Tray Vs. Coffered Ceilings (Pros & Cons)

Last Updated on October 9, 2022 by Barry Gray

I recently decided to renovate my living room. I wanted to create a cozy space that would draw attention to the ceiling. Unfortunately, with so many different ideas going through my mind, I got stuck between tray and coffered ceilings. So I asked a friend who is an interior designer to help me make the best choice for my space, tray vs. coffered ceiling.

Tray ceilings only have the main framework raised. There are no smaller squares, rectangles, or octagons in the frame. Coffered ceilings are divided into smaller rectangles, squares, or octagons using a framework of raised beams. Individual rectangles or squares look like they are sinking upward. 

Because I was undecided between a tray and a coffered ceiling, I thought I would do more research on the differences, benefits, and disadvantages of having these beautiful and elegant ceilings. In this post, I will be sharing what I found and the expert advice I got from my friend, an interior designer.

Tray Ceilings 

Tray ceilings are usually lumped in with coffered ceilings but are not the same despite their similarities. A tray ceiling is a single flat area with raised side beams or frames that mimic the room’s shape. Essentially a tray ceiling has only one “coffer” that makes the interior of the ceiling look like it’s sinking upward.

Tray ceilings are also called receding or inverted ceilings, and they can add dimension and elegance to a room with a flat, unflattering ceiling. When you add tray ceilings to your home, it draws the eye upward as the inverted look gives a three-dimensional effect to the room, making it feel cozier.

Basics Of A Tray Ceiling

Usually, the shape of the tray ceiling follows the room’s build using the drop-down borders. The interior space of the tray ceiling can be between an inch and a foot deep, depending on the effects the homeowner wanted and how high the ceiling is. 

Tray ceilings are usually square or rectangle because most homes are built in that way. There are no rules that state the tray has to be a specific shape. It can be oval-shaped, round-shaped, or just about any shape you can think of.  

The Benefits Of Tray Ceilings 

Tray ceilings look fantastic, and with the right kind of lighting and decorating, they can be a bonus to any room. Here are a few advantages to installing tray ceilings in your home.

Tray Ceilings Can Be Functional

  • Tray ceilings can be functional and not just beautiful to look at. Before central heating, homeowners used tray ceilings to hide air vents. The vents usually run along one side of the wall creating a bulk header on this one side. So the builders used tray ceilings to disguise the bulk header. 
  • However, one of the main functions tray ceilings offers in modern times is that you can use them to hide the wiring and plumbing. So if you have a home where there is no other way to hide the wiring, it is a great option.
  • If you have high ceilings and want the room to look homey, not flat and cold, you can use tray ceilings to hide ambient lighting fixtures. Many homeowners use led strips these days because it gives a lot of light and is more cost-effective. 

Tray Ceilings Is Timeless

Besides the functionality, tray ceilings are timeless. They can be added to modern homes, and historical buildings and match a mixture of architectural designs and styles. In addition, you can use tray ceilings to create the illusion of a higher ceiling. 

Tray Ceilings Add Value

According to leading experts, adding tray ceilings to your home can become an investment. That is because it can add value to your home. So if you decide to sell your home, the tray ceilings will help you get more money for the house.

The Disadvantages Of Tray Ceilings

tray ceiling

While tray ceilings can be an excellent investment, there are disadvantages to having them in your home.

Tray Ceilings Can Cause A Headroom Issue

One of the disadvantages of installing tray ceilings is that it takes away some of their headroom. So if your home’s ceilings are average in height, it will make the room seem smaller and make some people feel claustrophobic.

It Can Impact The Cupboard Space

If you were to use tray ceilings in a room that requires cupboards like a bathroom, kitchen, or laundry room, the consequences are you would have limited cupboard space. That means the tray ceilings will take away some vital storage room. 

It Can Be Hard To Maintain

One of the last disadvantages of installing tray ceilings is that it is harder to paint and maintain. The corners are a haven for spiders, and you must clean them regularly. So you might need a ladder to clean and maintain the ceiling. Also, if you need to make repairs, you might have difficulty repairing and painting in hard-to-reach places.

Coffered Ceilings

Coffered ceilings have a framework of raised beams the same as tray ceilings, but the inner space is divided into smaller squares, octagons, or rectangles. The respective areas also have raised beams making the spaces inside these areas look like it’s sinking upward. 

Coffered ceilings were initially made from stone when constructing buildings with high ceilings. However, many buildings were made from one solid stone piece, and coffered ceilings helped lighten the roof’s weight, making it more stable. 

In addition, the coffered ceilings added more dimension and created the illusion that the ceilings were lower and not that intimidating and cold-looking.

The modern-day application of coffered ceilings helps to give a room with high ceilings the illusion of a smaller space. You must remember that coffered ceilings are a bold design but look best when you use them sparingly. It can become intimidating if you use this kind of ceiling throughout your home.

