12 Barrel-Vaulted Ceilings That Make for Breezy Homes

12 Barrel-Vaulted Ceilings That Make for Breezy Homes

By Jen Woo
Barrel-vaulted ceilings lend height and light to these charming spaces.

The barrel vault—also called a tunnel vault or wagon vault—is an arched, half cylindrical vault dating back to ancient Egypt, though it was the Persians and Romans that popularized the architectural from. Seen in an array of structures from monasteries to castles, cellars to cloisters, the technique was likely developed in response to building with materials like stone and brick when timber was scarce. Now, the style is adored for expanding space and allowing light to filter in. Here are 12 examples of beautifully executed barrel-vaulted ceilings that impart a sense of loftiness. 

Casa Terreno by Fernanda Canales

When designing her weekend getaway in Valle de Bravo, Mexico, architect Fernanda Canales knew the remote nature of the plateau and erratic weather conditions would prove tricky. In addition to withstanding the harsh climate, the house would need to also be self-sufficient. To embrace the beauty of the landscape while being open to sun exposure, the home wraps around four courtyards. Brick and concrete with high thermal mass create the foundation; its red hue and rough texture are juxtaposed against smooth concrete and wood inside. A unique facet to the home are the arches in the roofline—barrel-vaulted ceilings span the family room and all the bedrooms. 

This 720-square-foot apartment in Barcelona was renovated and opened up by Nook Architects. Key to the design are the original barrel-vaulted ceilings, which are mimicked in the mixed-use gallery in the front. What was once a central hallway dividing multiple rooms—typical of older apartments—became a new common space that flows into the gallery. Materials were also limited exclusively to those already present in the space—namely, wood, ceramic, and marble. A canopy of original terra-cotta tiles line the barrel-vaulted ceilings, and a minimal aesthetic ties it all together. 

This urban home comprises a series of buildings that frame internal courtyards, and the entire property is cited around a single oak as the centerpiece. As neighbors were in close proximity, the goal was to create a sense of privacy while also making the space feel larger. To achieve this, the home extends to the outer edges of three sides in a U-shaped garden wall, encompassing the trees, pool, and main living quarters. On the east side of the lot is a wooded area. Adding an industrial touch is the concrete, barrel-vaulted ceiling in the kitchen. 

Seeking to add a third level to his home in China’s Fujian Province, a sea captain was deterred due to the toll his property had taken from the coastal climate. The ocean and rain had caused erosion and water seepage, dooming the building’s structural integrity. Beijing-based Vector Architects stepped in with a solution—a 4.72 inch-thick layer of concrete wall that would be added to the home’s existing brick masonry. This allowed for a reconfiguration of the interior spaces, so living areas and the master bedroom would be situated on the sea-facing side for an abundance of natural light, the best views, and better ventilation. 

Architect Benedetta Tagliabue was intrigued by the crumbling homes in her neighborhood in Barcelona and took to sprucing up an 18th-century flat. What makes her space unique are the countless period details that were not restored, but rather left to breathe as is and continue as is in their deteriorating state, adding character to the home. However, the walls were slowly peeled away, revealing a number of significant elements like a Gothic capital with an angel, and a frieze of vivid 18th-century decorative murals—with the original sketches for them on the wall of the adjacent room. Immersed in natural light, the rooms form a circular layout around a central patio. Diagonally placed rectangular patches of tined cement tile accentuate the effect, reflecting the sun’s rays. In the pool house, a shallow lap pool and wood burning fireplace present an urban oasis under ceramic, barrel-vaulted ceilings.

Inspired by the textured brick in the adjacent properties in the neighborhood, a Victorian terrace house in Northeast England is updated with an addition that mirrors the surrounding architecture. Using the same local, handmade brick already in the home, Studio Ben Allen set out to convert the rear of the house into an airy work, dining, and storage space that fused seamlessly with the existing home. However, the addition also received a distinguishing characteristic—an arched, load-bearing roof.

A traditional, Chinese cave dwelling in the east-central area of the Shaanxi region was transformed by Beijing-based architecture firm hyperSity into a sleek, modern residence. The original property held a large barrel-vaulted volume as well as three smaller properties on a front courtyard. While the original structure was in a state of disrepair, they maintained the original ideals with arched ceilings and rammed earth to reflect the local building customs. Clay and sand from neighboring mountains were used to cut down on costs, which offered support for the cave, while helping to regulate the home’s temperature. 

Created by Mexico City–based architects Ambrosi | Etchegaray from recycled materials, this lush retreat was inspired by Italianate vaulted ceilings. Upon arrival, visitors can see only three barrel-vaulted roofs amid a dense canopy of foliage. Inside, exposed bricks add depth to the rounded ceilings, while reed latticework encloses the roof to allow for easy circulation of fresh, warm air.

Designed by Italian designer and architect Ettore Sottsass, this Silicon Valley manse was created for David Kelley, founder and chairman of global design consultancy IDEO and the Stanford d.school. The 6,000-square-foot home consists of six connection pavilions, each maintaining their own unique shape, color, and material. Holding together four of the six is a glass atrium—Sottsass didn’t believe in hallways, and thus formed a flexible collection of linked spaces. As the city capped the total square footage, Sottsass brought outdoor terraces into the home, fusing the transition with the atrium. In the office, an 18-foot barrel-vaulted ceiling sits overhead as an architectural metaphor for inspiration. 

This modernist estate, designed by the late architect and builder and I.M. Pei protégé Vuko Tashkovich, plays off geometric forms to maximize light. One of his final completed works, the Pound Ridge Residence, one of several in New York, is a grand property created for William Rubin, the former curator of paintings and sculptures at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). Tashkovich’s original design was expanded by Rubin and his wife, curator Phyllis Hattis, to include additional space to display their art collection. Seen here is the indoor saltwater pool with spa and sauna. 

When husband and wife duo Ludovica Serafini and Roberto Palomba were planning their vacation home, they fell in love with an old mill dating back to the 17th century in Sogliano Cavour, a small village in the province of Lecce. Keeping the ancient stone floors, walls, and arches intact, they made their own mark on the space by showcasing their own designs like the one-off version of their Lama chaise longue, originally designed for Zanotta, which graces the living room. There are also feature pieces made specifically for the abode including all the fixtures, doors, and iron lamps commissioned from local makers.  

Tucked in a historic neighborhood in Barcelona are cloisters dating back to the 19th century amid a large courtyard and small gazebo by Antoni Gaudí. For the last 20 years, the space housed a fabrics warehouse before becoming a residence. The original architectural and structural elements of value were restored and rehabilitated. A number of facets were left exposed including hand-carved stone details, horizontal belt courses, columns, and imposts for the vaults. The interiors were defined by a minimalist, Nordic style with contemporary nods in furnishings. 


Get the Dwell Newsletter

Be the first to see our latest home tours, design news, and more.