Monday, March 8, 2010

Groined vault ceilings


When I first saw the Bishop house, I was immediately riveted to the beautiful ceiling (seen above). The way that the intersecting curves caught the light made the entry quite special. Homeowner Michael Ladisic and architect Linda MacArthur told me the the ceiling was inspired by the vaulted ceiling in the Cathedral of St. Philip; it was in part a tribute to the former owner of the home, the Right Reverend C. Judson Child, Jr., the 7th bishop of the Diocese of Atlanta.


After seeing the groin vault ceiling in the Bishop House, I visited the Cathedral of St. Philip to see first hand where the inspiration for the beautiful ceiling originated. I had never visited this church before, and was truly moved by the architecture that I found both inside and outside the church. This ceiling, a vault ceiling with ribbed arches, is in the vestibule before entering the sanctuary, a small hint of what was to come…


Here is a picture of the sanctuary of the Cathedral of St. Philip in Atlanta; the magnificence of this space is truly awe inspiring. I took this picture when I visited, and it barely captures the beauty of the space. When researching vaulted ceilings for this post, I learned that the ribbed vaults are more commonly used in grand, large spaces – both for the additional beauty that they impart to a ceiling, but also because the ribs add structural support.


According to sources such as wikipedia, the groin vault ceiling, seen here in the Basilica Palladiana in Italy, were more commonly used in smaller spaces, like crypts, hallways, and passageways. This loggia (from the Basilica Palladiana) was designed by Andrea Palladio in the 15th century.


A groin vault is formed by the interestion of two or more domes. There is a rib, called a groin, at this intersection. Being a visual person, I didn’t really get this until I saw a diagram on wikipedia.


This lovely architectural feature has found its way into homes as well. Here is a groined vault ceiling in an entry foyer; the space is truly defined by the ceiling. Many architects say that ceilings are one of the most underutilized architectural design feature in a home (see my post on the the Third Dimension in Architecture and Design), so I always appreciate when there is a ceiling that adds substance and elegance to a space.


One of my first introductions to the groin vault ceiling was through Cote de Texas’ series of posts on a tour of homes that took place in Houston last year. Houston seems to have a love affair with Continental European influences in both architecture and design, and the Provence House is a great example of Houston style. The groin ceiling in the entry really caught my eye. When a groin ceiling is utilized in a home, more often than not there is a lantern placed at the intersecting point, which highlights the space as well providing an opportunity for the interplay of light and shadow. Image via Cote de Texas.


Another home on the Houston tour had groin vaulted ceilings in both the entry and the dining room. The interplay with the arches found throughout the house emphasizes the beautiful arches. This image is from the Octagon house, via Cote de Texas.


This gracious hall has so many beautiful elements, but it is the ceiling and the series of lanterns that makes the space extraordinary. I love how the arched openings are opportunities for beautiful windows and even a fireplace. Image via Katherine Newman Design.


One of the most exclusive estates in Atlanta was on the market recently (it sold in 2009), and Blayne Beacham had the opportunity to photograph the interiors. My favorite feature of the house is the hall with the arched vaults; I love how this feature in the ceiling of a hall serves to draw the eye to the distance. To see more pictures of this magnificent estate, click here.


I saved this picture for the Italian style chandelier, but the ceiling is the architectural element that keeps me coming back to this space. The fanlight over the door brings in great light to the space, and emphasizes the interesting curves of the ceiling.


Another one of my favorite images of a groin vault ceiling used in a hall. In this hall, instead of using lanterns at the intersecting points, up lit sconces create a fantastic lighting effect on the ceiling. Image via Cote de Texas.


Groin vault ceilings also seem to be used effectively in outdoor spaces. Again, as we have seen in many of the previous images, arched doors and openings go hand in hand with this style. I like how the ribs of the vault have been painted in this space, emphasizing the delicate lines of the ceiling with color instead of light.

From one door to the other[1]

An outdoor space with a juxtaposition of the more formal groin vault ceiling, and the casual driftwood style outdoor furniture and chandelier creates a great scene. This is from a house that is currently on the market in Atlanta, photography by Blayne Beacham.

I saved this image from a Bevelo lantern press clippings, and read in the text that the house was designed by Bobby McAlpine. The motor court is on the other side of this wall, and the outdoor hall was create a dramatic and formal feel for the entrance.


This image is from the McAlpine web site; I am not sure whether it is the same house, and it is clearly a different area given that the lanterns are different.


Another small space where I have seen a groin vault ceiling is in the bathroom. It is quite an elaborate treatment for a shower, but certainly unforgettable.


This charming bathroom has the look of a church with its stained glass windows and groined vault ceiling. I definitely see the master bathroom as a sanctuary, so this has great appeal to me!

Looking into vault types, the data gets a bit complex for the purposes of a blog post, but wikipedia has an excellent article on the different types of vaulted ceilings, and their impacts on the architectural history of building design. I also highly recommend the book Pillars of the Earth, one of my all time favorites, about the building of a cathedral in 12th century England. It is a historical novel, based on extensive research of the 12th century and architectural history, and it takes about 100 pages to get into, but once all of the groundwork is laid, it is a page turner.

I think a groin vault ceiling adds quite a bit of style and flair to a home, but of course must be appropriate to the architecture of the home. What do you think about this ceiling style?

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  1. This is a new term for me. I have often admired this look but did not know what it was called. Thanks for sharing these lovely pictures and teaching me something new.

