Coffered Ceilings




Sanctuary - Lantern Ceiling

When Shadyside Church undertook the ministry theme, “Building Community,” leaders assessed each space in the actual building:  how it was used, how well it served that purpose, what ministry initiatives could be enhanced or enabled by changes to the structure.  Clearly, the church was very satisfied with the main worship space and no significant changes were needed or desired.  However, the sanctuary was certainly not ignored in the planning of new and modified spaces included in the construction phase of “Building Community.”


Detail of Sanctuary Coffered Ceiling (1938)

Cohesiveness is often a prized quality in architecture, especially in additions and modifications.  To a large degree, the church has been able to maintain a uniform and compatible exterior architectural style and finish during six building campaigns over 12 decades.  The most recent construction also achieved a greater degree of interior cohesiveness by the inspired adoption of a feature in the sanctuary.

During the 1938 alteration of Shadyside Church’s sanctuary, the central tower (or lantern) was finished with a coffered ceiling.  Architecturally speaking, a coffer is a sunken panel, usually in a ceiling.  This effect in the sanctuary results from a grid work of wooden beams spanning the roof above the clerestory windows.  The coffered ceiling, with many details mirrored, was carried into the covered passageway (often called the cloister) between the sanctuary and the chapel.


Cloister Coffered Ceiling (1938)

When the beloved Hulme Garden between the sanctuary and the chapel was transformed into the delightful and useful Sharp Atrium, a number of treatments were considered for the new enclosing roof.  Similar spaces sometimes reveal their steel structure, particularly when a significant amount of glass is used in the ceiling.  This would have produced a “colder” feel in what was intended as a welcoming gathering space.  It also would have had a decidedly “Victorian” esthetic incompatible with the church.  Although Shadyside was originally built in the Victorian era, its reliance on Romanesque sources imparts a timeless character.

Early Concept for Atrium Ceiling with Exposed Structural Steel


Sharp Atrium Coffered Ceiling (2010)

By sheathing the Atrium roof structure in fine woodwork, the resultant beam grid echoes that in the sanctuary coffered ceiling.  The sunken panels, thus formed, afford many opportunities for skylights – producing a bright, airy space tempered by the warm appearance of wooden beams.


Parish Hall Coffered Ceiling (2010)

A similar effect – welcome and warmth – was desired in the renovation of the dual-use assembly room-gymnasium in Parish Hall to a “living room” for the church family.  The existing fine wooden millwork and limestone wall treatment (odd for a gym) are perfect for the new use.  The hardwood basketball floor refinished nicely to combine with area rugs for a homey feel.  The crowning touch, once again, turned to the coffered ceiling.  It speaks to a domestic ambiance while recalling the familiar sanctuary feature.


Chapel Beamed Ceiling (1953) with Stencil Work (2010)

Finally, in the chapel, a 2010 change (which recalls the original 1890 sanctuary interior) points to a connection between the 1953 chapel and 1938 sanctuary.  The chapel ceiling was recently painted in a warm, yellow-gold and finished with stencil work, inspired by the original wall treatment in the sanctuary.  When the present chapel was built in the 1950s, structural steel was used, but the support was expressed by built-up wooden beams following the slope of the ceiling.  Longitudinal beams connected the main beams, forming sunken rectangular panels.  With the new, colorful stencil detail drawing attention upward, an observer can readily connect the resulting coffered effect in this worship space with that in the main sanctuary as executed in 1938.