Do Up Diary #72 Vaulted Ceiling Anyone?!

Flat ceilings are all very well and good but there’s something magical about an exposed roof line where the steep pitched sides meet at a high internal peak to create extra volume to the space and a feeling of light and airiness. Think barn conversion, soaring church roof interior, think….. cathedral. If we’re going to be pernickety, a vaulted ceiling follows all the intricacies of a property’s roof line and can have different angles and slopes, whereas cathedral ceilings have balanced, equal slopes and a much more symmetrical design. But in your own house, if you want to call your vaulted ceiling cathedral-like, be my guest 🙂

These ones seen below on Minimalisti show beautifully some of the different residential ways that vaulted ceiling lines work:

Vaulted and cathedral ceilings

Whilst designing ‘normal’ homes for clients over the years – as opposed to these showstopping architectural and busdget busting dream homes – I’ve incorporated this opening-up approach during the renovation process several times to very successful effect. In the Grade 2 listed Georgian ‘Rose Cottage’ below for example, the original low ceiling left the bedrooms feeling poky and dark. Once removed, the client gained storage, exposed beams, chandelier heights and much more attractive rooms.

Another example below at one of our rentals, a gorgeous top floor flat in a Victorian conversion with low 70’s ceilings and a horribly dingy feel. Once removed, the soaring heights gave a unique and glamorous feel, allowing for interesting lighting and quirky spaces. It’s now one of our most popular properties, flying out as soon as it’s advertised… which is rarely!

So I couldn’t very well not consider vaulted ceilings for Moregeous Mansions, could I. In the new extension and loft conversion they’re already part of the design, with a whole plethora of slopes and angles to insulate and board, but they still have relatively low peaks. Just to add an extra challenge to our already year long renovation, I wondered whether a vaulted ceiling would be possible in the master bedroom, this room here:IMG_3806The room is large at 6m by 4m and 2.8m high, and for the last 7 yrs has been incredibly hard to heat, with old plaster on the walls and a bowed, dangerous lath & plaster ceiling too precarious to insulate. The extra weight of the insulation would literally have brought the whole thing crashing down. This ceiling was always going to have to be replaced, in fact it’s a miracle it hadn’t fallen on us as we slept. A part of me felt quite sad at this outcome as I love the patterned wallpaper so much, plus much of the already damaged and loose decorative cornice was clearly going to be lost. The danger of death by ceiling crushing in the middle of the night convinced me of necessity for reparation works however. IMG_3848.JPGThere was much umming and ahhing about whether to reinstate a flat ceiling once the original lath and plaster one was removed, mostly because at 2.8m high the room already has impressive dimensions and radiator heating was planned in this room. It’s the last of the dirty jobs on this challenging renovation and I’ve kept postponing the decision. Here’s why:

The key to vaulted ceiling success is the correct heating and insulation. Most properties in the UK have convection heating, i.e. radiators, and the low flat ceilings of 1920-30’s onwards keep the warm air going up, over and round in circles to heat the rooms. That’s why loft insulation helps keep older houses warm, it stops the heat escaping through ceilings and roofs. And that’s why it so hard to heat older houses with high ceilings (like mine), because all the convected heat rises up to the top meaning us low down humans are chilly whilst the top few feet of the room are boiling hot!

So….. even though they may look spectacular design wise, if you take out the original ceilings much of the heat you buy – and it’s a damned high cost these days in the UK – will rise even higher and only a small percentage ever comes back down. Fine if you’re a zillionaire with a Verbier chalet and enough dosh to heat it or an American with a pitched timber built home and low energy costs, but not so great if you’re an average earner with a UK gas bill.

This issue with convection heating wasn’t a problem with the Grade 2 listed cottage I showed you above as (a) we insulated it so well and (b) it’s so teeny there’s very little cubic meterage of ‘air’ to heat with a traditional boiler and radiators. However keeping the room warm has been an issue at the rental pictured above because even though it’s well insulated with rigid insulation at roof level, the space is much larger and higher. This means a lot of the heat rises and to compound that there’s only electric wall heating which doesn’t throw out as much heat as a boiler / radiator combo. Luckily this property is south facing and very warm in summer, so for the tenant the bills balance out. It is cold in winter though, not doubt about it. In hindsight I’d have put a massive industrial boiler in that building and heated all the flats with UFH, centralising the bills, but that’s a whole other blog post.

Getting back to my master bedroom, the ceiling is already 2.8m high so would take considerable heating to feel toasty in winter even with properly insulated walls and a traditional ceiling. Thus if I didn’t put a ceiling back, there’d be even more heat lost up to the air way above our heads. Fine in summer, but I so deserve a toasty bedroom after all these years of diving into bed in a onesie, ice on the inside of the windows and burning up money using electric blankets!

Given all that we’ve definitely decided on ‘wet’ underfloor heating in the master bedroom, possibly a new type (this post is written in 2014) where rigid panels are laid over the  existing joists instead of between them. The advances in underfloor heating mean we could affordably heat such a big room at lower temperatures and because it’s underfloor heating, it doesn’t matter if we remove the flat ceiling as the first 2m of room height are always warm due to the heat rising from the floor.

This is what we did over Christmas whilst you lot were all scoffing sprouts! Yes, the cornice has to be restored and we lost the swirly original paper (although….. more on that later) but how amazing is this space we’ve created?!

I absolutely love it. I knew it’d look great but even my imagination didn’t stretch to this.


What a mucky job!! Be prepared if you’re going to attempt this:2015-12-31_0003.jpgGawd, now we’ve just got to insulate, board it, light it and decorate it!

There are also structural considerations to taking an original ceiling out as the ceiling joists tie all the roof structure together and you need to ensure the roof doesn’t slide, which is very dangerous. Speak to your builder or building control officer about this as there are ways of tying the purlins to the ceiling rafters.

Addendum – now I want one in the kitchen too, isn’t this one on Apartment Therapy just AMAZING?!CXzBoZhWEAAJRJ8.jpg-large.jpeg

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