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What is a Vaulted Ceiling? Meet the Style that Makes Every Room Feel Bigger

A midcentury-modern living room in a Spanish villa with a tan, bricked vaulted ceiling, beige modern furniture, stone walls, and wood accents

Michael Robinson / Getty Images

Looking for a home with elegance, drama, and an open-air feel? Then keep your eyes peeled for listings mentioning vaulted ceilings, which make rooms appear far bigger than they are with just a few extra feet. By drawing the eye to the often-ignored ceiling with sculpted lines and curves, vaulted—a.k.a. cathedral—ceilings create an optical illusion of sorts, making a room seem as grand and cavernous as a fairy tale palace or, obviously, a cathedral. All it takes is a nice coat of paint and a stunning lighting fixture to make you feel like royalty.

What Is a Vaulted Ceiling?

A vaulted ceiling is an arched style of ceiling that is self-supported and typically formed out of stone or brick.

Architecturally speaking, a vaulted ceiling is built on an arched frame; they were commonly used in the medieval and Romanesque architecture of Western Europe, which is why they’re so associated with mythical tales of grandeur and the pomp and circumstance of wealth and royalty. That’s right: On top of optical illusions, vaulted ceilings trick you with psychological illusions as well. And while the construction of the vaulted ceilings of yore was an arduous process requiring the talents of master builders, modern technology has made them quite easy to install, meaning you don’t need to be a millionaire to feel like one. However, just as was the case with the ceilings of the past, modern vaulted ceilings should be installed by professionals; if you’re thinking of a home remodel, this is a project that will likely require permits, and definitely requires a licensed contractor.

There are several types of vaulted ceilings that are used in modern home construction, and even though they may each have different looks, they all create a stunning, jaw-dropping effect.

Barrel vaulted ceilings have a simple design that resembles—you guessed it—a barrel. Behind the ceiling is a series of identical, rounded arch supports that create a uniform, graceful look. Walking under a barrel ceiling almost feels like walking through a spacious tunnel, which is why this is a popular choice for long hallways. 

A dome vault is another type of ceiling that’s found in primary bedrooms, and the name explains it all: It’s a large, round dome that is recessed into a standard, flat ceiling. This is another optical illusion, which makes the dome seem even taller than it actually is; because of this visual trickery, domes are a popular architectural addition to small spaces like entryways, bathrooms, or intimate dining and living rooms that don’t have open floor plans. 

Primary Bedroom

The term "Primary Bedroom" is now widely used to describe the largest bedroom in the home, as it better reflects the space’s purpose. Many realtors, architects, interior designers, and the Real Estate Standards Association have recognized the potentially discriminatory connotations in the term "Master." Read more about our Diversity and Inclusion Pledge.

Cove vaulted ceilings are similar to domes, but without the sharp, angled edge where the dome curves away from the flat ceiling. As rooms get bigger, it becomes harder—or impossible—to install a spherical domed ceiling; a cove ceiling creates a similar effect by curving upwards in two separate tiers, which creates an illusion of incredible depth.

The term "groin-vaulted ceiling" doesn’t refer to anything naughty or offensive. (These were used in churches, you know.) To put your mind at ease, the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines groin as "the projecting curved line along which two intersecting vaults meet;" more specifically, barrel vaults. As you can imagine, groin vaults are quite complicated to build, but the pay-off is a "wow" factor that’s off the charts. You’ll see these ceilings in rooms meant for showing off, like living areas, or sometimes in a primary suite that rivals those found in five-star hotels.