Decorative Ceiling Beams

Sally Painter
White ceiling beams

Once part of the structure of a room, decorative ceiling beams can now be part of any home. From real to faux wood, the beams can add interest in an often neglected area. The powerful design element of a decorative ceiling can transform the entire room, adding warmth and depth.

Ceiling Beams As a Decorating Tool

Traditional ceiling beams are actually wooden joists left exposed across the ceiling rather than boxed in or hidden above a ceiling. You can add decorative non-structural ceiling beams that can be made of wood, plastic, foam, and resin. They are lightweight and available in many textures, some that mimic wood beams. Some faux beams also offer the option to add recessed lighting. Textured beams break up a flat ceiling and add interest to the décor.

Why Homeowners Use Decorative Beams

Decorative beams can be a great way to add some interest to your home. Use them in any of the following scenarios:

  • Extremely high ceilings: Decorative beams bring the scope of the room down a bit while providing interest.
  • Rustic home designs: From farmhouse to Tuscan, a number of home designs can be subtly enhanced by decorative beams added to the ceiling. Choose a textured beam that works with the style of the room to complete the design.
  • Balance: Homes with dark wood trim or dark wood floors benefit by adding a same-colored wood beam or faux wood species. The repetition of the wood finish will help to create a cohesive design.

Four Types of Decorative Beams

From real, solid wood to faux wood designs, there are numerous choices available on the market today. All are available in straight, curved, and lofted appearances, so you can get the design you're after.

Solid Wood

Solid wood beams are the most expensive, as well as the heaviest, but can give the most authentic look. If you have a true farmhouse or other older, rustic style home, real wood beams care a must. You can create a loft effect by install the beams a few feet below the ceiling, depending on ceiling height.

  • Board & Beams Wood Products sell solid wood beams in knotty western red cedar, oak rough sawn, hem fir/spruce rough sawn, cherry, cypress, and greenheart.

  • Elmwood Reclaimed Timber features reclaimed hand hewn and rough sawn solid wood beams.

Box Wood

Box wood beams create stunning ceilings that appear to be solid wood beams. You can also use this decorative feature to hide plumbing, wiring and even speakers. The beam is a hollow three-sided length of wood. If you're a DIYer, you can make simple box wood beams by using thin pieces of textured wood. Just piece them together to form a hollow box. This alternative to solid wood gives an authentic look, without the weight or the price tag. You can also purchase box wood beams and even create a coffered ceiling with them.

  • showcases four styles of real wood box beams: heavy and light hand hewn, barn board, and wire brushed.
  • Southern Woodcraft & Design timber products include box beams that look like solid timbers beams.

Faux Wood

Faux woods come in a variety of materials from vinyl to lightweight foam to fiberboard. They are inexpensive and lightweight, coming in all the colors and textures of real wood. Choose these only if they'll be mounted up close to a high ceiling to avoid scrutiny, particularly if there is real wood near by in the home. However, many faux wood beams are so well-made they are almost impossible to tell they aren't authentic.

  • also offers several high density polyurethane foam beams.
  • Foam Factory presents simulated wood beams that are computer precision cut.

Painted Beams

This technique is specialized and requires a very skilled artist or illustrator who can paint realistic 3-D beams on the ceiling. The technique trompe l'oeil (fool the eye) can be used, especially on high ceilings and might be cheaper than using wood, depending on artist.

Four Room Transformations Using Beams

You can transform any room with the right choice of ceiling beam treatment.

Modern Home Office

Expand your modern home office design with an unexpected exposed ceiling. Make this look like a work of modern art by cutting the ceiling in a zigzag pattern, leaving part of the ceiling intact. Cut away the remaining upper ceiling. Set the beams against the upper ceiling and install to appear as though they continue through the wall. Add a few ceiling lights and you're done.

Modern home office interior

Lowered Living Room Ceiling

Many modern homes have two-storied ceiling heights and can present design challenges. This design uses a visual solution is to install wood beams just underneath the upstairs landing. The beams are notched so they extend above the bottom of the landing to give the visual effect of support. The light pouring in through the wall of windows is filtered and creates a patterned effect throughout the room; a nice design benefit of light and shadows.

Lowered ceiling beams

Fishbone Beam Design

A vaulted ceiling is ideal for a fishbone beam design. This consists of the main beam that runs through the center length of the ceiling where the two sloping ones from the walls meet the roofline. This resembles the spine of the fish with the bones, a.k.a. beams, radiating from the spine along the ceiling slope. The bones end where the ceiling and wall join.

Fishbone ceiling beams

Enhance a Normal Height Ceiling

You can enhance a ceiling that has a normal height by adding thin narrow beams. The beams should be in scale to the height and size of the room so it will appear pleasing and part of the original design plan for the room. Dark beams stand out against a light ceiling color and match the darker color of the lighting fixture.

Normal height ceiling beams

Coordinating Looks and Colors

Decorative ceiling beams aren't for every home. Consider the size of your room and ceiling height before committing to a design. Whenever possible, match the existing color or species of wood trim and floors in the home to create an authentic look. Decorative ceiling beams can be stained, left natural, or painted, depending on the look you desire for your home.

Decorative Ceiling Beams