How to install a coffered ceiling

Coffered ceilings in modern homes are beautiful architectural ceiling features. The coffer refers to a recessed panel surrounded by beams. These ancient ceilings are particularly good for acoustics. Coffered ceilings in most modern homes can be used to hide structural beams that might hang lower than the ceiling or to simply dress up or make a room more formal in style. They are not difficult to build with the right tools and plenty of time.

Calculate the coffer by measuring the ceiling (be sure to note the locations of any light fixtures). On the graph paper draw in all walls that touch the ceiling using a 1/16th-inch solid line. Coffers can be square or rectangular or other more intricate shapes. If there is a protrusion or niche where the ceiling jogs around, that will affect the measurements because the objective is for the area to look intentional and included in the overall design. Coffers are traditional, therefore they favour symmetry. If the room is a box shape start by dividing the room in convenient portions. Example: a 15-foot room can divide to three, 5-foot sections or five, 3-foot sections. A coffer under 5 feet might look fussy.

Draw dashed lines lightly on the graph paper to indicate the rough dimensions of the proposed ceiling. If the dashed lines cross over any light fixture locations then select another dividing amount until the result appears to work. Each coffered beam will be composed of a 2 by 4 stud nailed to the ceiling with one by material added to each side. Measure the actual materials for an accurate finished width. There will also be one by boards along the walls to finish the covers at the walls, so mark down the actual dimension of the one by material (the 1-inch measurement is generally less than 1-inch in lumber).

Calculate the actual coffer by subtracting two of the one by lumber plus the actual width of each beam for the width of the room. Use the original ceiling measurement dimension for the width of the room, subtract the accumulated beam amounts and the remaining number will be divided by the number of recessed areas were drawn on the graph paper. Example: The room is 15-feet wide. The one by material is ¾-inch times two, equals 1 1/2 inch. The beam width equals 5 inches. The drawing divided the 15 feet into three panels with two beams in the middle. Original ceiling is 15 feet wide; subtract two beams equals 14 feet and 2 inches, subtract 1 1/2-inch wall mount lumber for a total of 14 feet and 1/2 inch. Divide the 14 feet and 1/2-half inch by three panels and each panel will be 4 feet, 6 2/3 inches. Repeat this process to calculate the coffer length.

Draw the actual coffer dimensions on the graph paper at scale. This means that the graph should indicate the three-quarter board at each wall using a thin line. The panel with the correct dimensions to the outside edge of the beam. Five inches for the beam, the panel dimension, the next beam dimensions, the last panel dimension and another thin line at the wall for the one by material. Mark the panel measurements to make them easy to remember later. Recall that each beam is one by material, the width of a 2 by 3 stud, and one by material. The 2 by 4 studs are actually installed first.

Use the tape measure, pencil and ladder, and mark the dimensions on the ceiling. Use a long piece of wood to draw the lines. Use the stud finder to mark the location of studs along each of the beam lines.

Wearing your protective gear, cut the studs to length and centre them between your beam marks (all in one direction first). Use the nail gun to nail the stud through the ceiling into the joists. An assistant on a second ladder is helpful holding studs against the ceiling.

Cut three pieces per beam of the 1 by 4 lumber to the correct length (attempt to use complete boards to trim your beams). Most coffers have a reveal on the face of the beam. Lay two, 1 by 4 boards on top of each other (the bottom board is used to create the reveal so it doesn't need to be the same length).

Run a bead of carpenter's glue along the edge of just the top (cut for the beam) board (length wise). Align the second (cut for the beam) board along this side and use the finish nailer to nail the two boards together. Glue along the edge of just the top (cut for the beam) board (length wise) on the remaining side. Align the third (cut for the beam) board along the remaining side and use the finish nailer to nail this board to the top board. The result will be a U-shaped box.

Raise each of these boxes to the ceiling, covering a stud and nail the box onto the stud from the side. Repeat this for the remaining beams going in one direction. The reveal is how the horizontal board recesses from the edges of the two vertical boards. From an end view the box will actually be more of an H-shape. The reveal is just the depth of the board still on the floor (it was just used to make the reveal even along the length of the faux beam and easier to nail the side boards onto the face). (see image)

Measure, cut and install small stud sections so that they fit between the wall and the trimmed beam or between two trimmed beams. Repeat your beam casing of these short sections.

Measure, cut and install 1 by 1 boards between your beams against all of the walls.

Use the mitre saw to measure, cut and install corner trims between the ceiling and the beams. Fill nail holes and caulk gaps to finish.


The appearance of the finished coffered ceiling depends on the quality of the cuts and mostly on how well the beams were planned out. Calculating for the panels may seem daunting but it is simple math. Remember, symmetry is the key to a good-looking coffered ceiling.


Measure several times before cutting and this is a thinking project, once you see how it installs it becomes easier to understand and accomplish the project.

Things You'll Need

  • Tape measure
  • Pencil
  • ¼-inch graph paper
  • ¼-inch construction ruler
  • Notebook
  • Straight Edge
  • Stud finder
  • Nail gun for standard nails
  • Nail gun for finish nails
  • Table saw
  • Compound Miter saw
  • 2-inch by 4-inch studs
  • 1-inch by 4-inch lumber
  • Interior corner trim moulding
  • Carpenters glue
  • Wood putty
  • Caulk
  • 2-ladders
  • Assistant
  • Eye protection
  • Gloves
Cite this Article A tool to create a citation to reference this article Cite this Article

About the Author

F.R.R. Mallory has been published since 1996, writing books, short stories, articles and essays. She has worked as an architect, restored cars, designed clothing, renovated homes and makes crafts. She is a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley with bachelor's degrees in psychology and English. Her fiction short story "Black Ice" recently won a National Space Society contest.