18 Awe-Inspiring Homes With Barrel-Vaulted Ceilings

While barrel vaulting adds height and drama to any space, the lasting brilliance of the form lies in its simple structure and surprising advantages.

Barrel-vaulted ceilings may be having a moment as of late—but they’ve been around for a long, long time. Arched, adobe-clay ceilings made thousands of years ago still stand in Egyptian tombs; the Romans used intersecting barrel vaults (also known as groin vaults) to support such outsize classics as the Pantheon; and in the third century, Persian architects built the Taq Kasra, a vault soaring 110 feet high and over 80 feet wide.

Medieval and Renaissance architects developed rib vaults and fan vaults to build increasingly ornamented cathedrals, while Spanish architects simplified, perfecting the shallow-arched, thin-tiled Catalan vault. In each of these historical moments, barrel vaulting was used for practical reasons as well as beauty—the form offers structural efficiency, can be made from locally-sourced materials, is often fireproof, and can be constructed at low cost. Modern architects appreciate these advantages, and many see barrel vaulting as a green-building technique. Read on for a look at 18 homes with beautifully executed barrel-vaulted ceilings.

Gracia Renovation by Allaround Lab

There’s architectural treasure hidden under the plaster ceilings of some apartments and buildings in Barcelona in the form of Catalan (or timbrel) vaults. These thin-tiled vaults became popular in postmedieval Spain as a resource-efficient way of creating a wide, strong roof. The bricks were often plastered over, so many of these striking roofs have only recently been rediscovered during renovations. In Gracia, an old Barcelona neighborhood, Allaround Lab chose to emphasize the rosy brick of this apartment’s original barrel-vaulted ceilings. The architect and design firm completely revamped the 800-square-foot space, not only uncovering the original ceilings but installing an unbroken line of custom cabinetry from front to back. The extensive storage allows the owners to minimize clutter and maximize the impact of the soft waves of the textured brick roof.

Built in the early twentieth century, this Barcelona apartment had been renovated and partitioned into small rooms connected by shadowy hallways. In order to modernize the apartment for a family of four, Carles Enrich had to reverse the effects of those intrusive renovations. The team started by "erasing the envelope," stripping the walls, floors, and ceiling of their lackluster finishes, and uncovering the beautiful, shallow-arched Catalan vaults. During construction, the crew managed to save and reuse 90 percent of the existing brick and cement tiles, relocating the latter to create beautiful floor mosaics. They painted the brick of the vaulted ceilings white to focus attention on the floors. 

ZEST architecture was asked to create a spacious, welcoming family home from two Barcelona apartments, one above the other. The brief included the creation of both a dedicated music room, suitable for small concerts of chamber music, and a library and study. When the team discovered that the building had been a factory, and that underneath the modern finishes and false ceilings the skeleton of the old vaulted structure still existed, they stripped the apartments from head to toe, embracing the height of the original spaces. Again, the Catalan-vaulted ceilings were painted white, calling attention to the pretty wave pattern of the arches rather than the texture and color of the natural brick.

Situated in a small forest clearing near the Kattegat seashore in Denmark, Vibo Tværveh interprets a barrel-vault structure through traditional Danish cabin and barn architecture. The team topped the tube-shaped structure with industrial steel plates, and they clad the majority of the interior in pine. "We wanted the smell, sound, and atmosphere of the residence to embody a traditional cabin," says architect Stefan Valbæk. He describes the long, barrel shape of the house as "simple, yet notable," and says that inside, the high ceiling and "distinctive rhythm" of the arched steel beams create "an extraordinary spatial atmosphere" with "views to the treetops and the sky." 

British Architect Richard Hawkes is known for his sustainable designs, and he built his family home in the Kent countryside to strict environmental standards. The resulting Crossway House is among the UK’s first homes to meet Passivhaus specifications, and it features a wide, barrel-vaulted roof. Hawkes appreciated the barrel construction for the classic reasons. It incorporates tiles made from local Kentish clay—not only minimizing fossil fuel waste, but giving the home a strong sense of place. Second, Hawkes says the timbrel vaulting technique of gluing the first layer of tiles together using quick-drying plaster is "brilliant" in that it does not require extensive guide work structure, thus minimizing the quantity of material required to do the job. "I will never tire from the joy of knowing what it is this scarily thin parabolic arch is doing," he says. 