The Basics Of Coffered Ceilings

Coffered ceilings give the home an “old world” look and can be used as a design element in a home that doesn’t allow for too much decorating on walls. If you paint or use a different kind of wallpaper on the beams than the panels’ interior, it draws the eye upward and makes the entire room stand out. 

The Advantages Of Coffered Ceilings

coffered ceiling

There is more to using coffered ceilings than just for decorating. Coffered ceilings are also helpful and can have a few advantages. 

It Can Create More Or Less Space Illusions

Despite creating the illusion of a smaller space, you can also use paint in different colors to create the look of added space in a smaller room. Likewise, keeping the walls bare and focusing all the decorative energy on the ceiling will give the illusion of a bigger space.

It Can Be Sound Dampening

One of the significant advantages of coffered ceilings is their sound dampening effects. The added indents create pockets that absorb any sounds coming from inside. It eliminates echoes while still dampening any noise coming from outside the room. 

So you get the benefit of not hearing outside noise, and people in other rooms won’t hear any noise from inside the room. It’s one reason coffered ceilings homeowners in the old days favored in the ballrooms of many homes, so the noise of parties stayed inside the ballroom and did not disturb the rest of the household or the neighbors.

It Can Add Value

Installing coffered ceilings can be a significant advantage and investment. According to leading experts, having coffered ceilings will add value to your home because of the sound dampening effects and the design advantages you have with coffered ceilings. 

If you should sell your house, you will be able to sell your home for more than you would if you didn’t have coffered ceilings. 

It Can Help Hide Wires

Because the basic structure of coffered ceilings is the same as tray ceilings, you can use the border framework and the internal borders to hide unsightly plumbing or wiring. You can also add ambient lighting to the outside framework or light up a few edges inside the frames to create a central lighting feature.

The Design Is An Art Piece

If you have walls that have tiles or are not suited for art or decoration, you can use a coffered ceiling to add dimension and elegance to the room. You can paint the borders and interior different colors, making a bold statement. You can even put a picture in one or two interior spaces.

Lowers Heating Bills

As far-fetched as it might sound, if you use coffered ceilings to make a high ceiling look lower and create a cozy atmosphere, you will also save a little on your heating bill. The lowered coffers allow warm air to stay trapped longer than it usually would, meaning it will take less time to warm up the room and keep the warmth in, helping you save on the heating bill.

The Disadvantages Of Coffered Ceilings

As with most types of ceilings, coffered ceilings have a few disadvantages you need to be aware of before making your final decision. 

It Can Be Costly

As much as we like DIY projects, correctly installing coffered ceilings requires you to hire professionals for installation. The work requires a skilled carpenter to get the finished look you need. Unfortunately, it is costly to hire professionals to install a coffered ceiling. 

You do get do-it-yourself kits, but most of these kits cost a pretty penny and are not convincing to the naked eye. They look cheap and won’t add value to your property or the room’s overall appearance. 

They Are Limited In Usefulness

Even though you can hide plumbing or wiring in the beams and add lighting, the actual functionality of coffered ceilings is limited. To pay so much money for a ceiling that only looks nice but is not functional might not be worth it to some people. 

The Illusion Could Backfire 

The last drawback to installing a coffered ceiling is that while the indents and raised framework help create the illusion of added space, it can have the opposite effect if used in a room where the natural lighting is not optimal or in rooms with lower ceilings. It will create the illusion of a smaller, more cramped smaller space. 

Considerations Before Installing Tray Or Coffered Ceilings

Before you jump on the idea of tray or coffered ceilings, there are a few factors you need to consider:

  • Do you want functional ceilings or just decorative? If you don’t want practical coffered or tray ceilings, it can cause issues. For example, some people want deep recesses, but they don’t have any load-bearing capacity, so you will need extra support beams.
  • How high are your ceilings? Coffered and tray ceilings work best in rooms that have high ceilings. However, their ability to make a high ceiling seem lower might cause a problem if you have ceilings less than 9 feet tall.
  • How much do you want to spend? While you can install tray and coffered ceilings in a DIY project, experts sternly advise against it. It can be dangerous if improperly installed, so you will need to hire experts to do it, which is costly.
  • Can you plan? Whether it’s a DIY project or hiring professionals to install the tray or coffered ceiling, it starts with planning. First, you need to choose how far down you want the recesses to go, the shapes of the coffers, and how many, to name a few. 


If you consider installing a tray or coffered ceiling in one of the rooms in your home, you will be pleased with the result. Most of the time, people add these ceilings for decorative purposes, but they do have a few practical uses like sound dampening, creating illusions of more or less space, and they can hide unsightly wires or plumbing.

I chose a tray ceiling as our home did not have dramatically high ceilings, and I needed a place to hide all the wires and ambient lighting. The living room looks elegant, and I am delighted with its appearance.

Photo of author

Barry Gray

Hi, I’m Barry. I’ve loved woodworking and bringing things back to life for more years than I care to remember. I hope my passion for tools comes across loud and clear in everything you read here on The Tool Square.