Survey of ceiling types and materials

Material Information

Survey of ceiling types and materials
Currais, Jorge L.
Place of Publication:
Gainesville, Fla.
Jorge L. Currais
Publication Date:

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Source Institution:
University of Florida
Holding Location:
University of Florida
Rights Management:
All rights reserved by the source institution.

Full Text





JUNE 9, 1975



This project is a survey of the ceiling types and the materials

used for ceiling construction. I have tried to emphasize the types

found in America and the direct precedents to American ceiling types.

The project is divided into 5 sections: ancient ceilings, medieval

ceilings, open ceilings which are those with exposed framing members,

closed ceilings divided by materials: plaster, boarded, glass, and

concrete, and miscellaneous ceilings types found that were not very

common. A slide list and bibliography are also included in this report.




Ehe only Egyptian architecture known to us today relates to

the ancient palaces and temples. The roofs were mostly made of flat

stone slabs. Any type of vaulting was used only in smaller passages.

The interior walls and ceilings were finished with smooth plaster and

were decorated with bold colors. The plaster used by the Egyptians was

basically made of lime. It was originally used for weather-proofing

over wattle & daub construction, and was probably similar to the "parge"

made in England in the late sixteenth century.JThe favorite decoration

used by the Egyptians was the oath of the sun's daily flight. Represen-

tations of the signs of the zodiac were also popular. All decorations

were done flat on the walls and ceilings, with no sculpture at all. Other

simple geometric patterns reflecting water symbols and reed matting were

very common. The colors employed most often were yellow, white, green,

and red. The Egyptians had painted cornices just below the ceiling level.

These borders were decorated with lotus and papyrus buds and blooms.


The Babylonians usually constructed long and narrow rooms with

vaulted ceilings. These were finished with a line and hair stucco and

painted with vivid colors. The favorite decorations were radiating geo-

metric patterns, fan-shaped designs of leaves, and pine cones. The ceilings

and roofs often had a round opening to light up the rooms, since the

Babylonians did not build windows,


Again, as with the Egyptians, knowledge of the architectural

treatment of ceilings is based on the temples. The roofs were constructed

\ of slabs of marble, played flat or slightly sloped, supported by large

timber rafters. These rafters and beams were either left bare or moulded

and painted. The underside of the slabs could also be decorated with

gilt or paint. The colors most often used for decorations were reds and

blues. The practice of encrusting colored glass in the slabs and beams

was used to heighten the "jewel" effect of their temples. Other materials,

such as ivory, ebony, and bronze were used in the decoration of the ceilings

and beams.J

The designs most often used for decorating the marble slabs were ros-

ettes, scrolls, and geometric patterns of narrow bands. Tempera was the

medium used. The Greeks rarely used it in frescos; most often, the designs

were done "a secco" or in "distemper". The tennera pigments were held

together by a diluent the yolk and white of an egg mixed with wine or

wine and water.

/'--t The Greeks were responsible for the first use of plaster sculpturing

in their cornices and friezes. The stucco used for this purpose was made

from a fine marble dust. All stucco work was done by first drawing the

design in wet plaster. Then, more plaster was added and worked, until

the necessary amount of relief was achieved. The plaster became as hard

as stone when dry and could be used for interior and exterior decorations.

Ceiling decorations in plaster were rarely used.


Private house and temple ceiling decorations in ancient Rome

were very similar. In the private house, the ceiling could be of wood,

stone, or brick. It was usually divided into rows of deeply sunk panels

or coffers, similar to the types developed in Greece. Unlike their pre-

decessors, the Romans lined their ceilings with plaster in which powdered

marble was the base. In the temples, the ceilings were also of the coffered

type derived from the Greeks. The ceilings were enriched with decorated

tiles of marble, or inlaid with ivory and ebony. Bronze, gold, and other

metals were also used. In later years, the dome became the prevailing

feature. The ornamentation of domes and barrel-vaults was, similar to the

flat or Ditched roofs. The coffers were used frequently, mosaics became

popular after the sixth century, and, of course, painting flat on stucco

ceilings was found.

----The Romans had three methods of painting on ceilings: water-colors,

which produced a very light and pastellish design, frescos, tempera with

an egR and wine diluent painted on wet plaster, and finally, the use of

dry pigments in melted wax. The hot wax was applied on to half-set plaster

Producing a very lasting decoration, and one with brilliant colors and


The Romans used plaster for sculpturing their ceilings, friezes, and

cornices. The plaster for decoration had a marble base and a very trans-

lucent quality. The color was pure white. All modeling was done directly,

as in Greece. The plaster set very slowly and dried hard and smooth.

Blank spaces were held in horror by the Romans. Every inch of space

was highly decorated or painted masks, shells, eagles, scrolls, corn-

icopias, and grotesques accompanied by the traditional rope and ribbon

tracery, flowers and leaves. The use of recessed or hidden light sources

called hypaethral openings were used in Rome. These openings were placed

to allow light in through areas as if it was actually shining through the

marble slabs or stones.

E. BYZANTINE EMPIRE (334 A.D. to 1000 A.D.)
---* The Byzantine ceiling decorations combined elements of Greek,

Roman, and Asiatic art with Christian sentiment. Most ceilings were flat

timbered construction or round vaults with low pendentives. There was

little or no carving in the wood construction. Most decoration was done

by painting or mosaics of marble and glass. These designs sometimes covered

entire ceilings, or were used in bands and panels. Floral tracery and geo-

metric bands were the favorite designs. These bands and patterns were

found under arches and even in columns with a spiraling band design, Most

colors were primary and secondary with a great use of gold and bronze.

The use of human figures and animals in their decorations is

rare except as prominent symbols such as God, Jesus, and saints. The "pic-

tures" were always set in panels or medallions in the overall scheme. They

had no perspective, but were flat and angular. The colors were vivid and

the background was usually of gold. The Byzantine had great influence on

the decorations of the Greek and Russian Orthodox churches and also in



II. CEILINGS of the MIDDLE AGES (1000 1400 A.D.)

--sThe style of architecture known as Romanesque dominated most of

Europe during the early years of the Middle Ages. This was a style of

heavy walls, round headed windows, dorrways, and arches, and simple barrel-

vaults of masonry or timber.The decorations of these ceilings were quite

limited, being confined to the painting or sculpturing of the arches. What

is important is that the Romanesque style was a step away from the "class-

ical" type of architecture. It was a new and free expression which led

to the Gothic.
--'MNedieval architecture was European, but after the twelfth century,

it emanated mainly from France, and came to be called Gothid. The archi-

tecture flourished in five provinces: Brittany, Normandy, Aquitaine,

Provence, and the central domain Ile de France, since, technically there

was no such thing as France at that time. It was the latter that became

a casket for the style known as Gothic. As it moved to the rest of Europe,

each country set its own stamp uoon this Gothic architecture, though essen-

tially each is only a local variant of the great structural theme evolved

by the builders of Chartres.

Gothic architecture must be seen as a product of the caste system

in which the churches built Abbeys, Cathedrals, and churches; the aristoc-

racy built castles and manors; and the merchants and guilds built the

towns. The e of mind was moulded by the forest and country side, and

this led to a pointed style of architecture, both inside and out. The lines

end upward, more or less, in sweeping lines and curves The emotional

appeal of Gothic structure was that the architectural elements became the

decorative motif. Function, structure, and decoration were dependent on

each other. The Gothic was a carved architecture the carving reduced

weight and added to the decorative nature by expressing lines of force.

The key features of the Gothic treatment of ceilings were the

pointed arch, the vaulting rib, and the moulding. The pointed arch made

Possible a multiplicity of vaulting ribs; all sprang from one shaft, all

could be of different curvature, and all could rise to the same height.

The technical advantages of the pointed arch were tremendous, yet ribbing

and the arch were confined to large cathedrals or manor halls, open timber

work and revealing frame work characterized the domestic architecture.


-y in central France alone, nine cathedrals were constructed from
1140 to 1288. Amonp them were Chartres, Amiens, Rheims, and Bourges. Most

were common in the broad, cruciform plans, the large, cavernous entrances

and doors, and most were never finished externally.JChartres, for instance,

was designed to carry nine towers two in the front, two on each tran-

sept, two flanking the apse, and one at the central crossing. Internally,

all present a three story arrangement the nave arcade, the triforium,

and the clerestory, from that level spring the ribbed vaults. As we moved

into the thirteenth century, there was a great increase in height in the


---TThe decorations of the Gothic ceilings comes from the multiplicity

of delicate ioulded ribs forming a patterned roof. At first, the placement

of the ribs was only due to a functional reason, but during the late Gothic,

masons so mastered the vault that they could use ribs merely in a decora-

tive pattern. The delicate column carving usually merged with the ribs

which branched out in all directions to form the groins of the roof. The

ribbing of the stone roofs vets more elaborate, until the roof itself is

a mass of tracery in the latter examples.


'-- English Gothic was derived from France, but soon developed a

character of its own. There a'e fowr main categories Early English, the

style of plain lancets from c. 1175 to c. 1275; Decorated Gothic, the style

of ornate carving and tracery flourished from c. 1290 to c. 1380; Perpen-

dicular Gothic originated in the 1330's, was set back by the Black Death

and reappeared in the 1360's, and persisted until the sixteenth century.

The English cathedral was very long and not as high as its French

predecessors. Saliburv was started in 1220 and stands total as a model

of the early English cathedrals. It has little vertical emphasis and is

roofed by a simple quadripartite vault without a ridge ribj Lincoln cathe-

dral c. 1280 shows the beginning of the enriched ribbing of the decorated

style. To the main ribs of the classic quadripartite vault are added other

ribs called "tiercerons". They spring from the same point and rise to the

sane height. Seven ribs spring front each corbel giving fourteen compart-

ments to the vault. There is also a continuous rib running along the ridge,

the intersections with the other ribs masked by carved bosses or pendants.

In Exeter cathedral, begun in 1280, the vaulting ribs have multiplied

until the nave seems a stone forest which almost abolishes the division

into bays. pCLa

SIn 1330, Ely cathedral is the soatial triumph of English Gothic.

Where the choir and nave aisles cross, the space is transformed into an

octagon. From each corner, the vaulting shafts run up the full height of

the cathedral; the vaults arching over to leave a smaller octagonal aper-

ture, crowned by a timber cupola. The carving, gilding, and color run all

over. It is indeed the most decorated of all the English examples, which

normally left the stone ribs and vaults unpainted.

P~ In England, Gothic died slowly. The Perpendicular style impercep-

tibly died into Tudor. The richness of the Decorated was brought to an

end in 1349 by the Black Death1 Gloucester cathedral (1337) introduced

the Perpendicular style. In it we find a further enrichment of the vault.

The metamorphosis from a structural roof to a decorative ceiling is seen

in Gloucester cathedral and its cloister. The cloister itself is an ex-

ample of fan-vaulting a ceiling in which the vaults become a solid mass

of stone, due to the multiplicity of ribs. Fan-vaulting is the typical

pf ff9- VpjIC,00k
7 roof of the Tudor Gothic. The ,4s of the EnglishiGothic is found in

Henry the Eighth's chapel at Westminister Abbey, London (1503-19). It is

an astonishing treatment of the roof with a lace-like vault of stone, with

stone pendants hanging from the center of each fan vault.


--e The simplest and earliest description of timber roof types was

one formed by two rafters pitching against each other. The rafters had a

tendency to spread and thrust the walls outwards. This led to the intro-

duction of the tie-beam: a horizontal piece of timber extending from wall

to wall, into which the ends of the principals are framed. It ties both

to the side walls. The absence of open timber roofs during the Early Gothic

period may be accounted for by the monopoly of the Freemasons. They re-

coursed to wood only when compelled to. The open timber roof emerged in

the smaller Parish churches of the Middle Ages; where lack of funds and

height made the use of stone vaulting economically and aesthetically un-

-- These wood ceilings were often, if not always, heavily decorated.

