I just knew these wood beams were hiding under the ceiling since the day I first stepped foot in our current home. I took a chance and pulled down the plaster and lath to reveal a great gift from the men who originally built our home back in 1740. Little did they know 275 years later how much this DIY loving mom would appreciate their hard work.
A DIY tutorial on how to expose wood beams in an antique post and beam farmhouse. A complete ceiling makeover to reveal original wood beams.
The ceiling makeover in the dining room is complete and I am beyond proud to display these beautiful, mostly original wood beams. Unfortunately many years back someone had installed a drop ceiling, mostly likely in order to hide the electrical wiring, but in doing so it also hid these amazing, rustic, hand hewn wood beams.
Wood Beams Exposed
I ripped down the drop ceiling, had two electrical lines rerouted, and then turned to my contractor and had his guys install blocking and sheetrock in between each cavity. Finally I installed the finishing touch, this colonial style wrought iron chandelier.
The view above is from the master bedroom doorway. The dining room is the most central room in our 1740 saltbox home and it has 6 doorways around the perimeter:
When we moved in back in June of 2013 the room was dark, had no light fixture, had a drop ceiling that was only 7 feet high and a tiny piece of moulding for a mantle:
Almost a year later and I’ve done a lot of work to this space.
Dining Room Makeover
First I painted the walls Benjamin Moore simply white and had the mantle replaced as soon as we moved in. Then I just couldn’t hold out any longer and ripped down the plaster and lath drop ceiling.
3 days of working overhead in a dustbowl might have been the worst project I’ve done so far.
But all the hard work was worth it.
I did find quite a few artifacts up in the ceiling:
A carriage manufacturer business card and other neat old trinkets. But the biggest surprise was this:
About 100 corn cobs packed in between the beams around the fireplace. I believe they were used as insulation in the 1800s.
Original Wood Beams
It’s clear that these beams are original to our 1740 home and they were hewn by hand. So many irregularities and rough chops makes me think about the men who toiled and labored to construct this home hundreds of years ago.
In one beam it’s obvious there used to be some vertical posts to frame a doorway perhaps? The original wood pegs are still in position:
Below is a good photo of the before and after from the same angle. Amazing what a bit of paint and exposing the ceiling can do to bring out the true charm and character of a historical home.
After I completed this project I realized I had to pull down the plaster ceiling to reveal the wood beams in the other lower level rooms. So far I’ve completed these rooms:
Below I’m sharing the process I used to remove the existing plaster ceiling and expose the wood beams. It’s worth noting that every home is different and you may have issues arise so I recommend plan for plenty of time and expect the unexpected.
- plastic sheeting
- painters tape
- ram board
- trash barrel & shovel
- pry bar
- eye protection
- dust mask
- hearing protection
- utility knife
Step 1: First cover the floor with ram board and then place tarps on top of the protected floor to catch the debris. Tape plastic sheeting over doors, hvac vents, outlets, switches, any little crevice because the dust will go everywhere.
Step 2: Score the ceiling where the edges meet the wall and pull back the linen paper. This will reveal the plaster. Again not all homes will have the linen paper so you may be able to skip this step.
Step 3: Using a hammer and pry bar smash the plaster and pull it down. It will come down in small pieces. I recommend placing the trash barrel directly under the portion you are hammering and letting the plaster fall directly into the barrel.
This is the worst part of the job and very time consuming. In some places the plaster was 2″ thick!
Step 4: Again using the hammer and pry bar begin removing the lath and nails from the wood beams. At some point I switched and started hammering the plaster from above as well as prying the lath from above in order to remove the lath with the plaster still attached.
Step 5: Work in sections, go slow and steady so you know what you’re removing is safe. You can see the beams above but you can also see they had added additional framing to even out the ceiling so I pulled down those extra boards as well.
Step 6: Now that the electrical lines are visible you can determine the new route. Simply reroute the lines up as close to the floor boards as possible.
Step 7: Once the electrical is in place then come back and install 2×2 furring boards onto the beams leaving about 1/4″ from the floor boards. This is where the new sheetrock will attach. And this also gives a 1 1/2″ space or gap for the electrical, just deep enough for a junction box.
Step 8: Then 1/2″ sheetrock was installed, taped and mudded. Use joint compound to fill in any gaps between the sheetrock and existing walls for a smooth look. Sand smooth, prime and paint.
Then step back and admire just how beautiful those wood beams are both on their own as the framework for your home. I look at them every day and think about those amazing people who constructed this home so long ago.
If you’re curious about more bits and pieces of our antique home scroll down.
Front foyer makeover with butterfly staircase.
Thanks for joining me for this ceiling makeover project. Please leave any questions in the comments below and be sure to follow me on social media for sneak peeks, tools and project inspiration:
SHOP THIS PROJECT:
Cassie @ Primitive & Proper says
totally worth it! it's stunning!
