Exposed Ceiling Beams: Traditional Design In Modern Context

Reading Time: 3 minutes

exposed roof beams living room

Homeowners frequently forget the ceiling as a surface to decorate. We paint them white and forget about them. I am guilty of this, too! When it came time to do a major remodel, I got creative with wall and door color, but all the ceilings got white paint.

That’s changing now, though. The bland white ceiling is becoming a major design element and focal point via exposed beams and rafters.

Exposed ceiling beams in early American homes

The barns of Colonial America were built of post and beam construction. Trees were plentiful, and they were cut down and hand-hewn with axes and adzes, since there was no electricity. They were connected with mortise and tenon or dovetail joints and joined with a dowel. Once the structure was erected, siding was added to the outside of the frame. The posts and beams were visible inside the barn.

Homes were built this way, too. Siding was put on, and wall material was placed in between the posts, leaving them exposed. Beams ran across the ceiling space, and wood flooring was placed on top of them. Today this is called timber framing.

I built a post and beam house of native hemlock and pine in New Hampshire in the 1980s. The frame held the weight of the building, so the siding and walls did not have to carry it. The posts and beams were part of the interior design, and the frame allowed for an open floor plan.

The classic post beam house

Not everyone can or wants to build a post beam house, but there are ways you can get beams incorporated into your existing home. If you have a low ceiling, you can raise it to the roof to create a feeling of spaciousness. Add beams across the room at ceiling height. Paint them the same color as the ceiling to make them blend in. This adds to the feeling of roominess.

On the other hand, if you have a high ceiling you want to visually bring down, add beams at ceiling height and paint them a contrasting color. That will break up the space and make the room cozy.

How to get that exposed ceiling beams effect

If you have a room with a standard ceiling height (usually 8’), you can install half-beams that are not as deep as a full beam. This size will not lower your ceiling height, but you will still achieve a decorative effect. The same ideas as above apply as far as contrast. Blending the beams into the ceiling with the same color paint will make the room appear larger. Shadows from lamps and natural light will create subtle visual interest. A high contrast color will make the space seem small and cozy. You have to decide your needs before you make these decisions. What is the purpose of these beams?

Coffered ceilings and exposed ceiling beams

Consider running beams in a grid for a coffered ceiling. Beams finished with lots of moulding are usually found in formal rooms and homes. The grid creates spaces (the coffer), which become the focal point through the materials used to decorate them. You can create a rustic coffered ceiling with a large, simple grid or earthy materials and colors.

Decorative beams add uniqueness

Added on, decorative beams are boxes that are built and installed. You can customize their size and add light fixtures or not. They will have to be sturdy to hang pots and pans from in a kitchen. In an informal setting, they complement stonework in floors and fireplaces. Steel beams can be installed in a contemporary home. There are many possibilities, and the visual and architectural interest will make your space unique!

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (No Ratings Yet)

Nan Fischer

Nan Fischer has been living and building green for over 35 years. Nan’s emphasis on the BuildDirect blog is about how to make your dollar stretch further, while also moving toward a more sustainable lifestyle, as well as upcoming and existing technology to help us live in an ecologically-friendly way. Nan also authors posts on the website of her seed business, sweetly seeds.