S-me were painted in every Part, while in others the color is confined

to the mouldings and carvings. In flat roofs the panels were frequently

painted blue and powdered with gold stars. Counter-changing was also used

as a decorative means. This is the changing of colors from ceiling panels

with light on dark to other alternating panels with dark on light.CRed

and blue, red and green, and black and white were often counter-changed.

Another favorite treatment was Barber Poling placing a band of color

wound around another color. It was essentially used in the treatment of

the beads in the ridge and the cornice. Black and white were the predom-

inant colors, along with white and green or white and red. The cornices

were usually carved with an ornament of twisted leafage and foliage.

Boarded ceilings, heavily decorated, were often found in combination with

the open timber work. Sometimes, the boarded ceiling would cover the frame-

work of timber; but usually, the beams and rafters were left uncovered.

)fr-3In treating the roofs of the middlee Ages, we find four main div-

isions: roofs with tie-beams, trussed.pCgeaa roofs, roofs framed with

hammer-beams and braces, and collared roofs with braces. The tie-beam roof

Sis the earliest kind. It is found in England during all four stages of

Gothic architecture development. A perfectly straight tie-beam is of ex-

treme rare occurence, we almost invariably find it cambered. In roofs of

higher nitch, the arch was retained in conjunction with tie-beams. When

the arch was omitted, a small truss or simply a kine-post was used along

with the tie-beam. This was generally found in the roofs of the Perpendic-

ular period with a very flat-nitched roof. n example of this is the roof

over Trinity chapel in Gloucestershire. It has intermediate trusses and

a heavily cambered tie-beam. These are well moulded with a deep casement

filled in with flowers carved out of the solid. Note the large and elabor-

ate bosses under the tie-beans. As in most roofs of the period the prin-

cipal weight falls on the tie-beams. he span of the roof is only 18' 0"

and the dimensions of the tie-beams are 2' 8" x 11". The coffered ceiling

is also of wood and is a nice example of the type of decoration at this


~, The next roof in succession td the tie-beam type is the diagonally-
tied truss roof. It was generally preferred and substituted for the tie-

beam tvpe. In roofs of this character, the rafters generally extended to

Sthe outside of the walls and formed the eaves. Several of these roofs are

boarded underneath and form a coved or polygonal ceiling, divided at the

angles by mouldings and transversed by others, thus forming panels with

carved bosses at the intersections. In the early examples of the trussed

ceiling type, the tie-beam was retained. Eventually, the more favoured

type without the tie-beam evolved and was heavily used during the Early

English and Decorated Gothic periods. he roof over the south porch of

Heckington Church, Lincolnshire; is of the simplest trussed-sem roofs.

The tie-beam is omitted. The roofX is boarded longitudinally and covered

with lead. The decoration is confined to the simple carved cornice, into

which the struts and wall beams are tenoned. This member is extremely im-

Dortant in keeping the trusses in their proper position. The span of the

roof is only 10' 9"

The roof of Wimbotsham Church in Norfolk is an example of a trussed

roof with a double collar brace which is boarded under the timbers. The

small moulded ribs divide the ceiling into panels with well carved bosses

at the intersections. The ceiling was rightly colored and the cornice was

well moulded. It was built during the Decorated Gothic period.

3*The next roof tyne that evolved is the hammer-beam roof. A hammer-

beam is the horizontal piece of timber lying on the wall plates, at right

angles with the wall into which the principal rafter and strut are tenoned.

In some roofs, two ranges of hammer-beams occur The great ceiling of

Westminister Hall (1399) is of the hammer-beam type. Hugh Herland, the

master carpenter, worked with incredible daring. The hammer-beams are a

yard thick and twenty-one feet long and end in carved angles. This is the

earliest known hammer-beam type and it is well into the Perpendicular per-

iod. It is unique in the introduction of a large timber arch springing

from the bottom of the wall-nieces and reaching the underside of the collar-


An example of a two-range hammer-beam type is found in Knapton

Church, Norfolk. The object of the second range was to further stiffen the

P principals and bring what strain there might be on them to the lower range.

The coloring of the church at Norfolk is retained almost in perfect con-

dition. It shows an excellent example of Barber-poling and the use of the

most favorite colors rreen, red, black, and the wood's natural tohe. The

scan of this roof is large 30' 6" and even though it is not very steep,

there is no appearance of any spreading. .4ah the hammer-beams terminate

in carved angles,

The fourth and final division is the collar-braced roof. A collar-

beam is a horizontal piece of timber placed high up in the truss and

serving the double purpose of a stiffener to the principals and a tie to

prevent spreading, The example used here is the roof over the nave of St.

Mary Magdalen's Church, Pulham, NorfolkiAll the timbers are well moulded

and the cornices and nurlins fringed with a cresting of strawberry leaves.

The eastern bay is much more highly ornamented than the other parts. Traces

of the original colors and gilding can be found, the general ground work

being the natural color of the wood. The collar-beam is cambered and has

a size of 1' 2" x 8'". The scan of the roof is 20' 5"

Though church roofs have served well as illustrative examples,

the open timber roofs of many palaces and manorial halls were equally im-

oressive. Among them are the afore mentioned Westminister Hall, Hampton

Palace, and Eltham Palace; the latter in a terrible state of decay. A

variety of the four types can be found in the great halls of Medieval England.

T The material for most of the timber roofs was either oak or chestnut. All

connections were morticed and tenoned and fixed with wooden pins no iron,
tMu^ A'5
ties, nails, or straps were used in any part. They aq%-Nse examples aefFo
'1 9
many of the ceilings desir"ned during the Gothic Revivaf in later centuries.


Like the rest of Europe, Gerian, was influenced by the Gothic

of the Ile de France. The great cathedral at Cologne (1248), with its ex-

treme height, verticality, and simple vaulting, is essentially French.

But, as time passed, a German Gothic style of architecture developed. The

ceiling decorations became more and more elaborate, but for three hundred

years th- basic form remained the same, with more ribs creating fantastic

weaving patterns across the surface of the vaults. Perhaps the most curious

feature of the late phase in Germany was the development of skeleton vaults,

where the ribs form a net below, and separate from the surface of the

vault itself. This is seen in the Parish church at Langenstein dating from

the 1500's.


Italian Gothic never seemed truly medieval. Internal tie-beams

were always preferred to external butressing. Surface decoration was always

referred to structural articulation. One thing was never forgotten, how-

ever, and that was size and scale. The chief quality of its Gothic designs

was the size. The influence of the Byzantine was always felt in Italy as

can be seen in St. Mark's, Venice. There, the two styles can be seen one

against the other.


In Spain, the tradition of size and the influence of the Byzan-

tine were also carried on through the Gothic period. The cathedral at

Sevilla is the largest church in Christendom. Built between 1401 1521,

it has impressive ribbing in High Gothic style as does the cathedral at

Toledo. Toledo Cathedral, begun in 1227, is clearly in the style of France.

The vaulting is simple and very undecorated, unlike the ornate choirs,

characteristically Spanish, found in the west of the crossing. Spain re-

tained the Gothic style longer than any other country in Europe. At Segovia -

in 1532 when Michelangelo was at his height, Gothic still flourished.

Even more important to Spanish architectural heritage is the

Mauresque style that flourished in the south, after the collapse of the

Moorish occupation. This style flourished until the 1300's and is there-

fore discussed in this section. The Mauresque was a derivation of Byzantine

decorations with even a greater use of mosaics and prisms. The ceiling

decoration consisted of three elements geometrical, floral, and script

designs. The Mauresque was an art of the surface, and there were three ways

of applying decorations painting on flat stucco, incrusting vet plaster

with mosaics, and building up designs with stucco, on flat surfaces so that

they Drojected. In the first two types geometrical forms are used along

with line tracery and Arabic script. In th4built up type of decorating

however, the flowing forms and tracery are discarded. Only geometrical

forms are used, the inspiration being abstract and founded on Arabic mathe-

matics /

A uniquely Mauresque ceiling is found in the Alhambra, in the

Hall of the Abencerrajes. The ceiling is entirely covered with stucco

stalactites and painted with strong pure colors. Pictorial ceilings, as

those in the Hall of Kings, were always covered with a golden background

and were often done in relief. The paintings were done on plaster domes

or coved ceilings.

The Mauresque influence can be seen in many of the fine wood ceilings

of Spain. The wood is treated after the same manner of geometrical tile

or mosaic designs. It is cut into strips or curved sections and the ceiling

is assembled to produce a variety of geometrical designs. The beams are

left exposed sometimes, and worked into the general scheme of the decora-

tion. Nany ceilings of this type are found in Spain, among them are the

ceilings of the capitulary room in Toledo and the monastery of San Juan

in Sevilla. The wood was always highly painted and gilded to further em-

ohsize the geometrical patterns.

The treatment of light is unique in that the openings piercing

the tracery are so small they are sometimes lost in the surface treatment.

At the bottoms of domes, the openings enlarged into geometric forms of

their own. Light was directed to any part of the room or ceiling that

was desired. The openings were sometimes glazed with colored glass to

further enhance the "jeweled" quality of the ceiling and room decorations.

The ceilings were often gilded and painted.

/With the coming of the Renaissance, a return to Classical An-

tiquities made the architecutral vocabulary of Greece and Rome the basis

of design. The Renaissance was born in Italy mainly because Italy had

known so little of the glories of the Gothic style and remembered so vividly

the glories of the Roran Empire jNever, however, did one find a Renaissance

architect actually coDying a complete classical model, that had to await the

Classical Revival of the 18th century All ceiling decoration and finishes

that we know today were practiced in the Renaissance, with the exception

of the use of new materials, such as iron, concrete, glass, etc... So,

instead of continuing to view ceiling designs in a historical context, I

shall study each material separately, while using the Renaissance as a

starting point in time.



SOpen ceilings, simply defined, are those that reveal the struc-

tural framework of the floor above or the roof. In this section, we

are primarily concerned with wood as our structural element. Ceilings

made of concrete or iron-glass, even though revealing the entire struc-

tural framework, shall be studied in another section-

The open wood ceiling is the oldest and simplest form of ceiling

finish known to man. As seen in our historical section, most ceilings

of the ancients had exposed wooden beams along with many variations

in materials used for finishingthe rest of the ceiling.Fn its sim-

plest form, the ceiling is composed of rafters resting on top of walls,

or supported by one or more principal beams. A platform of boards is

placed over these to sustain the roof proper. The open timber roofs

found in England during the Middle Ages were a precedent to many open

timber ceilings later constructed during the Gothic Revival. These

ceilings, due to their scale and size, however, did not have a direct

influence on the domestic architecture of England and the United States

until the revival of the great manorial halls in the 19th century.


--- To find the direct precedent of the simple open ceilings of the

colonies one must turn to the open structural ceilings of the Tudor

Period in England. In the 13th century, the ceilings were composed of

one or more main horizontal timbers and many smaller joists that rested

on the walls and/or the timbers These were usually left unadorned with-

out any carving or painting. The timbers were not very thick, since

the typical dwelling of the time consisted of only one story above

Sground.jAs time went by, b~ptc the main members became considerably

thicker to support the weight of the building above them, even though

the member was spanning a small room ]hese were placed in positions

where the main external walls were best able to support the downward

strain, generally between the windows, arches, or other openings.

Smaller beams were then inserted to prevent sagging. The members pro-

duce no outward thrust on the walls when used horizontally.,n terms

of decoration, little was done with the ceiling timbers until the 16th

century. The remainder of the ceiling simply consisted of the exposed

//floor-boards above, with no decoration at all1

Little changed occurred during the period of Henry VIII in the

method of constructing a timber ceiling or the disposition of the beams.