Thank you so much for sharing this. I am lucky to have had all the nasty work down when i purchased my farmhouse. The dining room ceiling was already with exposed original beams. A project the previous owner never completed.
I wasnt sure if i eanted to do the sheetrock but your post has helped me make up my mind.
I only wish more people had the guts and passion to restore these pieces of the past.
Thank you Donna, so happy to know my ceiling project has inspired you to add sheetrock. It’s truly a labor of love and one that I take on with pride and seriousness. These old homes have provided safe harbor for centuries and I feel it’s our duty to continue to provide care, make improvements and live in them to the best of our abilities. Good luck with your piece of history!
Debbie - Painted Therapy says
Just fabulous Jamie!
reFresh reStyle says
Amazing! You're hard work was worth it! What a transformation 🙂
Cristina Garay says
Wow, stunning!I also love the chandelier 🙂
Our Pinteresting Family says
It is hard to believe it is the same space. The beams are beautiful and your hardwork has paid off! I love the artifacts that you found too. It must be so fun living in a house with so much history.
J. Loughran says
Has the joint compound come loose between drywall and joist?
Very interesting look. Started a test area today. Only exposing 2 inches of joist to avoid resetting electric wiring. Thanks.
Hi Christian, To answer your question – no the joint compound is still snug between the drywall and joist. I have done 3 ceilings in this manner – the oldest about 8 years ago and all are holding up great with no loose compound.
[email protected] says
Wonderful! Amazing! Fantastic! Beautiful! Incredible! Perfect! Gorgeous! Miraculous! I don't know what else to say.
[email protected] says
That is jaw-dropping lay amazing! It looks fabulous.
But corncobs,…who knew??!
Absolutely love the results! On an unrelated note, where are the metal chairs from?
Elisha Albretsen @ Pneumatic Addict Furniture says
Just gorgeous! I wish we had homes with that kind of history in AZ!
Wow, that is amazingly beautiful. Seriously gorgeous.
Schulz Family says
what an incredible transformation. Back to the original is amazing
Kim @ NewlyWoodwards says
Oh. My. Goodness.
I truly love all of your projects. But this? This, takes the cake. I can't imagine how hard this would have been to do, but my word, the finished product is amazing. It needs to be in a magazine.
And how cool are the corn cobs? I love that.
Maureen Wyatt says
I did the same thing to my dining room ceiling about 15 yrs. ago and I still love it. Bit of a pain to get the cobwebs down but worth it for the look. Your room looks wonderful! It's like taking a step back in time.
Kristin @ My Uncommon Slice of Suburbia says
WOW the results are amazing, so much work but so worth it!
Carmody Tisdale says
This is jaw dropping amazing. I love the wood beams, but the corncobs and business card are really special finds.
What an incredible, fantastic effort! Your dining room is so fabulous! We knocked out the lathe in our 1907 home in 1984 in the kitchen to take out the drop ceiling and put in a load bearing beam to open up a room on the back of the kitchen which at one time had been a porch. It had oak flooring and bead board ceiling. Linda
Mary Vitullo says
I love it. It is just such a pleasant room. Your hard work really paid off.
Mary @ Orphans With Makeup
Christina Kondret says
Gorgeous! Can you tell me where your chairs are from around the table. I love them!!
Karah @ thespacebetweenblog says
absolutely stunning, totally worth all of that work!
Pauline Henderson says
This room is amazing !!!
We are in the middle of the mess in our 1929 kitchen now…beams exposed and now moving on to installing bead board in between the beams.We found old newspapers for insulation and $500.00….in Monopoly money. LOL Messy work but I'm keeping my eyes on the prize.
Can you share about how much of the beams ended up showing (i.e. depth in inches)? It appears to be around 3 inches—is this about right?
Yes – these beams vary a lot from 3″ – 5″ visible. However in my Master Bedroom https://jaimecostiglio.com/2016/04/master-bedroom-ceiling-makeover.html the beams are more consistent at 5″ visible. Hope that helps.
Jaime – I’m not sure if you’re still checking this thread after several years. In any case, two thumbs up on the project. The pictures are quite inspiring.
I’ve already started doing the same thing in my old house and I have one question about the 2×2 furring boards you installed onto the beams. Obviously it gave you room for wires and electrical boxes, but was it also done to keep the sheetrock separated from the floor boards above? In my project, I don’t need space for wires etc, and I am contemplating installing the sheetrock directly against the bottom of the upper floor which consists of two layers of boards about 1.5 inches thick in all. This maximizes the height increase on my low ceiling but probably incurs some risk to cracking in any plaster joints where the sheetrock is installed. I just wanted to get your thoughts on the matter.
