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Cathedral Ceilings vs Vaulted Ceilings

Standard cathedral ceilings with wood beams
Standard Cathedral Ceilings with decorative wood beams (Credit: Baldwin MLS)

In the world of architecture and interior design, many choices are available for the style of a ceiling. You’re no longer stuck with a flat ceiling that does nothing to enhance a room.

With so many options available, it can be difficult to know all of them and the differences between some styles. For example, vaulted vs cathedral ceilings.

In this article, we outline their similarities and differences, the advantages of both, and if a vaulted or cathedral ceiling is right for you.

What Is A Cathedral Ceiling?

Cathedral ceilings are tall, central, and symmetrical. These types of vaulted ceilings originated in churches and cathedrals, hence the name.

In a cathedral ceiling, parallel sides taper towards the center, following the shape of the roof. This creates a peaked ridge down the center of the room.

Construction costs of unique ceiling types can sometimes be quite high. But unlike medieval times, the construction of a cathedral ceiling is now far easier with prefabricated roof trusses. Therefore, it is now easier than ever to implement this style into a modern home.

The Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta is a Neoclassical Catholic cathedral in Nepi, Italy
Original "Cathedral Ceilings" at the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta in Nepi, Italy (Credit: Wikipedia)

Cathedral Ceiling Advantages

A cathedral ceiling maximizes the vertical space in a room in a way that conventional flat ceilings cannot. The addition of a cathedral ceiling will instantly elevate the look of your home.

Higher ceilings such as this are much more space-efficient than a flat ceiling and certainly more interesting. It will accommodate larger furnishings and more elaborate light fixtures that would look out of place with a lower, flat ceiling.

Cathedral Ceiling Disadvantages

Because of the increased vertical space, it will be more difficult to install new light fixtures, clean blades of ceiling fans, or change lightbulbs.

And your energy bill could increase slightly, as warm air may get trapped in the added vertical volume. This can be an issue with a cathedral or vaulted ceiling.

Traditional cathedral ceilings in living room
Traditional Cathedral Ceilings with a symmetrical design in a living room (Credit:

What Is A Vaulted Ceiling?

A vaulted ceiling consists of a self-supporting arch between the walls and roof. It does not necessarily follow the pitch of the roof. Therefore it can have uneven sides, depending on the style of the vaulted ceiling.

While a cathedral ceiling matches the roof pitch, a vaulted ceiling sits below it.

Vaulted Ceiling Advantages

Vaulted ceilings add a touch of drama, and there are many different styles to choose from. They can also free up space for larger windows, which will introduce more natural light into dark rooms.

With the natural light that more space for windows or a skylight provides, is increased warmth from the sun. Any vaulted ceiling style will make your home more appealing to prospective buyers, too.

Vaulted Ceiling Disadvantages

As with cathedral ceilings, the downsides can include difficulty changing lightbulbs in your lights and that you may require more heating in winter as the warm air in your home rises higher.

Barrel vault ceiling being framed below the roof line
A Barrel Vault ceiling being framed, notice how it sits below the roof line - By Archways & Ceilings

The Difference Between Vaulted And Cathedral Ceilings 

Cathedral and vaulted ceilings are similar styles. Both vaulted and cathedral ceilings are types of arched ceilings, featuring sloping sides that peak at the roof.

But while all cathedral ceilings are vaulted ceilings, not all vaulted ceilings are cathedral ceilings . The main difference between a vaulted or cathedral ceiling is mostly due to their sloping and upper framework.

A cathedral ceiling, with its straight sides following the roof’s pitch, creates more additional space than other vaulted styles. It is a high ceiling design with two equal sloping sides that slant upwards towards a point at the top.

A vaulted ceiling does not have to follow the shape of the roof. Vaulted ceilings can be symmetrical, or asymmetrical and can feature a number of sides coming together at a central point. There are several different types of vaulted ceilings so it all depends on the style.

Vaulted ceiling vs Cathedral Ceiling - side by side of an Igloo Vault Ceiling and a Traditional Cathedral Ceiling in a living room
A tale of two vaulted ceilings: A living room with an Igloo Vaulted Ceiling and a living room with a traditional Cathedral Ceiling

Are Vaulted Ceilings Energy-Efficient?

A common question asked about cathedral and vaulted ceilings is whether they are energy efficient or not . Heat rises, so warm air will move up to the high spaces in the ceiling. If there is a lack of good circulation, you will need more heating to keep your rooms warm.

This is usually the case in older homes though with poor ventilation, insulation, and ducting. With good insulation and a proper ventilation system, you shouldn’t see an increase in your heating bill. 

Ideas For Cathedral Ceilings

Cathedral ceilings can be used to create dramatic spaces, a glamorous vibe, or even a woodsy cabin look. It all depends on the surrounding décor of your living spaces. High ceilings like this provide a lot of vertical extra space and will better suit large rooms or open-plan spaces.