Ornamentation, however, varied greatly from the plain, unadorned beams

of the 13th century. At this time, a great deal of carving of the ceil-

ing timbers went into effect. Usually the carving consisted of Tudor
leaf ornamentation: twisted folliage with a serrated edge, or, later,

flowing Gothic tracery. The finish and refinement of the carvings

varied greatly, as did the amount of ornamentation.

At this same time a form of flat boarded ceiling emerged, but

we shall study this type in another section of this report. There are

fewer of the boarded Tudor ceilings than those with open beams due to

the cost of production.

_----The method of rendering a thin layer of plaster between the ceil-
ing beams also goes back to the 15th and 16th centuries in England. No
decoration was ever employed directly on the plaster, except a rare

coat of paint. The plaster was laid underneath so that mats of hay or

hair under the floorboards were not visible from the ground floors.

The plaster and haymat ceiling was a very insulative ceiling finish]

This type of ceiling was very popular in England until the middle of

the 17th century, when the practice of covering beams with plaster be-

came popular,


When elizabeth was Queen of England, the first English settle-

ment was made in America. This occurred in 1585 under the direction of

Sir Walter Raleigh. By the 1630's, the English had settled in Massachu-

ssetts Bay, Jamestown, Plymouth, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Mary-

land It might be assumed that the houses of the colonist would be

entirely English in character, but due to the extremes of climate

and othef regional conditions, the architecture produced differed from

that of the homeland,

The ceiling of the English colonist was framed with hewn timbers

and sawn joists in the manner of the Tudor framing. It consisted of a

S large exposed sumner beam and smaller joists on which the floorboards

were laid. The florboards were either left bare or plastered under-

neath the joists, depending on the choice of the builders. Anexample

of the Tudor framing type in the colonies is the hall atthe Hart House,

Ipswich, Massachusetts which dates from c. 1640, This type of construc-

tion is known as girder and joist. There was no variation between the

ceiling treatment in New England and that in the Southern colonies.J

In the Delaware Valley and Pennsylvania, colonies were founded

from extraordinarily diverse origins. Here Dutch, Swedes, and Finns

settled, and the architectural treatment of the early ceilings differs

from the Tudor type.QThe buildings of the Swedish colonists had a con-

siderable effect on the English since they introduced the hewn log ca-

bin into this country. The ceiling framing was similar to that of the

Dutch in New Jersey. t consisted of heavy transverse beams widely

spaced with no joists spanning between them. Instead, very thick floor-

boards were used to span from beam to beamj

Another unique ceiling treatment found in the Pennsylvania area

Sis that brought over by the Swiss. Mid-way of the depth of the house

two large girders would span between the end walls and the chimney.

The girders are set below the floor joists so that the latter rest on

top of them instead of being framed into them. The three exposed faces

of the girders were run with shallow mouldings. The joists, if exposed,

would also be moulded and the upper flooring would be exposed,between

them. Sometimes, the floor joists were concealed by plastering. An

example of both exposed and concealed joists is found in Miller's House

Millbach, Pennsylvania.

The Dutch that settled in the Hudson Valley also used widely

Spaced heavy beams carrying very thicK floorboards as their structural

system. The girders sometimes rested on posts carrying angular brackets,

like ships' knees, The beams were extremely heavy and had cross sec-

tions of about 7 inches by 12 inches. The posts and walls were usually

plastered, paneledor sheathed so that the posts did not,show, but the

ceilings were never covered in any way, except by a coat,of paint. An

excellent example of a bracketed girder ceiling is the Pieter Bronck


----" In conclusion, one can say that most exposed beams and joists

were left unadorned in the way of carvings, gilding, or decorating with

paint. If any carving was done, it was a simple moulding or a beveling

of the edges. Nowhere in the American colonies can we find the beauti-

fully carved beams found in the Tudor examples in England.

Another exposed framework ceiling of the colonial period was the

Early meeting houses found in New England. These structures were des-

cendants of the manorial halls and early churches of Medieval England.

The timbers were never carved, simply hand hewn and built in a tie

beam roof structure with knee braces. This was the simplest long span

roofing system used in England, so it was the most widely used in the

colonies. All members were mortised and tenoned and pinned with round

wood pegs in square holes or the opposite.

1/-----P- As the Renaissance was felt in the colonies, the open ceiling
fell out of favor. The plastered ceiling and the boarded ceiling were

on the rise. It is not until the Gothic Revival of the 1840's that the

open ceilings return. They were mostly found in the "manorial halls"

of the times, such as Lyndhurst in Tarrytown, New York, Designed by

A.J. Davis, the man responsible for the Gothic Revival, Lyndhurst has

an open timber ceiling of impressive size. An even later example of a

Smanorial open timber ceiling is found at iL0more, S.C., built by

Richard Morris Hunt in 1895. The heights of the ceilings varied from

eleven to fourteen feet high and all of the mouldings and cornices

were extremely ornamented and carved.

An example of a simpler exposed wood ceiling is found at the

Watts Sherman House in Newport. Built in 1874 by H. H. Richardson,

the ceiling design is similar to the exposed joists and plaster cei-

lings common in the colonial days. The wood members in this ceiling,

however, are richly decorated and varnished, and the entire ceiling

finish is exquisite. The high ceilings of the rooms allowed deeper

moulded members than the colonial precedents.




There are many types of closed ceiling finishes. In this section,
we shall look at the varying types classified by the material used for

finishing the ceiling. We shall divide them into four classes: plaster,

board, glass, and concrete.
The art of plastering, as we have seen previously, goes back to

S the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans. With the coming of the
Middle Ages, however, the art was lost to most of Europe. The excep-

tion to the rule was Spain, where the Moors carried on the tradition
with such unique design as the Hall of the Abencerrajes in the Alhambra.
The Mauresque was rich, colorful, and gilded.

With the Renaissance, the art was revived mainly through the
efforts of one man Cardinal Giovanni in 1504-1519. Giovanni was en-
gaged by the Vatican to supervise the excavations of many Roman ruins,

including the golden house of Nero. In these ruins were found the re-

mains of excellent plaster work in the walls and ceilings The decor-

ative method was not used at all for the interior work, since stucco
was only used for csating statues. Donatello in 1383-1466 did suppos-
edly use a composition of pounded brick and glue which resembled terra-
cotta for some interior decorations, but it was not the same in form

or function as plaster.
Bramante was the first Renaissance artist to model white plaster
similar to that used by the Greeks, but it was Raphael that did the

, best stucco work in the Renaissance, including the Loggia at the Vaticcn.
and the Villa Madama. He started the first important school of plaster

and stucco modellers and painters.In that school were Giulio Romano,

and the Penni brothers, who completed many of Raphael's works after
his death.

(t was through Romano that the first influence of plaster was

spread to other parts of Europe.Under him in Mantua,

a young artist named Primaticcio achieved fame as a colorist and

modeller.JHe went back to work under Francis I in France and designed

and modelled most of the ceilings at Fountaine-Bleau in 1531. In France

he influenced the school of sculpturing with his designs; as time went

on, however, the plaster work in the country became more sculptured
with extreme decorations and heavy moulded frames.

1. English School of Plaster

It was at this time that stucco-duro first reached England.

Henry VIII, a contemporary of Francis I, would not be outdone by the
French monarchy. He introduced stucco-duro to England in 1538 in the

Palace of NonesuchFor its construction, he imported French, Italian,

and Dutch sculptors to work with the native school. The work was done

under Toto del Nunziata or "Antony Toto" as he was known in England.

Toto came from Florence where he had worked with Lucca Penni and other

Italian masters. Stucco-duro is a stucco made from carbonate of lime.

It is very pure and white, dries with great brilliancy, and is very
hard. Pupils of Toto, Bartolomeo and Lucca Penni found heavy confron-

tation with the native school of scultors who were accustomed to

carving wood or stone.

(enry VIII died in 1547 before Nonesuch was completed. Before he

died, however, he broke all relations with continental Europe when he

started the church of England. At the time of Henry's death, Charles

Williams started the first school of English stucco modellers. Their

work was much coarser and inferior to the Italian work,

SA unique thing occurred in England due to this cultural isolation.

The stucco-duro was superseded in course by the ordinary plaster called
"Parge". Parge is a mixture of lime, hair, and sand which can be worked

to the fine carved details of stucco-duro. Parge was used for plaster-

ing over the Wattle-_-Davia construction found in early 15th century

England. \-

S- In the 16th and 17th century, the English school of parge-work

flourished. Most work at the time was done by the village plaster or

mason. The parge-work was used both in the interior and the exterior.

The favorite interior spots of the Parge-worker were the overmantle,

the lunettes formed by curved or coved ceilings, the cornices, the

friezes, and the ceilings.

S- -- The favorite decorating motiff found in parge-work ceilings was

the dividing of the area with simple, moulded ribs. The interior of

these areas was then decorated with lions, unicorns, or other animals

as seen in the lunette. All work was usually done in high relief and

the ribs were enriched with folliage. Note also the early use of the

pendentives or bosses, which will eventually become the favorite method

of ceiling decoration \

In the spring of the vaults or coves, a fieze was usually carved

in low relief. The favorite motiffs for the fiezes were scrolls of

honey-suckle or other leafage.

-t- In the late 16th century the English plastering became more geo-
metric and more refined. The plaster ceilings were usually set with

the much favored squares and circles formed by single moulded ribs.

These geometric designs were interconnected with ribs of the same de-

tails. At this time the central rosettes come into use. This was simply

a rose motiff placed in the center of the panels created by the moulded

ribs.A double rosette, also found during this period, is a term given

to s decoration composed of one small rose laid on top of a larger one.

The Fleur-de-Lis, vines, and leafage were other favored decorations

prior to the Elizabethan period.

The cornices and friezes of this period had no classical prece-

dents. Instead, they were derived from the "Parge-work" designs of

honey-suckle scroll patterns or just simply vine and leafage motiffs.

Two excellent examples are found in the Daneway house, near

Cirencester; the exact date of the decoration is not known. The two

ceiling designs represent the more elaborate type found in the public

spaces of the house, and the more subdued designs usually found in

the bedroom.
S-- The Elizabethan work of the 1580's was composed of larger and

more elaborate ribs placed in geometric patterns. The ribs formed

panels, which were decorated with the traditional rosettes and double

rosettes along with the "revival" of the armorial devices; a much

favored motiff of the wood-carving school in England. The early bosses,

derived from wood beam decorations found underneath the kingposts in

open timber ceilings and found in the Parge-work ceilings of the 1500's,

make an appearance in many of the Elizabethan designs as in the one

found at Deane Hall, Northants It is interesting to note that the

bosses started out as small projections at the intersection of the ribs

as in the Deane Hall design. But, by this time, large projections

known as pendants were replacing the bosses.

In the early 17th century, the suggestion of radiating ribs and
pendentives superceeded the Elizabethan radiating rib pattern on a flat

surface. The sizes of the pendants varied greatly, as did their shapes

and projections from the ribs. They were extremely popular and ornate,

some of them being so large that they developed into carved shafts.

This unique British plaster ceiling probably came into existence be-

cause of the lack of classical guidance on how to use plaster, the

newly discovered material. The British were experimenting with a very

new and plastic material which was easy to work with, and the only

precedents they could find were the carvings, decorations, and motiffs
of their medieval churches and early parge-work.
SThe culmination of the pendentive system is found in the "Fish-

room" at Audley End in Essex, built in 1615. By this time, the radial

ribs are missing since they were of secondary importance in the earlier

rib and pendant designs. The primary decorative element the penden-

tive is here found to be a very decorated and extremely protruding

shaft. The ribs have been replaced by "strap-work" a wider and more

decorated band of plaster meant to replace the ribs. The straps still

adhere to the very geometric ceiling pattern of the English precedents,

Another replacement for the radiating ribs found during the early 17th)

century were lines of folliage in low relief.