When architect Fernanda Canales decided to create a vacation home for her family on a secluded plateau in Valle de Bravo, Mexico, she knew that the remote location and temperamental weather would be a challenge. To ensure the house could be self-sustaining, she chose to use barrel vaults for protection and utility. Their large, open ends provide access to natural lighting and cross ventilation to minimize energy demands for the home, which does not have any mechanical heating or cooling. Electricity and hot water are powered by solar panels on the roof, while the barrel shape helps funnel rainwater into a 26,000-gallon underground cistern. 

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 sited around a single oak tree. As neighbors are 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. 

In China’s Fujian Province, Beijing-based Vector Architects employed barrel vaulting to provide protection from extreme weather. The ocean and rain had caused erosion and water seepage, dooming the original building’s structural integrity. Vector Architects stepped in with a solution—a 4.72-inch-thick wall of concrete arching over the top and sides of the home’s existing brick masonry. This allowed for a reconfiguration of the interior spaces, so living areas and the master bedroom could be situated on the sea-facing side for an abundance of natural light, the best views, and better ventilation. The new, structurally sound walls allowed the team freedom to design creative and modern interior spaces. 

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 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 original home and the adjacent properties, a Victorian terrace house in Northeast England is updated with an addition that puts a gently modern spin on 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 fused seamlessly with the existing home and neighborhood. The perfect solution, an arched, load-bearing roof, provides plenty of personality and light.

In its simplest and most natural form, the barrel vault might be a cave. Here, Beijing-based hyperSity Architects took a traditional cave dwelling and transformed it into a chic and modern rammed-earth residence using locally sourced materials. A cave has the environmental advantage of being warm in winter and cool in summer, and hyperSity brightened the dark stone interior by inserting a striking, glass-enclosed cylindrical skylight. The arched barrel of the old cave is a repeating motif in the new front buildings and courtyards. 

Created by Mexico City–based architects Ambrosi | Etchegaray from recycled materials, this lush retreat was inspired by Italianate vaulted ceilings. A short path weaves through the unspoiled landscape, evoking ideas of ancient ruins as views of the structure disappear, then reappear again. With a tight construction schedule, the firm's solution included reusing burned bricks from a local art studio, Casa Wabi, to create the barrel-vaulted roofs. Inside, exposed brick adds depth to the rounded ceilings, while reed latticework encloses the roof to allow for easy circulation of fresh, warm air.

Italian designer and architect Ettore Sottsass designed this Woodside, California, estate 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 connected pavilions, each maintaining their own unique shape, color, and material. Among these, the single-room office boasts an 18-foot barrel-vaulted ceiling. Painted a blue that falls somewhere between the imagination-provoking azure of the sky and the protective brightness of a "haint blue" southern porch, the arched space appears bigger than its square footage—the perfect spot to hatch Silicon Valley’s next big idea. 

Designed by Marià Castelló Architecture, Es Pou is a home for a young couple that live full time on the Mediterranean island of Formentera. The firm brought the warm colors of the surrounding oat and wheat fields inside by way of pressed terra-cotta tiles on the floors and Catalan boveda ceiling arches. In keeping with the project’s hyperlocal intent, the firm sourced simple rattan and wood furniture from Formentera artisans.

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 Tashkovich’s final completed works, the Pound Ridge Residence 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. 

The basic barrel vault exerts an outward thrust requiring thick exterior walls or buttressing. That isn’t the case in the groin vault, introduced by the Romans and expanded in a variety of forms throughout the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Acclaimed Italian designers Ludovica+Roberto Palomba, a husband-and-wife team, fell for the "stellar vault" ceilings in a 17th century oil mill in a small Italian village. They kept the ancient stone floors, walls, and arches intact, making their mark by showcasing their own designs, like the one-off version of their Lama chaise lounge, originally designed for Zanotta, which graces the living room. To counter what had been a dark and soot-blackened space, the couple whitewashed the ceilings and walls and installed skylights and a wall of glass.

The gaze-lifting curve of a barrel vault has long been an element of church buildings. In a historic neighborhood in Barcelona, Estudio VilaBlanche renovated an apartment that included a 19th-century cloister with beautiful "cloister vaults" (dome-shaped vaults similar to groin vaults). The team restored and rehabilitated the original columns and vaults, leaving hand-carved stone details exposed, such as the horizontal belt courses, the columns, and the imposts for the vaults. The minimalist, Nordic design of the interior—with light wood floors and simple, contemporary furnishings—offers a neutral backdrop as well as a stylish contrast to the heavy stone vaulting.

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