Dining Hall Glamor Cathedral Ceiling

A big dining hall in a bed and breakfast lodge or inn will immediately be transformed with a cathedral ceiling. But this works equally well for large dining rooms or master bedrooms in your home.

For an extra touch of glamor, add a chandelier. A chandelier and a cathedral ceiling are a style match made in heaven.

Modern Art Drama Cathedral Ceiling

A spacious open-plan design apartment will be given a serious edge with a cathedral ceiling. This will work best if the ceiling is high to begin with.

Contrast the symmetrical angles of the cathedral ceiling sides with abstract art at key positions throughout the living space.

Rustic Barn-Style Kitchen Cathedral Ceiling 

Do you have a large kitchen with a high ceiling? Create a rustic look with a cathedral ceiling with exposed beams and lots of pottery and wooden furniture.

Install skylights to increase the natural light, as lots of paneling could make the space seem a bit darker. Add some café curtains at the lower windows for a quaint cottagey look.

Farmhouse Range Hood in rustic kitchen with exposed beams in vaulted ceiling
A Farmhouse Range Hood is nestled perfectly between the exposed beams of this vaulted ceiling - by Archways & Ceilings

Keep It Clean And White

For a bright and spacious look, you can paint a cathedral ceiling and its exposed beams white. This is great if you have a smaller space and an open plan home design. It makes everything look brighter and more spacious.

A white wood-paneled cathedral ceiling is also a great way to achieve a chic, modern look that still feels warm and inviting.

Vaulted Ceiling Ideas

If you don't have the luxury of buying a house with unique features, add a vaulted ceiling to your existing house. Vaulted ceilings come in several designs, and they can all be yours with our vaulted ceiling kits.

Let’s look at the most common types of vaulted ceilings , and ideas for implementing them on your property.

Create A Grand Entrance Hall With A Barrel Vaulted Ceiling

Made popular in Roman architecture, a barrel vault will give an entire room a new look and feel, but it is often preferred for entrance halls and corridors. This ceiling style may be the best choice for a minimalist décor theme.

The barrel vault is a semi-cylindrical vaulted ceiling. Imagine what a huge barrel cut in half lengthwise and mounted from the roof would look like. That is what barrel-vaulted ceilings look like. A barrel-vaulted ceiling has one uniform arch and is also sometimes called a wagon vault or tunnel vault.

Massive barrel vault ceiling in a grand entrance
A massive Barrel Vault in a grand with dual staircases - by Archways & Ceilings

A Vintage Flair With Groin Vaults

A modern home can be given a vintage air with a groin or cross-vaulted ceiling. But, it will best be complemented by warm colors, antique wood furniture, and traditional paintings or sculptures.

A groin-vaulted ceiling is sometimes known as a double barrel vault or cross vault. This design is achieved through the intersection at right angles of two barrels. Sometimes, the arches of groin vaulted ceilings are pointed.

As with the barrel vault, a groin vault is equally at home in a corridor or grand entranceway. When you have a particularly wide entrance hall, entertainment area, or corridor, this style will make the most of that space.

Traditional Foyer with groin vault ceiling and arched entryways
A traditional foyer with a groin vault ceiling and arched entryways - by Archways & Ceilings

Elevate The Living Room Or Entertainment Area With A Cloister Vault

Similar to a groin vault, a cloister vaulted ceiling is formed with barrel vaults. It is sometimes referred to as a pavilion vault. A cloister vault ceiling features four concave surfaces arching toward the center from a constant springing point along the walls.

As this is similar to a barrel vault ceiling, it will add sophistication and elegance to any wide open space such as a large foyer or living room. A cloister style can also be a real conversation starter on a large deck or patio used for outdoor entertaining. Keep the surrounding color palette light and airy.

Keep Things Classic With A Dome Vaulted Ceiling

This is a type of vaulted ceiling that features a spherical shape at the top. A dome vault is one of the easier vault ceiling styles to create. This vaulted ceiling type adds a sophisticated element to virtually any room.

A domed ceiling will look stunning above a foyer with a sweeping, circular staircase. But it is equally suited to a spacious master bedroom, kitchen, or study. This look lends itself well to a classic décor style, with velvety floor-length drapes, soft colors, and subdued lighting.

Classic Dome Vault ceiling with architectural molding surround
Classic Dome Vault ceiling with architectural molding - By Archways & Ceilings


Now that you know the difference between cathedral ceilings and vaulted ceilings, you can choose the best style for your home or property. Both styles can immediately enhance a space and help you achieve the aesthetic you want. And don’t forget, introducing vaulted or cathedral ceilings can add value to your property should you ever want to sell.

Give us a call today to discuss how you can bring one of these styles into your home with our ceiling kits.

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