.--. The name "Fish-room" comes from the low-relief aquatic forms in-

side the rectangular panels formed by the straps. It is important to

point out that the pendentives still occur at the intersections of the

strap-work, but are also found in other designs in the center of the

panels formed by the straps, This produced a stalactite effect similar

to the Moorish design at the Hall of the Abencerrajes in Granada. The

ceilings of the 17th century were highly colored and gilded, but most

of this decoration has faded or disappeared with time.

\~j In only twenty years, the pendentive system was superceeded by

the geometric arrangement of ribs once again, only now the ribs were

much wider and more decorated in fact, they're very similar to the

strap-work of the pendentive system.only done at a higher relief IThe

favorite geometric patterns were circles, ovals, quatre-foils, and

flame-like forms. Figures, animal and human, were seldom found in any

ceilings, except when included in an armorial device. At intersections

of ribs, small bosses or pendants were still used, but not in the earl-

ier proortions. /JS _---

-t was in the 1620's that plaster of paris first arrived in Eng-

land. This type of plaster is made from sulphate of lime and sets quick

ly.and hard. It also has very good adhesive qualities, which made it

popular for ceiling decoration he oess for decorating a 17th cen-

tury ceiling went as follows:

First, the hand split wood lath was nailed to the underside of

the joists and other framingmembers. Over this, the plain plaster

ceiling was applied and could be made out of stucco-duro, parge, or,

rarely, plaster of paris. The ceiling decorations were then cast into

stucco-duro reverse moulds which were soaped and coated with lubri-

cants to prevent the suction of the plaster of paris. Once the plain

plaster ceiling was totally dry, the plaster of paris was poured into

the moulds and these were raised into position on the ceiling and held

there by scaffolding until dry.

The process was extremely simple and inexpensive, and it made

the deocrated plaster ceiling available to the middle classes The

arrival of plaster of paris marks the beginning of the Later Renaissance

in England This occurred due to interaction with the rest of Europe,

possible only with the coming of the reign of James IBy this time,

England was a world power much feared and respected; and also very rich.

Feudalism was departing it was an age of comfortable manor houses of

successful men of commerce. Timber roofing gave way to boarded, plaster,

and carved ceilings. It became possible for the British to travel all

over Europe and see the amazing spectacle that was the Italian Renaiss-

----- The man responsible for the English Later Renaissance was Inigo

Jones, (1620-1650's). Jones was England's first professional architect

and the first one to visit Italy in 1614. King James I was not slow

in recognizing the genius of Inigo Jones. He hired him to draw up and

reconstruct Whitehall Palace, but only the banqueting hall was ever

carried out.

Jones was a student of pure classical forms, yet he favored the

middle Renaissance for his interior decorations, especially in ceilings.

The men that influenced his work t e most were Palladio and Serlio.

Palladio insisted on exact observances of proportions in architecture

and Serlio was the first to propose elaborate designs in high relief

and rich cornices when designing ceilings for large rooms.

l_--1' In general, Jones' ceilings were often coved or flat and his

/ corridor ceilings were barrel-vaulted. He dispensed with the use of

S coffers and designed flat ceiling surfaces broken into panels of geo-

metric shapes by means of heavily moulded bands. Most of his heraldic

devices were used on his friezes in preference to the ceilings. On the

friezes and cornices the Acanthus is developed moderately and he occa-

ssionaly uses garlands and masks but not the grotesques of the post-

Raphaelite Italian Renaissance.
---- Jones used plaster in heavy masses, but put on the decoration

in continuous patterns; treating the plaster to form frames for paint-

ings, not as a complete work in itself like the earlier works. Many

of his ceilings were decorated by paintings by Rubens. He used plaster

of paris in all of his works, making reverse moulds and adhering them

to the ceilings. He adopted this method for his friezes and cornices,

too. He was the first designer to design all his interior decorations

instead of letting the plasterer have a free-hand.

One of his finest ceiling designs is found in the Salon of Rayn-

ham Hall, Norfolk; executed in 163. It was a high room which allowed

Jones to use large ribs which are the depth of the cornice. He usese

the scrolled Acanthus leafage to decorate the ribs and cornice. Under

the latter is a frieze decorated with masks. He also uses rosettes to

decorate the intersections of the ribs.
S--1 The next influential person in the development of the English

plaster ceiling was Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723). Wren never had

any direct contact with Italy, but he visited France and met Bernini.

when the latter was working on the Louvre. Wren was heavily influenced

by the French plaster-work and he brought many French designs back with

him to England Before we continue with the English plaster ceilings,

a brief synopsis of what was happening in France would be important,

since it had a direct influence on the English school of plaster from

Wren's time on until the 1800's.

2. The French School of Plaster

During the early years of the Renaissance, Henry IV and Louis

XIII were the reigning monarchs. The movement was very slow in getting

started. During the reign of Louis XIV, the classical styles became

very popular, but as the influence of the original Renaissance in Italy

receded, overloading and eccentricity developed. The ceiling decora-

tions became imitations of the Italian Renaissance, which were imita-

tions of ancient Rome and Greece.

This type of ceiling decoration was composed of massive, deeply

moulded cornices, connected by heavy central panelings of bands or

scrolls. Heroic paintings were placed inside the panels created by the

cornices and bands. The favorite motiff for the bands and cornices were

cornucopias, scrolls, and folliage twined with rocks and shells.

With Louis XV and XVI, a lighter vein of decoration was struck.

Very delicate scroll work in plaster and flat paintings in light colors

were typical of the "Rocaille". Unfortunately, this quickly gave way

to the extremely heavy and overloaded Rococco.

The last style to have any influence on England, or America was

the empire style which was a return to the simplicity of Pre-Augustan


Straight lines, moderate curves, reduced embellishments, and low

relief in modelling and sculpture. Heavy garlands were replaced by

narrow bands of folliage neatly worked into compact masses with light

touches of colors and gilding. "Monochrome" rooms decorated only

with one color and little gilding, became very popular.

S3. The Degeneration of the School of Plaster in England
$ i '-P The degeneration began with Wren's latter ceilings which became

meaningless as the plaster-work became too elaborate.He usually em-

ployed heavy plaster around panels decorated with Acanthuses, scrolls,

and floral forms. Wren lost the knack of blending heraldic symbols

with floral forms so popular with the early English school of plas-

tering. There was always incongruity about the use of the symbols in

all the later works of the English school.

--, TIn the Brickwall House, Wren has a central panel enclosed by a

rib with enriched moulding of ribbon wound spirally around a rod. His

cornucpoias, cartouches, and other motiffs are French in feeling. The
stairwell ceiling of the house is very ornately decorated and is sur-

mounted by an elliptical dome Wren changed the shape of the ceiling

opening by placing triangular panels at the corners. This forms an

irregular octagonal opening from where eight panels spring to an upper,

smaller octagon. he central panels contain oval windows with swags,

fruits, and flowers. Wren has a decorated cornice at the level of the

elliptical dome and at the level of the large octagonal opening.5

L WLUith the arrival of the 18th century, a further degeneration was

caused by the increased importation of French and Italian plaster

workers who brought with them the overloaded style of Louis XIV's

France. It was during this time in England that the coffered ceiling

became a popular plaster decoration. The coffered ceiling made of any

material became favored in England after this time and was transported

to America where it also flourished.

An example of a coffered ceiling appears in many designs by

William Kent. Kent was a decorator and a painter with too heavy a style

in plaster working. Many of his designs were overloaded by heads and

peacocks jumbled with floral arabesques. In the Holkman House Kent a-

dapted an Inigo Jones design into a semi-vaulted coffered ceiling de-

sign. Most of his ceiling works were copies from the classical works

with an adding of his severe enrichment.

-After Kent's death, England was literally flooded with copied
plaster-work of the Louis XIV period. Stucco had fallen into its lowest
ebb, and from this sprang the light and airy work of the Adam brothers

--- The Adams created a graceful and refined ceiling by a very del-

icate and subtle modelling of plaster. Unfortunately, they lacked in

originality, since most of their designs were copies of the classical

models. The brothers invented and patented the first form of fibrous

plaster composed of gypsum of fiber with a glutinous compound. The

decorations were modeled in low relief and produced in hot metal

moulds. Colors were very important in their ceiling designs. They adop-

j ted pastel tints, and the talents of three foreign artists: two Ital-

ians, Antonio Zucchi and Pergelesi, and the Swiss, Angela Kauffman.

The Adam brothers decorated their ceilings very geometrically with

circles, hexagons, octagons, and other shapes. They also favored a

composition known as "Scaglioca" which was composed of a central cir-

cular panel with a low relief mythological figure inside it. It was a

popular motiff with George Richardson and other designers which follow-

ed the brothers Adam .

After the Adam period died out, Sir John Soane introduced a very

linear treatment of stucco ceiling decoration. It was rigidly classical

spaced and dignified. Gilding and heavy painting, already discouraged

by the Adam style, feel out of favor. The style was very similar to

the empire style of Napolonic France.

4, Plaster Ceilings in America

With the coming of the 18th century, the American colonies found
an increase in wealth and prosperity. This brought about a transition

that broke away from the open-frame ceiling interiors of the 17th cen-

tury. The style that the colonies turned to was the style of the
mother-country and the early Georgian began to flourish in the 1720's.

) At this time, most of the designing was done from books. It has

been possible to discern which English style books were most important

during the time. In the early Georgian (1725-1750) Salmon's "Palladio

Londinensis" and Giacomo Leonis' "Designs for Buildings" were popular;

in the middle period (1750-1765) James Gibbs' "Book of Architecture",

Adam's "Vitruvius Scoticus", and Batty Langley's "Treasury of Designs"

were widely used; and in the late Georgian (1765-1800) Morris' "Select

Architecture" and Leonis' "Designs of A. Palladio". The leading archi-

tects of the 18th century; like Richard Taliaferro, John Ariss, and

Thomas Jefferson, designed by the style books.

The earliest use of plaster ceilings in the colonies was in the

beginning of the 18th century. Most of the early examples were a plain

undecorated ceiling with a classical entablature of wood or plaster

around the room. The finest and earliest examples are in the South:

the Governor's Palace in Williamsburg (1706-1720), Marmion (1712-1735),

and Carter's Grove (1748). Belair (1720) and Graeme Park (1721) in

Pennsylvania are also fine examples of early plaster ceilings.

The decorative plaster ceiling was not found in America until

1745. The earliest examples were all executed in the French Rocaille
style which was very curvilinear and non-architectural. Among the earl-

iest examples found in America is Philipse Manor Hall (1745). The dec-

orations were all modeled out of plaster of paris and then adhered to

the ceiling. The unique thing about the low relief in the ceiling is

that it was done in Gesso. (A section at the end of Plaster Ceilings

will cover Gesso and two other decorative ceiling types similar too

or using stucco.) The rooms were framed with a wood dentil cornice.,

By examining the structural system of a ceiling at Philipse

Manor, one can get an idea of how most plaster ceilings, plain and dec-

orated, were built in America;

There are 7 joists 20' in length running north/south with dia-
gonal bracing placed between them to stabilize the floor. The bridging

is toe-nailed to the joists with hand wrought nails. The depths of the

joists varied between 8*" and 81. The widths varied more from 8*"

to some 5". The joists were found to be some hand hewn and some sawn.

They were spaced from 3' 6" to 4' 3" apart. Intermediate framing

members, roughly 1" X 4" was nailed to the bridging from the bottom.

Then hand-split wooden lath was nailed to the joists and the framing

members over which the stucco was applied.

An earlier example of a decorative plaster ceiling is found in

Belmont, in Philadelphia (1743). The ceiling found in the drawing room

is among the finest Rocaille plaster ceilings in the country. At

the ceilingline is a full cornice enriched with dentils. The ceiling

design consists of a broad border, set off from a plain center panel

by a bold moulding. Contained within the border are further panels

with low reliefs of festoons, shells, musical instruments, and other

Rocaille devices. These are all of vigorous scale and broad treatment.

