Hardwood Ceilings: An Easy Guide

Over the last few years, interior design trend setters have been, in the famous words of 80’s pop star Lionel Richie, “dancing on the ceiling.” No longer resigned to being a blank, flat white surface, the ceiling’s new role is that of the “fifth wall.” And one of the most popular adornments for that “wall” is none other than hardwood.

You read that right! The same material you put beneath your feet is now above your heads.

We’ve culled every need-to-know detail from the experts for this easy guide to joining the wood ceiling fan club:

Why hardwood?

Beyond the added aesthetic value, wood ceilings have numerous advantages:

  • Excellent thermal and sound insulator
  • Huge variety of woods to choose from
  • Breathable, durable, structurally sound
  • Makes a bold, yet sophisticated statement
  • Plays with light in a way that paint can’t
  • Hides wires, pipes, or other ceiling imperfections

How much does it cost to install a wood ceiling?

The main factor contributing to the overall cost is the type of wood and complexity of design, with the low end at $400 to the high end at $4000. Here are some popular wood species from most to least expensive: (*Average prices)

  • Rare exotic wood, e.g. ziricote and ebony: $50-$80 per individual board
  • First-tier natural wood, including certain species of pine, bamboo, cedar, spruce, cypress, oak, walnut, mahogany, teak, and on: $7-$30 per board
  • Second-tier natural wood, such as beech, birch, ash, poplar: $3-$7 per board
  • “Faux” wood: Made from high-density polyurethane with a closed cell structure. Comes in hundreds of realistic styles, grains, textures, from rough-hewn to sandblasted, yellow cedar to dark maple, and on. $1-$10 per board

How long does it take to install a wood ceiling?

The time allotted for a complete, wood ceiling renovation ranges between a few days to a week, depending on these factors:

  • I.Y. project versus professional: Doing it yourself will usually take longer, but will also cost one-half the price.
  • Whether you’re planning to stain, paint, distress, or texturize the wood versus installing the boards as is
  • Electrical issues: All existing ceiling fixtures and lighting should be removed by a licensed electrician. Also, recessed lighting and fans may require relocation or retrofit mounting.
  • Pre-existing treatment: You may choose to scrape off popcorn or starfish ceilings before installing the wood. Note, homes built before 1979 might have asbestos in the popcorn. Don’t neglect to have the paint tested.
  • Whether it’s necessary to install drywall or Visqueen over an unfinished ceiling

What are the top FIVE wood ceiling styles?


Catch-all term for flat, thin beams laid vertically in a tongue-and-groove (“machimbre”) fashion. Topping the 2016 plank ceiling trends are:  

  • Blonde wood: Planks whitewashed or limestone-treated to achieve a light, airy, and expansive feel. Region: French Provence, Scandinavian, Nordic
  • Bead board: In between each plank is a little indentation or ridge called a “bead.” Achieves a farmhouse chic statement; easy to install as it comes in whole sheets.
  • Shiplap: Like bead board, only planks overlap and fit together with a rabbet joint. Signature of coastal designs

Pre-packaged, V-groove, economy plank panels are available at any hardware store, and come in a wide variety of wood grains to suit your individual budget: Cedar, knotty pine, eucalyptus, barn wood, faux wood, Thermowood, and on. Paint and stain away!

Note: Do not pre-stain very thin wood grains, as they are prone to cracking and breaking during installation and will need to be exchanged.

Exposed Beams

The easiest way to achieve the rustic charm of old Colonial ranch homes. Here, as well, the market for faux wood beams provides a budget-friendly alternative to the more expensive natural wood structures. Place them perpendicular or across an existing plank surface.


Also known as salvaged wood; hand-hewn heavy timbers like oak, cherry, walnut. Prized for its ability to tell a “story,” as it’s often reclaimed from old churches, barns, schools, docks, et al, and proudly wear the marks of age and time with embedded nails, bolt holes, knots, saw marks, chips and on.

It’s highly recommended to buy this wood from a local salvage store, as the staff has already sorted, fumigated, and treated the wood worthy of reuse.

Coffered (a.k.a. “Caisson,” “Lacunaria,” and “box beam”)

Derived from the Greek word kophinos meaning “hollowed container.” A coffered ceiling contains a series of sunken panels, each framed individually to form a kind of comic-strip like grid. Think: the 9 painted Frescoes of the Sistine Chapel.

Coffers are usually formed with acoustic wood beams and crown moldings as edges, overlaying plank wood panels.


The possibilities for creating a multi-dimensional, mixed-media wood ceiling are out of this world. Here are some of the more visionary ideas we’ve seen:

  • Laying wood beams not vertically or horizontally, but in bold geometric patterns like herringbone, zigzags, angles, and fans
  • Three-dimensional wood sculpted ceilings
  • Bamboo poles versus planks to achieve a thatched roof look
  • Netted, nested and latticed wood overlays
  • Bold, contemporary look from wide, rectangular plywood sheets
  • Board and Batten: Wood laths overlapped with solid wood strips (battens) and boards to achieve the look of individually framed panels.

It’s time to take your ceilings up a few notches with a timeless, wood texture.

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