In this post: How to make a DIY coffered ceiling that looks professionally done for less than $500* – with NO crown molding!
Sponsored project with help from The Home Depot.
Trim and wainscoting and coffered ceilings are all architectural elements that can elevate the look and feel of a home. Typically, they are all upgrades that can cost a small fortune too. But not in this case! We made our DIY coffered ceiling for less than $500 by swapping out crown molding for stacked cheaper trim!
Table of Contents
Why We Wanted a DIY Coffered Ceiling
Before we bought this house, we traipsed through a lot of houses. We visited model home after model home, went to open houses and had our sweet realtor take us to see all the houses.
We originally thought we wanted a century home because of all the character that they typically have. However after visiting many of them I couldn’t get past the small rooms and gross basements. Then one particularly beautiful century home caught our eye. It was made over top to bottom, and it had been moved so it sat upon a brand spanking new basement. We almost put an offer on it, but it really was beyond our price range so we sadly left it behind.
After that we stopped looking at old houses and started looking for a new build. We even had a floor plan all picked out. Funnily enough that’s when we found the house we now live in – with almost the exact same floor plan as the model we had picked out!
Anyway, after we purchased this house (while we were waiting to move in) we kept visiting model homes in the area – only now it was to scope out the finishing trim and moldings! Which is how we were inspired to install this DIY coffered ceiling within the tray ceiling in our dining room.
DIY Coffered Ceiling Tutorial
*We’re assuming you have these tools and didn’t include the cost of tools in the cost of this project.
- Sliding compound mitre saw
- Brad nailer
- Stud finder
- Caulking gun
- Tape measure
*Amounts will vary based on the size of your room.
- 2″ nails for Brad nailer
- 1 1/2″ nails for Brad nailer
- 2 1/2″ flat head screws
- Alex Plus paintable window and door caulking
- 3M Patch Plus Primer
- 1″ x 16″ x 8′ pine ‘shelving’
- 1″ x 4″ x 8′ pine
- 1″ x 6″ x 8′ pine
- 1″ x 3 1/2″ primed MDF
- 150′ x 5 1/4″ MDF baseboard
- 450′ x 1 1/4″ primed pine door stop (or whatever is cheapest, this replaces the need for crown moulding)
- white paint
- paint brush
- paint roller
The following instructions are for a basic grid pattern. If you want something else (like a square in the middle or octagons), you will need to modify our instructions or find a tutorial that uses that sort of coffered ceiling plan. Our instructions also assume you are either installing the DIY coffered ceiling in an entire room (and have four walls to extend the coffered ceiling to) or that you have an existing tray ceiling like we did in our dining room to contain the coffered ceiling. Measurements will vary depending upon the size of your room.
Building the base
1. Find and mark your ceiling joists with a pencil and a stud finder. Be sure to keep these in mind when planning your coffered ceiling layout as you will need to mount your brackets to the joists.
2. Draw a rough sketch of how you want your DIY coffered ceiling to look to help you visualize. Like I mentioned we wanted a basic grid. But you may want something else, so be sure to sketch it out.
3. Measure your ceiling space, and draw it to scale on a piece of paper. Using your rough sketch as a guide, draw your coffered ceiling. After much discussion, we decided to treat our ceiling like a basic box when creating the grid, and then just shortened the sections that extended to the angled portions of our tray ceiling.
4. Using a level and a pencil draw the basic grid plan on the ceiling. (See photo below.)
5. Next you need to make the larger cross support brackets. These will be completely hidden once your ceiling is finished and are made from a combination of the pine (from the supply list). The overall size for each is 15 1/4″ x 15 1/4″ x 4 9/16″. For each cross support bracket cut one piece of 3 1/2″ pine to 15 1/4″ and two pieces to 5 7/8″. From the 1″ x 16″ pine, cut two pieces to 3 7/8″ x 15 1/4″ and four pieces to 3 7/8″ x 5 7/8″. Tack the cross support bracket together using the Brad nailer as shown in the image below. Add twenty 2 1/2″ flat head screws to reinforce the wood bracket.
6. Repeat step 5 for as many junctions as your coffered ceiling design requires (we needed four).
7. Next create the smaller support brackets. Using the 3 1/2″ pine, cut one piece 6″ long. Using the 1″ x 16″ pine, cut two pieces 3 7/8″ x 6″. Tack the cross support bracket together using the Brad nailer as shown in the image below. Add four 2 1/2″ flat head screws to reinforce the wood bracket.
8. Repeat step 7 for as many supports as your coffered ceiling design requires (we needed twenty).
9. Using your penciled in ceiling layout as a guide, tack the brackets in place using the 2″ nails and the Brad nailer. Make sure they are all in line and straight as you go (use a straight edge/level to help if needed).
10. Using a drill and 2 1/2″ flat head screws, screw the brackets into the previously marked joists.
Creating the grid
11. Attach lengths of 1″ x 3 1/2″ MDF to the bottoms of the wood support brackets as shown below. The outside of the MDF and the support brackets should be flush.
12. Measure and cut to fit the baseboards for each “box” in your coffered ceiling. Mitre the corners to fit as well.
13. Tack baseboards in place using 1 1/2″ nails and the Brad nailer. MAKE SURE YOU INSTALL BASEBOARDS UPSIDE DOWN! Repeat for each section of your coffered ceiling. *
*We left a 1/8″ gap at the top because I wanted the baseboards to sit below the MDF a little for extra visual interest.
Trimming it out
As I mentioned we didn’t use any crown moulding on our coffered ceiling. This was actually due to both budget and to the spacing of the existing pot lights (which we freshened up with newer bulbs that are flush with the ceiling instead of the old school inset look).
14. Cut pieces of the pine door stop to act as spacers and tack onto baseboard tight to the ceiling, as shown below.
15. Next cut lengths of door stop to fit each box (with mitered corners) and mount with Brad nailer BELOW the spacers just added.
16. Then cut lengths of doors top to fit each box (with mitered corners) and mount with Brad nailer ON TOP of the spacers, just overlapping the pieces added in step 15. See photo below.
Finish and Caulk
17. Use the 3M Patch Plus Primer and your finger to fill all the nail holes. Let dry and then sand where necessary (wipe off any resulting dust).
18. Using the Alex Plus, the caulking gun and your finger, fill alllllll of the cracks and gaps and joints. This is the key to a professional looking coffered ceiling (and any trim job for that matter)!
19. Using a combination of a quality paint brush, roller and paint, paint the entire ceiling and all the trim work.
So while this DIY coffered ceiling isn’t quite a beginner project, it is doable if you have about medium DIYing skills.
And it adds a TON of character and style to a space!
Of course the coffered ceiling looks much nicer with the new chandelier (updating light fixtures was one of the ways we updated this space).
To see our updated dining room, go here.