Belmont is more in the manner of William Kent than the middle Georgian

style. The stair hall at Belmont has a ceiling ornamented with Acanthus,

bay leaves, and berries. It also has a central rosette framed by a dec-

orated band and a "modillon" cornice.

Another decorative ceiling is found in the Powell House. Again

executed in the Rocaille style, it has a rich central medallion within

a broad scrolled border accentuated by corner and axial motiffs. The

ceiling is framed by a dentil cornice on three sides of the room and

a richly carved overmantle on the fourth side. In the drawing room

of the same house, the frieze of plaster is filled with Rocaille or-

naments of scrolls and ribbons, and the cornice is enriched with intri-

cate frets.
A new style or period, equivalent to that of James Gibbs and

the Palladians in England, was initiated in Virginia by John Ariss.

Perhaps his finest interiors are found at Kenmore plain plaster walls,

Decorated plaster cornices and ceiling, and richly carved matles.

Throughout the lower rooms are decorated plaster ceilings of intricate

design based on plates of Batty Langley's book, "City and Country

S Builder's Treasury". Though the house was constructed in 1752, the

ceilings were probably not executed until ten years after or more. All

ceiling decorations were done in plaster of paris and glued to the


The alterations at Mount Vernon(1759) are also attributed to

John Ariss In the west parlor, we find a simple plaster ceiling de-

sign with a central rosette in low reliefbordered by a thin rib, also

in low relief, that borders the entire room. A simple wood dentil cor-
nice frames the ceiling. The decorations are simpler and more in the
Adam style than those found at Kenmore.

69~JAfter the Revolutionary War, the ceiling treatment of the Rocaille
style fell out of favor and was replaced by the simpler, low relief
style of the Adam brothers.The full effect of the latter style will
not be felt until the turn of the century. But never did the pure Adam
ceilings flourish in the United States. Their cornice treatments and
friezes did become popular in America in the 1800's.4

FA unique ceiling treatment is found at Monticello by Thomas

'O Jefferson. Jefferson was probably influenced by Taliaferro in his ar-
chitecture. He was a life-long admirer of Palladio and his Roman coun-

tryhouses. Jefferson worked on his house from 1770 to 1796. The rooms

have very high plaster ceilings with little decoration. The center;

piece, in the form of an American eagle is a unique designp.The treat-
ments of doors, entablatures, and cornices were always done proportion-
ately correct, in accordance with the classical precedents. Jefferson
believed that the scale and details of the Roman temples, such as the
Maison Caree, were more symbolic of America than the Adamesque archi-
tecture which was popular at the time.
-k The full Adam influence can be seen in the interior of a house

in Petersburg, Virginia, at the turn of the century. Ceilings were

plastered but never decorated except by a center piece. Cornices and

friezes were adorned withgarlands and festoons and an occasional
frieze is found with masks.

y\f By the 1830's the plaster ceiling was plain and undecorated,
with a classical entablature bordering it. An occasional rosette is
found. This type of ceiling was much favored in France during the em-
pire days of Napoleon and has remained in style in this country through
the 19th and 20th century "Sunnyside" the home of Washington Irving
has plain undecorated plaster ceilings with simple cornices. They

are painted in "monochrome" with no gilding. This type of plaster

ceiling was very popular during the 1870's and the Victorian Ecclec-


O With the development of gas lighting and suspended fixtures, a

unique plaster decoration was devised. It was a central rosette which

had the double purpose of decoration and was also a vent designed to

carry away the gas fumes. They first came into use in the 1860's to

eliminate the fumes from kerosene and oil hanging lamps. The rosettes

were made of plaster of paris in precast moulds and were glued in place.

They desguise a ventilator found above the rosette in a duct which

connected to the chimney flue.

2 -- By the 1880's and 1890's, the large industrialists of the United

States began building mansions which in every respect rivaled the pal-

aces of Europe. The grand entrance hall of "The Breakers" by Richard

Morris Hunt is done in a potpourri of styles which prevail in the in-

terior. The cornice and frieze are extremely decorated with paint and

gilding. They are done in very high relief due to the extreme height

of the space. Note also in the frieze the Adam garlands and masks. The

armorial devices of the early English school can also be found, along

with a unique cove vaulting above the cornice. Miracuously, the ceiling

itself remains free from any embellishments The ceiling treatment is

empire with the overbearing cornices and friezes of the Rococco along

with some Adam motiffs.

\/1 [At 211 Commonwealth Avenue in Boston, a house designed by Arthur
Rotch has a music room surmounted by a nicely proportioned coffered

plaster ceiling. The coffered ceilings were favored in the 1970's to

1890's, especially during the Victorian period. What is more unique

about this plaster ceiling is that it is one of the earliest ceilings

specifically adapted for electrical lights. The ring of electrical

lights are hidden inside a shallow dome which is the major source of

illumination for the room. The light is reflected by the smooth sur-

face of the dome and is very effective as an indirect lighted ceiling.

?- '-Ie An example of a more modern stucco ceiling is that of the east

room at the White House. The empire style or Victorian interiors as

it became known in the 1870's is still with us. A monochrome room -

painted entirely of one color with a simple plaster ceiling decorated

with a victorian center piece and straight line ceiling borders. A

plaster dentil cornice seems detached from the fabril of the ceiling

due to a cove which surrounds the room.

No study of the plaster ceilings would be complete without the

modern plaster ceiling on the expanded metal lath. These ceilings with

no decorations or even framed by simple cornices came into existence

in the 1890's with the invention and wide-spread use of the expanded

metal lath. With the coming of air-conditioning and electrical light-

ing, the ceiling was utilized as the most convenient access space for

duct and fixture placement. Any decoration on a ceiling cluttered by

mechanical equipment is impossible.

5. Ceiling Decorations Related to Plaster
There are two ceiling processes which are very similar to the

plaster decoration process and the results are very similar to plaster;

and one unique ceiling treatment which actually involves the use of

plaster. The first type, Gesso is closely related to plaster and is

used in combination with it or as a substitute of plaster in many

ceilings. Gesso is composed of fine mortar, plaster of paris, and size

or glue. The use of Gesso goes back to ancient Rome and the process

was brought to perfection during the Renaissance. For riner designs,

another type called Gesso-duro is used. This is composed of whitening,

glue, and gelatin with some boiled linseed oil and resin. It dries

very hard and smooth.

The surface on which the Gesso is to be applied, whether it be

plaster or wood must be prepared to make it nonLabsorbent, or else

the gesso would loose its moisture, and crack and peel. Usually a coat

of shellac or varnish is applied and on this the surface design is

drawn. The Gesso is then applied with a spoon or a brush until the

amount of relief that is desired is achieved. It can also be applied

with cotton wool and can be modeled by hand or with modeling tools.

Any variety of coloring processes can be applied on Gesso -

water colors, if varnished afterwards are very effective; oils, if the

Gesso is varnished before the paint is applied, and of course, egg

tempera and gilding can also be used.

The second decorative ceiling process is called Sgraffito and it

involves the actual use of plaster. It is the process of scratching or

incising uoon plaster surface which has been prepared to give the pro-

per results. The incisions in an upper crust reveal a lower crust of

contrasting color. The color layer can be arranged with many varieties

of colors, but great accuracy is required in placing the layer of col-

ored cement. The process dates back to ancient Rome and was used in

medieval and renaissance Italy and was found in the 15th and 16th cen-

tury in England.

The process involves coating the surface with a mixture of sand

and cement in proportions of 3 to 1 and the coat is about V" thick.

A second layer of g" is applied and this mixture is of cement with

a coloring material in it. The second coat is allowed to dry for sev-

eral days and then a final coat of lime and selenitic cement is appl-

ied also*" in thickness. As soon as this layer has hardened enough

to bear handling, a full scale cartoon, previously pricked, is placed

over the wall or ceiling. The artist working with styluses of many

sizes cuts into the plaster while following the drawing. The contrast

of white and black are most efficient for Sgaffito, the use of colors

is not that important and it is very difficult to arrange them so that

different incisions will reveal different colors.

The last ceiling decoration similar to plaster is paper mache.

The name comes from the 18th century French immigrants in England,

where the material was called "chewed paper". Marcher is the French

word for "to chew", hence paper mache. The product originated in the

Orient and dates back to ancient times. In the 8th century, it made

its way to Persia and then to the Arab countries. By the 10th cen-

tury it had spread northward to Spain, France, and Germany. In Europe

it was used for small articles finely laquered snuffboxes, pencil

boxes, trunks, card tables, etc. During the 18th century, the use of

paDier mache for architectural decorations first appears mainly for

wall brackets,cornices, friezes, and capitals. A ceramic type of paper

mache was normally used for the architectural treatments. This con-

sisted of paper pulp with resin, glue, drying oil, and sugar of lead.

The mixture was extremely plastic and could be worked by hand, pressed,

moulded, or worked with tools.

The first American paper industries were established in New

York City in 1771 by John Keating. By the mid-19th century there were

several small papier-mache industries in the states. The earliest re-

corded use of paper mache for ceiling decorations were in the ceilings

of two rooms at Mount Vernon. Washington sent for the decorations

through a catalog from England. It became very popular in the 19th

century because it was inexpensive and easily attached to ceilings, it

was also extremely durable. During the Gothic Revival of mid-19th cen-

tury, the use was very popular Strawberry Hill had most ceilings dec-

orated with it and in 1854 when the House of Lords was rebuilt all

center pieces and cornices were made of paper mache.

The epitome of the architectural use of the material came about

in 1853 when Charles Bielefeld designed a village of 10 pre-fabricated

houses including a nine room villa all done in paper mache. The con-

struction consisted of 6' X 8' panels of paper mache *" thick and

were arranged to create a double wall and double roof with the use of

wood studs. The village was built and withstood heavy rains and even

2' of water after a flood.

6 Painted Stucco Ceilings

I have included here a section on the types of paints that can

be applied on a stucco ceiling for its decoration. I shall also dis-

cuss the history and types of gilding methods used on plaster,


)Certainly the process most complementary to architecture as a

decorative process is the fresco. It is not a very brilliant or color-

ful method unless a coat of varnish is applied on the fresco once it's

dried. The paint type used for frescoes is tempera, it is a paint com-

posed of mixed pigments with a glutinous medium, such as the white of

an egg or gum. The frsco is the term given to the process of applying

the colors directly on the wet plaster and allowing the paint to be

soaked and incorporated into the material. It is a difficult process

which involves calculating the area that can be worked one day at a

time. One must also make sure that the pigments don't suffer from the

contact with lime. The colors are always prepared several shades dark-

er since they lighten during the drying process.

The history of the fresco goes back to ancient times long before

the Christian Era. During the Renaissance in Italy it became the fav-

orite medium of the masters. Raphael, Michelangelo, and many others

worked in this style very well. The process was generally mixed with

painting "a secco" or retouching once the plaster had dried. This dis-

tracts somewhat from the transparency of the colors, but allows the

artist more color effects and a greater freedom of expression.

The draw backs in frescoes is that the painting decays quickly

due to the dampness. Poor plastering jobs also lead to decay. The un-

even plaster collects dust which stains and darkens the colors. Finally,

one must be certain that no changes in color occur due to contact with

chemicals in the air or with the lime of the plaster.


Distemper is an older Italian method of painting with tempera.

It is a method which is also called "a secco". It was a universally

used method before the advent of oils, and goes back to the Egyptians,

Greeks, and Rogans. The Romans used wax as a fixative which preserved

their colors for hundreds of years.

There are several types of tempera, due only to the different

diluents used to hold the pigments together when the paint dries. The

most popular were the yolk and white of an egg, sometimes separately

ot together. Others include the milky juice of a fig tree with eggs,

wine or water, and wine with eggs; even honey or vinegar with eggs

were used. The eggs were sometimes substituted with size or gum. Temp-

era died out when oil-painting became popular.


