings that are more than 9 feet tall could add significantly to the cost of your new custom home, as most standard building materials come in shorter lengths, and more support may be needed for a taller ceiling.

If your new home builder doesn’t offer 9 feet as a standard first floor ceiling height, expect to pay $3000-$9000 to increase the height, depending on the size of the home.

What is Crown Moulding?

Raleigh Custom Home Builder - Types of moulding

Conventional mouldings are one piece–made of one or two inch pieces of wood — that cover the edges where the sheetrock touches ceilings and floors.

In custom homes, mouldings can be wider, with two, three or four pieces stacked on top of each other for a more elaborate effect.

The trey ceiling to the left has multiple layers of crown molding, which help define the layered trey and add to the details.

The doorways have a contemporary craftsman trim design, for a simple hand-crafted effect.

The baseboard trim is extra wide, a traditional craftsman technique.

This master bedroom uses three different crown moulding treatments to accentuate the three steps in the trey ceiling.

Types of Ceilings | NC Custom Home Builders

What is a Cathedral Ceiling and Vaulted Ceiling?

A cathedral ceiling provides a high sloping line up to the top of the house.

Raleigh Custom Home Builder | Vaulted Ceiling

A vaulted ceiling extends a room upward. Both provide a spacious feeling and make rooms feel larger. Vaulted ceilings are often found in first floor great rooms, living rooms, family rooms, and keeping rooms.

Ceiling vaults are also being added to dining rooms, master bedrooms and master bathrooms.

This master bath demonstrates one of many styles.  It adds spaciousness to a room that is both functional and luxurious.

Types of Ceilings | NC Custom Home Builders

Main floor master suite homes also are more likely to have vaulted ceilings, as the second floor is generally smaller, which means that more first floor rooms are likely to have a roof directly over them instead of another room.

What is a Tray Ceiling?

A tray ceiling is an artistic element added to select ceilings to give them personality and a unique attribute.(sometimes called a Trey Ceiling)

They start horizontally at the wall intersection at a standard height and then are built upwards in a cut out resembling a tray.  The cut can be vertical or angled, and the tray itself can be 6 inches to a foot or more deep.  Sometimes there are a series of steps for an even more dramatic effect.

It can either be “dropped” or “raised” depending on what is above the room, and what the ceiling height is.

Decorative mouldings or lights may also be incorporated.  The trey ceiling to the right is constructed in two layers, allowing the homeowner to place lights inside the deeper trey, if desired, for a soft, etheral lighting effect in the master bedroom.

Raleigh New Homes | Trey Ceilings

They can be even more impressive when paint is used to accentuate the ceiling and vertical steps.

Trey ceilings are most common in dining rooms and/or master bedrooms.  Tray ceilings are found standard in most custom homes and usually offered as upgrades in production homes.   As an upgrade, the cost is generally around $1,000 for a very simple cut out trey ceiling with no crown molding, and no variation in paint color.

If the base plan for your new home doesn’t include a trey ceiling, and you pay to upgrade, make sure to ask what kind of trey ceiling you’ll be getting.  Will there be one step or two?  Basic box, or angles?  Custom crown moulding in the trey?  Custom color treatment?

What is a Cove Ceiling?

A cove ceiling has a rounded concave surface. This may be incorporated into arched doorways, hallways (like the one pictured here), or other areas where a fluid effect is desired.

Types of Ceilings | NC Custom Home Builders

These types of ceilings are an extremely delightful and rare art form – it’s difficult to create a perfectly curved ceiling, because most building materials are designed to provide flat surfaces, and it takes extra materials, time, skill and creativity to craft the symmetrical effect.

Cove ceilings generally curve up from every wall.  It’ll be hard to find one even in homes at the upper end of the spectrum.

What is a Beam Ceiling?

Made of wood or other substances which are typically laid across conventional ceilings to add dimension, color, clarity or interest.

Raleigh New Homes | Wooden Beam Ceiling

They can either be load bearing (incorporated into the actual structure of the home) or lighter weight faux beams that are applied purely for visual effect.  This type of ceiling effect is not as popular as the more modern approaches and is more typically applied to rustic décor.

A beam ceiling treatment, particularly a stained beam ceiling, can add a significant amount to your new custom home budget.

What is a barrel vault ceiling?

Allso known as a tunnel vault or wagon vault, is not commonly seen in homes, but can be a very unique architectural feature.

Raleigh Custom Home Builder | Barrel Vault Ceiling

Think of the curved section you’d have if you cut a barrel vertically into sections – this resembles the curve of a barrel vault.

These curved ceilings or openings were common in Roman architecture.  But the most famous example can be found in St. Peter’s Basilica, which has a huge barrel vault spans nearly 90 feet across the nave.

There is a built-in plant shelf above the foyer, which add to the opportunities for home accents.


What is a Coffered ceiling?

It is best described as, “creating a raised and indented checkerboard across the ceiling”.

Raleigh custom home builder | Coffered ceiling

It  is usually created by framing a series of interconnected vertical and horizontal lines across the ceiling.

The lines are then covered in sheetrock and finished similar to a normal ceiling.

The individual boxes are then often trimmed with moulding – layering of which can be wider and thicker as the price goes up, especially in very high-end estate homes.  Stained coffered ceilings are firmly in the luxury price point.


This type of ceiling is not nearly as common as a tray ceiling, but is more common than cove ceilings or barrel vault ceilings.