  2. I have always loved this element! In the Cathedral of St. Philip in Atlanta one can't help but glance at the ceiling a good bit of the time while there. These photos are so wonderful, I kept my jaw agape viewing one after the other. Great post, Holly, I loved it!

  3. Thank you, Tina! I have been collecting images for this post for a while now, and got a bit bogged down in the architectural aspect - when I removed this from the post and linked to wikipedia, it all came together.

  4. Those vaulted ceilings make a room look so elegant. I especially like the McAlpine,B&F porches.

    Hope you had a lovely weekend!

  5. Beautiful photos! Thanks for sharing and teaching me something new.

  6. I really enjoyed this post and learned a little more about groin vaulted ceilings. They are so beautiful and to me, very formal. You had some amazing images.

  7. Enchanting.
    Edward gets blessed every October at St. Philips's!

  8. I love it -- I particularly love it when the feature is played up with gorgeous lighting (either pendants or sconces). It's dramatic, special and inspiring.

    And I loved Pillars of the Earth; definitely one of my favorite reads.

  9. This is a super informative post--I've saved it so that I can absorb more a little later. Thanks. Mary

  10. Incredible. Amazing how they even can build ceilings like that (and how they did it w. limited tools in the 15th c., is beyond me).

    My favorite pic is the long hallway w. the uplit sconces. The ceilings are a little bit lower (or so it appears) and the lighting is perfect. Stunning, stunning.

    Holly, yet another fantastic and informative post from you. We are lucky to have you in the blog world!

    ox Mon

  11. Thank you for your post! I have to comment b/c I swear we are design soul mates (except that I am a right-brained attorney w/ no design background whatsoever, so I leave it to the experts). Anyway, we are building a new home too, but in cold Cleveland, and I so enjoy your posts. We love many of the same elements and I have decided to incorporate a lot in my house, and then I see them on your blog. Chevron floors in dining room, check, 2 Rowe farmhouse sinks in kitchen, check, perrin & rowe faucets, check, and groin ceiling (in foyer for us), check! Thank you for giving our new build so much inspiration. I searched to see if you have posted any exterior renderings of your new home but was unable to find any.
    Please continue with the inspirational elements of your new house and I will continue to see how many of my elements match yours! It is my intention to take some of Atlanta and Houston (Cote de Texas) and inspire a new kind of home and design in Cleveland.


  12. Amazing round up...and now I know what to call these stunning ceilings as well! Love the one with the sconces...and that bathroom is unbelievable!

  13. Great post, especially for those who don't know the term. Groin Vault is word I usually see used incorrectly so this is good to put out there! Beautiful images of course.

  14. Thank you for the comments! As mentioned before, I had this one on the back burner for a while because there are so many types of vaulted ceilings - but once I changed the focus to examples that are found in residential settings, it seemed a bit easier to write the post.

    Stefan, I particularly appreciate your comment - when a non-architect attempts to write a post in admiration of a centuries old architectural element, it definitely feels like walking on sacred ground!

  15. I agree that the most important consideration is the home's architecture. I think it works wonders in a pretty hallway. The image with the black arched windows shows how captivating it can be even in a smaller space. Perfect images to explain this feature. Marija

  16. I am so fascinated by the groin vaulted ceiling. Thank you for all of the wonderful examples!!

    Art by Karena

    Follow me home for I am having a great giveaway soon!!

  17. Thanks Holly! I love your new profile picture! yea for groin vaults. I am going out to town tomorrow, but we need to have lunch when I get back :)

  18. Thanks for the education, as I wasn't aware of the term either. You have posted some spectacular images.

  19. Very fine post! There was a great PBS show "Cathedral" that made this point: a lot of cathedrals collapsed in the process of getting the engineering right. If your see a floor plan of a cathedral it will also be a plan of the ceiling ribs or groins.

    Not for the economy minded home owner though.

  20. holly

    your images are gorgeous, the dreamy historical factor of this element is inspiring.

    la ronda in pennsylvania, recently torn down, possessed the most incredible groin ceilings. and you are so correct...it takes a certain home to carry this style.

  21. Thank you for this post. Your shot of the Cathedral of St. Philip is jaw-dropping. My husband travels to Atlanta twice a year and one of these days, I will go with him, and the Cathedral will be one of my destinations. Simply gorgeous..........I, too, read Pillars of the Earth and its sequel, World Without End, is just as riveting. Both a must read.

  22. What lovely examples you selected. The groin vaulted ceiling in the hallway is my favorite too. Great post!


  23. Stunning! The time spent putting together this post is very evident. -Thank you! ~LeAnn

  24. Beautiful images Holly. Hope you are having a grand trip.

  25. I have always been facinated by these too. Especially, while visiting Italy. However, I didn't recall the name of them! Wonderful images...but in the shower...that would be heaven!

  26. Just seeing the images of these ceilings is an infactuating experience. To me they are so glorious and beautiful.
    (Delightful post! THANK YOU.)

  27. Wow, what an amazingly in-depth and educational post. Thank you, Holly! Groin vaulting is one of those subtle architectural accents that can make an ordinary space extraordinary. It also doesn't hurt that they serve a functional purpose as well. :)


  28. Such an informative post! Love it. But I like the ones that are simple and really show off the shape of the ceiling. Like the Mcalpine shots...
    Also- I am a sucker for those Bevelo lanterns... and they look even better against that groin vaulted ceiling!!

  29. Very nice and I learned something new. Thank you. Heidi

  30. I adore vaulted ceilings. Too bad they are so expensive to build!


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