The method of using oil based paints directly on plaster goes

back to the late Italian Renaissance, It was found to be a useless

method which decays incredibly fast within one or two years after

the pigments have dried. Leonardo Da Vinci's "Last Supper" was executed

this way and parts of the master piece were already decaying before

Da Vinci had completed the painting. It was found to be an adverse re-

action of the oil paints with the lime in the plaster. It causes the

adhesive powers of the oil to vanish and the painting cracks and peels

off as it dries]


This method of oil on canvas became very popular when plaster

of paris allowed stucco decorations to be fixed to the ceiling. This

allows one to fix the finished canvas to the ceiling surface with nails

or set in the panelling and stucco frames. It was not possible to use

canvases in ceilings when one was using stucco-duro and working direct-

ly on the ceiling. The ceilings of Fountainebleau by Bovcher are amqng

the finest and earliest known to be oil on canvas set in stucco frames.

It is a very good method to work with since there are no restrictions

upon the variety and strength of colors, nor does the artist have to

struggle with plaster or the action of the lime with his paints Many

of Inigo Jones' ceilings are decorated in this way. This ceiling dec-

oration type became very popular with the invention of the fibrous

plaster, moulds with plaster of paris strengthened with canvas, or

wires or wood. It was attributed to C.A. Desachy in 1856 and is easily

applied after drying and is light and durable. Most of the plaster dec-

orations of the Paris Opera House are of oil on canvases held up by

fibrous plaster frames.


This is a relatively new type of painting for ceilings, walls,

or murals. It was invented by Mr. T. Gambler Parry and the aim was to

produce the quality of transparency found in fresco, but to dispense

with the wet plaster so that all modern pigments could be applied. The

idea was to secure the color's permanence by using wax to bind them.

It was not an original idea since the Romans had used wax as a perser-

vative for their tempera. The process they used, however, involved

heating the painting to fuse the wax and the pigments together. Parry

devised a way to eliminate the heating by choosing a solvent for the

wax which would evaborate while the work dried. For this he found a

volatile oil very suitable. The process is long and complicated still.

First, one must have a dry and porous wall a mixture of plaster and

sand is best. Even a coarse grained and porous stone, not plastered,

will suffice. The wall is then prepared by soaking it with the oil

diluted in turpentine, leaving it for two days, and then soaking it

again. A primer coat of white lead and gilder's whitening with a medium

comes next in two coats, and the whole is allowed to dry for two or

three weeks. All the colors are then taken in dry powder and mixed with

the medium. The less retouching once the paint is applied the better,

since this brings to the surface oily patches. The chief source of de-

cay is, as with all decorative processes, dampness.


This type of painting is quite suitable for damp weather coun-

tries, but is very complicated in working. The area is first plastered

and allowed to dry very slowly. When it is absolutely dry, it is primed

with lime and distilled water in a very thin wash. It is left to dry

for a few days so that it will penetrate into the plaster. It is then

hardened and fixed with a mixture of Ferro-silicic acid and distilled

water. When this dries another coat of distilled water is played and

when this dries, a final washing of water-glass of potassium and water

is applied in two coats; each coat drying a minimum of 20 hours. The

colors are especially prepared in Germany and are diluted with distilled

water. The area to be worked on must be kept damp with distilled water.

Once the whole work is dried, a fluid fixative is applied in several

coats; each coat drying for 12 to 24 hours.

The most widely used method for plaster decorating is gilding. The

earliest and most expensive type of gilding is gold leafing. It was

used to decorate many things. Before, all beating had to be done by

hand. The process goes back to Ancient Egypt and India, from where it

spread to the east. Gold leaf comes in different qualities. Bright

is a term given to a pure gold leaf. Low carat is a harder metal -

leaf which is alloyed with copper or silver, changing the shade to

reddish or whitish depending on which other metal is used. The process

of gold leafing is as follows:

The article to be decorated is well sanded and completely dry.

The surface is dusted with talcom powder or cornstarch, then with a

small brush and enamel the design is painted and allowed to stand until

almost dry and sticky to the touch. The metal leaf is then laid on the

paint and the excess is brushed off with cotton wool. It is left to

harden for several days and is finally polished with cotton wool. Most

metal leaf continues untarnished longer on paper mache than any other

substance. True gold leaf never tarnishes.

A bronze powder was made for the decoration of surfaces in 17th

and 18th century, Germany. Some were not pure bronze, however, and

turned into greenish shades. "Dutch metal" was inexpensive and had the

brilliance of gold. It was an alloy of brass and copper, and came in

white or yellow gold foil. It came in 4 varieties:

Common- soft and reddish made of one part zinc to
three parts copper.

French- more zinc and harder.

Florence- even more zinc and greener in color

White-leaf. made of pure tin.

The American Henry Bessemer (1813-1898) found a method to grind

up metals and ores into fine powders of various colors by staining them

with chemicals. He used brass, copper, zinc, silver, gold, and dutch

metal and produced very brilliant colors with metallic tints.

Sometimes, white metal leaf was made to look gold by a yellow

varnish called "gold mecca". It was a mixture of shellac, gamboge, and

dragon's blood a bright red gum from the fruit of palms. It was very

popular in the 17th century. John Evelyn (1620-1706) introduced an

inexpensive gold varnish made from the gluey extraction of seaweed or

a solution from the flower of a pagoda tree. The product came original

from Japan. In 1775 another gold varnish was introduced made from am-

ber gum-lac, oil of turpentine, and Hepatica aloe.

All white metal foil or powder was called silver, though it was

really tin or an alloy of tin or zinc. True silver always turns brown,

when varnished and darkens with time. Two other foil metals paladium,

discovered in 1803 and a member of the platinum family, and aluminum

were too expensive to use at first. Aluminum, however, became cheaper

after the 1860's. All metal leafing processes are similar to the gold

leafing one previously described.


European examples are quite abundant and varied. Among some

n fine examples in different countries are the Escorial in Spain,

Versailles and Fountainebleau in France, many ceiling designs by

Inigo Jones and the brothers Adam in England.

In America, the painted plaster ceiling was not as popular as

in England and Europe. By the 1880's and 1890's, however, many of the

large mansions in America began to decorate their ceilings in various

ways. Two plain plaster ceilings with painted motiffs are found in

the dining room of the Ponce de Leon Hotel decorated by Bernard May

Beck and the billiard room of "The Breakers" in 1892 by Richard Morris

Hunt. An example of a plaster ceiling in relief and painted is the

"Moorish Room" of John D. Rockefeller's house in New York in 1880. It

is ironic that neither the plaster decor nor the painted motiffs re-

semble in any way the plaster and paint interiors of the Mauresque. One

of the few examples of a heroic painting with plaster borders is found

e2 in the ceiling of the entrance hall at Ochre Court. There is heavy

gilding and painting on the stucco ribs along with white Gesso decor-

ations in high relief.



The boarded ceiling is the second most popular type of closed

ceilings. The earliest known use of this type of finish was found

in ancient Egypt and Classical Greece. In the Middle Ages, many of

the timber framed churches in England were boarded underneath.

The earliest precedent for boarded ceilings in America are found

in Tudor England. This ceiling type was a contemporary with the open

frame carved ceiling of the time. It was at its simplest form, a

flat ceiling in which the structural members are planked underneath

with boards very similar to the floor-boards above. This ceiling

type was often faced with very low-relief moulded ribs of wood,

which divided the ceiling into a geometrical pattern of coffers. This

ceiling type was more expensive than the open type, so fewer are in

existence today since fewer were built. A fine example is found at

Russell's Hall in Lyddington.An interesting motiff found in this

particular ceiling is a wide margin of coved fan-vaulting with

carved bands of open tracery which acts as a simple cornice and fra-

mes the ceiling. Many of these ceilings are found today in private

houses which did not originally have that type of ceiling.

A ceiling found at a house at Bridgewater is a later example

of a Tudor boarded ceiling. It was originally found in a church or

a room with a much higher ceiling since the carving and relief are

very bold. The beams are well moulded and produce a much deeper

panel than the earlier ceilings. Again, the ribs divide the ceiling

into a coffered type in a geometrically regemented wayIf one looks

closely at the ceiling, it will be noticed that it is structurally

detached from the house. The large scale and vigour of the carvings,

particularly the bosses at the intersection of the ribs suggesting

Bible subjects leads to further the idea that the ceiling was ori-

finally found in the ante-room of a Tudor Church.
--' In the period of Sir Christopher Wren and the times immediately

preceding him, the carved ceiling became very popular in England. The

carving of planned or borded ceilings also goes back to Ancient Egypt

and Greece. It was also very popular in Japan, Germany and Spain. The

technique of Pyrography or burnt wood-working was very popular in

Spain. This art consists of drawing upon the wood with a metal point

heated to char the surface. A light colored wood was always preferred

since graduation and shading could be easily obtained. The wood was

never colored and the design was always monochrome.

--hAnother type of decoration found in wood ceilings is inlaying.

It is much used for friezes and wall panels but is harder to find di-

rectly applied to the ceiling. It allows a contrast of color through

the use of varying shades of wo)ds. Along with wood, many other ma-

terials were used to inlay; among these are ivory, tortoise-shell,

metals, bone, mother-of-pearl, and minerals. It was rarely used for

large areas, but it was extremely popular for smaller details.

In England, an example of the carved ceilings found during the

time of Wren and aptly executed by Grinling Gibbons his master car-

ver, is the ceiling of Crewe Hall. Gibbons worked in a style some-

what French Rococco in feeling. It was very florid and always well

executed. This ceiling is very spirited and delicate in carving, and

is executed in low relief. Unlike their plaster designs for ceilings

of the time, the wood carved ceiling was never geometrically regimen-

ted.The ceiling type discussed gave rise to wood ceilings which P.t-

tempted to continue the wall panelling up into the ceiling. Later,

combinations of wood carved and plaster ceilings appeared, but are

too few in number to be considered a style. By the beginning of the

18th Century, the carved wood ceiling. fell out of favor and is not

used in England until the 1850's and the Gothic Revival.


II---C The boarded ceiling, though found in America, was never used to
the extent that we find it in Europe. The earliest types are found
at the turn of the 18th Century, when the open-framed ceiling went
out of style. But most houses used the plaster ceiling which was
readily available, cheaper and easier to build. The early types of
boarded ceilings were very similar to the Tudor boarded ceilings of
England. The framing members were sheathed on the underside with
boards very similar to the floor-boards. The simplest ceiling was
found without the shallow ribs, but this type was seldom found, since

In Spain, another unique type of wood ceiling existed which can
not rightly be classified as boarded or open wood ceiling. It is a
process called "strapwork" and originally started during the Mau-
resque period in Spain. The ceiling type became popular in the rest
of Europe and in England. The Gallery of Francis I at the palace of
Fountainebleau was the first strapwork ceiling executed outside of
Spain. In the process, the wood is treated in a similar way to a
mosaic. The wood is cut into thin strips or delicate curved sections,
and the ceiling was then assembled with the segments into a variety
of shapes and geometric designs. A beautifully executed ceiling and
one of the earliest known is found in the hallway of the Reales Al-
cazares at Sevilla, Spain. Sometimes, the framing members were left
exposed and ingeniously worked into the overall ceiling design. In
Spain, the wood ceiling was always highly painted and gilded. The
colors used most often were the primary ones so favored by the Moors.
As the ceiling type flourished in the rest of Europe, the majority
of the designs were only gilded and the wood was left in its natural

it was not a very pleasing ceiling design. Generally, if one was

going to spend the extra effort and money to build a boarded cei-
ling, he would finish it with the simple moulded ribs in a geome-

Stric coffered style popular in England~ I 1715, a unique pine

l ceiling was constructed in a house at Hampton, New Hampshire. It
is similar to the boarded ceilings found in England after the car-

ved style of Gibbons went out. The wall panelling of the room inter-

act in a very pleasing way. The ceiling is composed of wide pine

boards very carefully laid. The design is completed by several un-

decorated wood ribs in very shallow relief, which goes well with

the low ceiling height of the room. The ribs have no structural
function, they are used sim3y as a decorative motiff. The way the

ribs are placed in the ceiling is quite unique three ribs are

found in close proximity to each other running in both East/West

and North/South axes, in the center of the room. On both sides of

the two major axes are found:another set of two ribs running para-

llel to the central ones.
--p The boarded ceiling fell out of favor in America just like in

England. They are found again around the 1850's. At this time, the

coffered wood ceiling became very popular, but not like the original
colonial precedent. In the large moulding and high relief, it is
More similar to the Later Tudor Ceilings we discussed. An example

is found at the Potts House dining room in Philadelphia in 1875. The

coffers are deep mahogany panels created by fine moulded mahogany
ribs with no structural function. The beams are quite deep reflecting

the high ceiling of the room2.The boarded ceiling in its plain form

remained very popular in the United States after mid-century and

has been widely used ever since.

A Another unique boarded ceiling is found at Le Grand Lockwood

in Norwalk, Connecticut in 1869. The ceiling is unique because of its

shape and decorative treatment. It was designed and decorated by Ita-

lian workers. It is an octagonal room terminated by a straight octa-

gonal cove. The entire walls and ceiling panels are painted with a

pastellish blue-green and have other classical motiffs in pastel tints

very "Adamesque" in nature. The octagonal ceiling panels are bordered

by wood ribs which are carved in a similar mode to a wood cornice,

which frames the ceiling panels from the room walls. These wood mem-

bers have no structural function and are painted in a greener shade

of color. To top it all, the wood framing of the door leading into

the room is left in its natural mahogany color and is heavily gil-

ded and varnished, while none of the wood used in the interior of

the room has any gilding nor is varnished. Not too many other exam-

ples of decorated wood ceilings are found in the United States, and

there are none decorated like Le Grand Lockwood]



The earliest glass ceilings were those found in the English

greenhouses of the early 19th Century. The best type of ceiling for

the greenhouses was found to be the curvilinear roof, but this type

was too expensive for ordinary uses. The earliest and simplest glazed

roof was of the lean-to type. When the first glass roofs were intro-

duced the angles used for the roofs increased the danger of breakage

and in violent hailstorms it was a common occurrence for almost every

pane in the roof to be broken. As a result, the window panes became

as large and as thick as possible. The immediate results for using

three foot long and foot wide panes was the scorching of the plants

and the twisting of the sash-frames due to the weight of the glass.

Another reason for the scorching was that sheet glass was much too

perfect. The older crown-glass greenhouses had small panes with many

-apertures through which the heated air could freely pass. The uneven

surface of sheet glass was found to be the culprit in the scorching

of plants. Many of these 'cockles' formed lenses of considerable

power which focused on some of the plants and burned them. Eventual-

ly, sheet glass began to be improved and the defects were eliminated.

Joseph Paxton is the man most responsible for the improvements

of glass and iron construction during the 19th Century. He began as

a gardner in 1828,to turn his attention to the building and improve-

ment of glass structures. In the Chatsworth Conservatory, Paxton was

the first man to glaze with panes of considerable length. Robert

Lucas Chance had just introduced sheet glass to England and told

Paxton that he could produce glass panes up to three feet in length.

But Paxton did not want to overlap two sheets of glass to reach his

desired 5ize, so he asked them to produce a four foot pane. Shortly

afterwards he was advised that it was possible to furnish him with

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Patent glazing of a circular dome with ventilating lantern.
By courtesy of Mellowes & Co. Ltd.



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Standard one-piece domes, as manufactured by Pilkington Brothers Limited.




Details of vertical patent glazing, Dunston Power Statio
By courtesy of Heywood & Co. Ltd.




D. Concrete Ceilings

If any material used for ceiling finishes could be considered

as the best suited for an architectural expression of the 20th century,

it would have to be concrete. First used for strictly utilitarian func-

tions, the qualities of concrete have come out into new light. With

new roof forms, such as folded plates, light-weight concrete shells,

and pre-cast slabs; new ceiling finishes reflecting the material used

were designed.

Within concrete buildings, however, the SCUlptural forms of moul-

ded concrete ceilings and the patterns created by precast elements

pose problems which the architect must consider in designing the inter-

iors. If the ceiling has a strong, dominant pattern or form, its re-

lationship to every interior element must be planned, as well as its

relation to the whole design and to the human environment created. The

integration of mechanical equipment and acoustical materials and the

placement of lighting fixtures are especially important problems to


Through a brief historical summary of concrete ceilings, we shall

look at some examples in which the problems of both precast and poured

concrete were solved. The earliest use of concrete as a ceiling and

roofing material was probably in Europe's military fortifications of

the late 19th century. Several countries were using large, thick slabs

of concrete as a more effective material in stopping aerial bombard-

ment. In Dresden, Germany, one of the first "commercial" uses of con-

crete for a ceiling is found in 1910 at King George's school by Erlwein

[ and in Munich's university school of anatomy by Heilmann and Littmann

in 1907. Obviously, these people were experimenting with the now widely

used coffered or pan concrete ceiling, which provides easy placing in

the voids for lighting fixtures or acoustical panels, without leaving

a cluttered waffle ceiling.

9+ In the 1920's in France, Auguste Ferret became known as the

"Evangelist of Concrete". In his first major design in concrete at

Le Raincy, Perret built vaults of a flat segmental form resting on

very slender columns a possibility only in concrete. Later in 1938,

in Paris, Perret designed the Musee Des Travaux Publics. Again he uti-

lized cast in place concrete, only this time he con tructed a large

spanning half dome scattered with pavement lights to allow natural

lighting into the auditorium below. The two designs are both unique

expressions of concrete as a building material, as Perret used it as

no other material could be used. In the case of concrete roofs and

ceilings, we have found expression in revealing the structural frame-

work of our roofs and ceilings.

Many later examples of concrete ceilings are found through Europe

and the United States. Perhaps the classical example of the integration

of lighting, mechanical equipment, and acoustical materials with the

ceiling-floor structure is Yale University's Art Gallery, designed by
Douglas Orr and Louis T. Kahn. The design consists of a tetrahedral

ceiling with runners along the ribs, so that partitions may be placed

anywhere to divide the space. The voids of the ceiling contain air-

distribution ducts and trolley ducts for lighting units. These ducts

are attached to a layer of acoustical material which was used as the

form for, and became integral with, the structure. Internally, it is

a sincere attempt to create an original decorative effect by producing

a form in which the inherent structure was featured instead of disguised

A more expansive feeling of space was achieved in the open 120'

X 180' interior of Hunter College's library in New York by Marcel

Brever. The space is roofed by six inverted concrete umbrellas, each

on a central column. A flourescent lighting grid of aluminum box sec-

tions 7' 6" o.c., suspended 10' above the floor, provides uniform

illumination for a flexible furniture arrangement. The lighting grid

becomes, in effect, a suspended ceiling, negating the soaring space

moulded by the shells.

The delicacy of the folded-plate precast concrete roof at the
American Concrete Institute Headquarters in Detroit, designed by

Yamasaki, is preserved in the interior. Office areas are illuminated

by strips of flourescent fixtures installed along the apexes of the

folded-plates and partially recessed in plaster. Ducts for the combin-

ation heating and cooling system were placed in the floor, leaving the

ceiling free of any mechanical equipment. The upper parts of the par-

titions are glazed so as not to interrupt the continuity of the folded-


An example of the waffle or pan ceiling system close to home is

the Florida State Museum. The voids serve as places to receive the

lighting fixtures, and many are topped with a glass pain to produce

natural skylights. The result is a very pleasing and uncluttered de-


In each of these interiors, the architects considered the prob-

lems of integrating the lighting, mechanical, and acoustical systems

and of the placement of interior partitions and elements. They ill-

ustate a variety of solutions, some more successful than others.

V. Miscellaneous Ceiling Types

In this section we shall look at a few other materials that have

been used for the finishing and construction of ceilings. Some have

been widely used while others are unique in materials and/or design.


The first recorded use of mosaics was in the middle period of

ancient Egypt. It was a very popular decoration during the time of the

Roman Empire and its importance grew tremendously after Constantine

the great. In the early mosaics, the stones were square or triangular

and geometrically precise. Later much work was done with irregular and

small pieces of colored stones and various other materials such as

alabaster, marble, and other costly materials. It was during the By-

zantine Empire that colored glass and precious gems were added to the

list of materials. They introduced the most vivid and brightest colors

with a background of gold foil which is today always associated with


There are 4 types of mosaics commonly used for decoration:

Tesselatum Composed of small cubes of marbles 1" square and

usually black and white. The mosaics were laid in a geometric

pattern and were very popular for walls and floors. They are not

known to be used for ceiling decoration. The baths of Caracalla

in Rome are decorated in tesselatum.

Sectilia Slices of marble employed to produce broad effects

and rarely used for elaborate subjects.

Figilnum Very small fragments of silica and alumina colored by

oxides and produced in a glass-maker's furnace. It is a very pop-

ular type for decorating vaulted spaces. Any color can be obtained,

and with a great amount of brilliance.

Vermiculatum A mixture of cubes of colored marble, gold, glass,

and even precious stones employed to produce complete and precise

pictures of humans, plants, and animals in their natural colors.

A fifth class is found which resembles mosaic but is not a true

form of that work. It is called Opus Grecanicum and it consists of en-

crusting grooves cut into marble with tiny cubes of colored and gilded

smalto. It is used to produce geometrical designs or to outline archi-

tectural elements.

The Byzantine mosaics set the trend that continued in Eurppe with

the depicting of natural objects for adorning basilicas. The gold back-

ground was also Byzantine. The cathedral of San Marco in Venice has ex-

cellent mosaics in the Byzantine tradition.

The Moors adopted many Byzantine ideas for the Mauresque style,

but their's was a very geometrical and mathematical decorative system

and they favored large tiles instead of small pieces. They did use the

mosaics for their domes and cove ceilings. An example of this type of

work is the ceiling of the Hall of Kings at the Reales Alcazares in


In all these ceiling works no attempt was ever made to color or

conceal the joints between the mosaics. Normally, if the grouping and

drawing are perfectly executed, even wide jointing will go undetected

since ceilings of this type are always seen at a distance. The joints

are irrelevant as to the distortion of the whole. Mosaic work in ceil-

ings is rarely found in America, so no American examples are cited.

B. Mirrors

Mirrors are not used too frequently for ceiling decorations, but

some 18th century european rooms were uniquely decorated with mirrors

and other materials. There are "mirror rooms", as they were called in

Italy, France, Germany, Holland, and Austria.

Among the most decorated is the ceiling of the mirror room at

"La Favorite" a summer residence in Germany built by Louis XIV for his

godson. It was decorated by Pfleger and Stohr and was a ceiling com-

bining mirrors with painted and gilded plaster and gesso decorations.

The mirrors in this ceiling uniquely take the place of armorial

and punctuated by leaded glass skylights which are hidden from view.

He uses large wood ribs to frame white plaster panels which are accen-

tuated by smaller parallel ribs. The small ribs run in the direction

of the slopes and accentuate the latter. The remaining area of the

ceiling is paneled in a light wood, probably pine. Wright, while using

conventional ceiling materials, has designed a unique ceiling through

varying slopes and shapes. Note the fine painted friezes over the book-




1. Tie-beam roof over Trinity Church
"Open Timber Roofs of the Middle Ages"
Plate #13.
2. Roof over Heckington Church
"Open Timber Roofs of the Middle Ages"
Plate "1.

3. Roof over Nave, Knapton Church
"Open Timber Roofs of the Middle Ages"
Plate #36.

4. Roof St. Mary Magdalen's Church
"Open Timber Roofs of the Middle Ages"
Plate #27.

5. Open Tudor Roof
"Structural Ceilings of the Early Tudor House"
The Conoisseur, vol. 123, pages 75-82, June 1949.

6. The Hart House II M / MA6l 1~40
~ University of Florida slide library #32608.

7. Philipe's Castle
= University of Florida slide library #21819.

8._ Exhibition Gallery
University of Florida slide library #21802.

/Optional: Miller's House, Milbach
University of Florida slide library #31971.

17 Watts Sherman House WFt / I/ 7
Z University of Florida slide library #35113

la [ Lyndhurst interior -" rPO I 1Y o40
University of Florida slide library
11. The roof of the "Abencerrajes Hall"
Author's slide collection

)12 Interior Loggia at the Vatican by Raphael
University of Florida slide library

13. English early Parge work
The Art of the Plasterer
Figs. 120-123.

14. Ceiling Dane Way House
The Art of the Plasterer
Figs. 129-130.

15. Elizabethan Ceiling work
The Art of the Plasterer
Figs. 189-190.

16. The Fish-Room
The Art of the Plasterer
Fig. 203.

17. Ceiling of the 1620's
The Art of the Plasterer
Fig. 226.

18. Inigo Jones Salon at Raynham Hall
The Art of the Plasterer
Fig. 340.

19. Interior Palace of Versailles
University of Florida Slide Library

20. Sir Christopher Wren Brickwall House
The Art of the Plasterer
Figs. 394-395.

21. William Kent Holkmann House
The Art of the Plasterer
Fig. 407.
22. Ceiling from Kenmore and Design from Batty Langley's Book.
Notable American Houses
Pg. 95.

23. Ceiling Philipe's Manor
"The Restoration of a plaster ceiling at Philipe's Manor"

24. Floor Structure Philie's Manor
"The Restoration of a plaster ceiling at Philipe's Manor"
Figs. 13 14.

25, Color Scheme Adam ceiling
Color Schemes of Adam Ceilings
Plate #2.

264 Adam Ceiling
The Art of the Plasterer
Fig. 429.

27. Kenmore Ceiling
100 Most Beautiful Rooms in America
Pg. 107.
28, Almodington, Living Room
;i" University of Florida slide library #21815.

29. Interior Mount Vernon
The Dwellings of Colonial America
Pg. 64.

30. Monticello Entrance Hall
Notable American Houses
Pg. 136.

31. American Eagle Stucco Centerpiece Monticello
Notable American Houses
Pg. 135.

32. American Adam Style
SUniversity of Florida slide library #32611.

33. The Music Room Versailles
Pg. 106.

34 "Sunnyside" interior
University of Florida slide library #21817.

35. Ceiling at the "Escorial" Spain
Author's lide collection.

36. Ponce de Leon Hotel, St. Augustine Dining Room
Author's slide collection
37 "The Breakers" billiard room
University of Florida slide library #28519.

38 / "The Breakers" entrance hall
University of Florida slide library #35102.

39. / J.D. Rockefeller House,.New York
~- University of Florida slide library #35364.

40. Ochre Court
The Architecture of Newport
Fig. 217.

41. East Room The White House
The White House
Pg. 59.
42. Simple Stucco Ceiling
Author's slide collection

43. Room in Sgrafftio
Modern Mural Design

44. Papier Mache Architectural Decorations
"Papier Mache Decorations"

45. Strawberry Hill and Eaton Hall
English Interior Decoration 1500-1830
Pg. 232.
46. Bishop Russell's Hall
"Structural Ceilings of the Early Tudor House"
The Conoisseur, vol. 123, Pg. 75-82, June 1945.

47. Ceiling at Bridgewater
"Structural Ceilings of the Early Tudor House"
The Conoisseur, Vol. 123, Pg. 75-82, June 1945.
48. Crewe Hall
English Interior Decoration 1500 1830
Pg. 117.

49. Ceiling at the Reales Alcazares
Author's slide collection

50. House Springfield, Mass., 1754.
Furniture and Decoration
Pg. 100

51.v Hampton, N.H. Ceiling 1715
-o- University of Florida slide library "32607.

52.1/ Potts House 1875
SUniversity of Florida slide library #37184.

53. Le Grand Lockwood 1869
Notable American Houses
Pg. 250.

54. The Chatsworth Conservatory 1837
Glass in Architecture and Decoration
Pg. 211.

55. The Crystal Palce 1851
Glass in Architecture and Decoration
Pg. 219.

56. Galerie Des Machines 1889
Glass in Architecture and Decoration
Pg. 225.

57. Improved Keppler System
Glass in Architecture and Decoration
Pg. 185.

58. Double-lens Keppler System
Glass in Architecture and Decoration
Pg. 187.

59. Restaurant Ratinaud 1911
Glass in Architecture and Decoration
Pg. 268.

60. Munich University School of Anatomy 1907
Concrete: The Vision of a new Architecture
Fig. 28b.

61. Musee Des Travaux Publics, 1938
Concrete: The Vision of a new Architecture
Fig. 91.
62. Yale University's Art Galery 1958
Concrete: The Vision of a new Architedture
Fig. 104.

63.I University of Florida Florida State Museum
Author's slide collection

64. Skylight 231 Commonwealth Avenue
The Houses of Boston's Back Bay
Pg. 262.

65. Rough Cast Skylight
Glass in Architecture and Decoration
Pg. 380.
66. The Hall of Kings Reales Alcazares Spain
Author's slide collection

67 Dome of St. Mark's Venice
University of Florida slide library

68. "La Favorite" mirrored ceiling
Fig. 151.

69. Palazzo Terzi mirrored ceiling

70./ Kingscote Dining Room
s University of Florida slide library #35108.

71. Coonley House
Notable American Houses
Pg. 323.

72. Library at 211 Commonwealth Avenue
"The Houses of Boston's Back Bay"
Pg. 266.

73. Plaster Rosette with gas fume vents
"The Houses of Boston's Back Bay"
Pg. 153.

74. Electrical Lighting recessed
"The Houses of Boston's Back Bay"
Pg. 343.
75. Electrical Lighting recessed
Furniture and Decoration
Pg. 111.

76. Suspended ceiling University of Florida
Author's slide collection

77. Air-conditioning vents University of Florida
Author's slide collection

78. Glass on ceramic tile ceiling with skylights
Modern Mural Decoration

79. Cornices American
The White Pine Series of Architectural Monographs

80. Cornices English late 18th century
English Interior Decoration 1500 1830



1.) "Architecture's PortfoliooOf Decorative Plaster Ceilings"
Architecture, New York, Vol. 58, pg. 307-314, Nov. 1928
2.) "Architecture's Portfolio of Wood Ceilings"
Architecture, New York, Vol. 66, pg. 109-124, Aug. 1932

3.) "Ceiling of the Camera Della Segnatura, The Vatican"
Architect 1897, Vol. 22, pg. 301

4.) Adams-Acton, Murray
"Structural ceilings of the early Tudor house"
The Conoisseur, Vol. 123, pg. 75-82, June 1949

5.) Baldry, A. Lys
Modern Mural Decoration
G, Newnes, Ltd., London, 1902

6.) Bankart, George P.
The Art of the Plasterer
Charles Scribner's-& Sons, New York, 1909

7.) Brawne, Michael
"Looking up, suspended ceilings as an element in interior
The Architectural Review,Vol. 124, pg. 160-170, Sept. 1958

8.) Byne, Arthur and Stapley, Mildred
Decorated Wooden Ceilings in Spain
G.P. Putnam's Sons, New York, 1920

9.) Champneys, Basil
"The History & uses of Plaster-work, especially as relating
to Ornamental Ceilings"
The Royal Institute of British Architects, Vol. 5, pg. 123-
136, 1889
10.) Peinblatt, Ebria
"Jesuit Ceiling Decorations"
Art Quarterly, Vol. 10, pg. 236-253, Autumn 1947

11.) Geerlings, Gerald K.
Color Schemes of Adam Ceilings
Charles Scribner's & Sons, New York, 1928
12.) Hill, Oliver
"Painted Ceilings"
Country Life, Vol. 103, pg. 178-181, Jan. 1948

13.) Jourdan, Margaret
English Interior Decoration 1500-1830
B.T. Batsford, Ltd., London, 1950

14.) Keen, Arthur
"The Ceilings of the City Churches"
The Architectural Review, Vol. 29, pg. 68-78 & 136-143, 1911

15.) Matthews, Peter
"Suspended Ceilings"
The Architectural Review, Vol. 124, pg. 59-68, July 1958,
pg. 201-206, Sept. 1958
16.) McGrath, Raymond & Frost, A.C.
Glass in Architecture & Decoration
The Architectural Press, jondon 1937

17.) Melni, Alfredo
"Decorative Painting in Mantua, Italy"
The Architectural Record Vol. 25, pg. 20o-210, 1909

18.) Melani, Alfredo
"The Ceilings of the Galleria Degli Uffizi, Florence"
The Architectural Record Vol. 23, pg. 39-46, Jan. 1908

19.i Nichols, F. & Johnson, P.
The Early Architecture of Georgia
Chapel Hill: Univ. of T .C. Press, 1957

20.) Paris, W.F.
"Italian Renaissance in Detroit; The Library"
The American Architect Vol. 123, pg. 15-21, 1923
21.) "Problem of Concrete Ceilings"
Progressive Architecture Vol. 41, pg. 192-195, Oct. 1960

22.) Richardson, George
A Book of Ceilings
Ill. 1776

23.) Rothery, Guy Cadogan
Ceilings & Their Decoration
Prederick A. Stokes Company, New York

24.) "Suspended Ceilings"
The Architect's Journal Vol. 135, pg. 205-220, Jan. 1962

25.) Turner, Laurence A.
"Decorative Plaster Ceilings"
The Royal Institute of British Architects Vol. 15, pg. 537-334
Ser. 3, 1905-1906

26.) Whittons, Sherril
Elements of Interior Design & Decorations

27.) Williams, Henry
Great Houses of America

Sources obtained after May 5, 1975:

1. American Heritage Publishing Company, Inc.
Notable American Houses, 1971.

2. Aronson, Joseph
The Book of Furniture and Decoration
Crown Publishers, New York, 1941.

3. Brandon, Raphael and J. Arthur
Open Timber Roofs of the Middle Ages
London Stevens and Company, 1849.

4. Bunting, Bainbridge
The Houses of Boston's Back Bay
The Belknap Press, Mass., 1967.

5. Collins, Peter
Concrete: The Vision of a new Architecture
Horizon Press, New York, 1959.

6. Comstock, Helen
100 Most Beautiful Rooms in America
Viking Press, New York, 1965.

7. Embury, Aymar
"Early American Cornices"
The White Pine Series, Vol. X, no. 3, 1924.

8. Harvey, J.D.M. and Ramsey, Stanley C,
Small Georgian Houses and their Detail
Crane, Russak, and Company, Inc., 1972.

9. Hibbert, Christopher
News Week, New York, 1972.

10. Leish, Kenneth W.
The White House
News Week, New York, 1972.

11. Millar, William, and Bankart, George P.
Plastering Plain and Decorative
Dodd, Mead, and Company, 1927.

12. Pilkering, Ernest
The Homes of America
Thomas Y. Crowell Company, New York, 1951.

13. Roche, Sergio
Gerald Duckworth and Co., LTD., 1956.

14. Sexton, R.W.
Interior Architecture
Architectural Book Publishing Co., 1927.

15. Strange, Thomas Arthur
English Furniture. Decoration, and Woodwork
McCorquodale and Company, LTD.

16. Waterman, Thomas Tileston
The Dwellings of Colonial America
University of North Carolina Press, 1950.

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