Thanks – Kyle
Hi Kyle, To answer your question about keeping the sheetrock separate from the floor boards – yes that is the #2 reason for installing the 2×2 directly to the beams. Our floor boards are about 1 1/2″ thick as well but they move and give A TON and you’re right in that the plaster seam near the beams would probably crack over time. It may be possible to use a smaller boards / cleats – maybe 1″ square – to give you a bit more space but then you’ll need to predrill for certain, then go with 3/8″ sheetrock (or thinner if you feel comfortable). Good luck with your beams, it’s definitely worth all the effort. PS – No electrical in our Master Bedroom and we did the same exact process: https://jaimecostiglio.com/master-bedroom-ceiling-makeover/
Looks wonderful. We did same thing but with plaster between beams rather than drywall. But now appear to have a problem with drying out of exposed beams from dry heat in house. Any suggestion on beam treatment to protect 240 year old beams without changing appearance- stop cracking?
Thanks Steve, my only suggestion would be a humidifier. From my experience in exposing 3 ceilings with beams of all different ages (some original almost 300 years old and some newer) none of them are cracking or drying out further than they were when I exposed them. And we don’t run a humidifier at all in winter in New York so it’s pretty dry. I know that’s not helpful but I’m wondering why they are changing appearance so much – must be the difference in the humidity no longer in the encapsulated space?
Jenny Kessler says
Wow. We just put an offer in on a 1798 house in VT with terribly low ceilings. Here’s to praying we have beams like this underneath! Are all super old New England homes guaranteed to have this? Or should we have any reservations about ripping out the ceiling (if our offer is accepted)! Thank you!
Great news, so excited for you. There is nothing like an antique home. I can’t guarantee all antique New England homes have beams under the sheetrock but if it was built in 1798 and still has the original post and beam structure then it’s quite possible. Worse case scenario is you rip down a portion of the ceiling to find regular new joists, then just hang a new piece of sheetrock and patch. Definitely worth a peek!
We are starting a similar ceiling project in our post and beam home. We are experimenting with put the hard foam insulation boards under the floor boards and then sheet rocking over the insulation. It looks like you were able to fill in the seams between the sheetrock and the beams with mud?? Or, did you need to install trim pieces (quarter round) along all of the edges?? Any idea on how to install the sheetrock up against the insulation board? Just trying to figure out how to best sheet rock and use the insulation. Our ceiling boards are the upstairs floor boards and are 2″ thick…..which was needed to span some large spaces (up to about 3′ wide) between some of the beams. Any other suggestions for another type of material to use over the insulation instead of sheetrock? We really want to incorporate the insulation for sound buffering…..we can hear everything going on upstairs from downstairs! Your ceilings look fabulous and I can’t wait to have that look in our house!
Thanks for your help!
Hi Carri, I don’t have any experience with insulation board above the sheetrock but alternatives to sheetrock may be tongue and groove planks or beadboard. My sheetrock was scribed to fit between each beam with a very little gap. Check out @oldtownhome on Instagram – he just finished his basement ceiling with exposed beams and beadboard in between, it’s gorgeous! For my ceilings there is no trim just mud right up to the beam but not on the beam. We too can hear everything upstairs / downstairs, it’s just part of antique house living. Good luck with your project!
What beautiful results on all your hard work! We are have also exposed the hand hewn ceiling beams in our almost 200 ye old house in PA. I agree the days spent tearing the plaster and lath off were the worst! My question is, did you have white plaster stains remaining on the beams? We are wondering how to remove them and we aren’t sure what the beams are made of but might be American Chestnut. We don’t plan to sand or stain the beams when done, just leaving them natural. Any suggestions? Thanks and again, beautiful work!
Hi Karen, Thank you. Yes a bit of plaster got on the beams during installation but I was able to just wash it off with a sponge and water. Also I’ve seen folks tape off the beams the prevent excess plaster getting on our precious wood. My plaster is about 1/16″ from the beams so it doesn’t touch for the most part.
Thank you for sharing your project.
I have a question about time that took for furring and attaching drywall in you dining room.
We have a 1860 house and large above the ground basement area. All out beams are exposed, we upgraded electrical, so, I do not envision the step that you had to take to straighten out electrical wiring. But we obviously have one thing in common that beams are not exactly straight, and the distance between beams is a variable everywhere.
I wonder how long would it take for this part of the job.
Thank you for reading my question!
Your house looks beautiful!
Hi Olga, the furring goes up fast. You can cut it into sections especially where’s there a bend in the beam so you’re not trying to secure 8 feet all in one piece. The drywall takes forever since it’s scribed then skimcoated to get as close to the beams as possible. Depends on how many channels you need to cover but it’s definitely not a quick process.
Thank you for answering!
Kelly Burke says
Thanks for this great DIY tutorial! My question is, once you’ve exposed the beams, how do you treat them or seal them to protect the wood from just drying and decaying? The beams in my just-purchased 1760 house are FILLED with spiders, dust, and cobwebs. They look to be the perfect environment for thriving neighborhoods of spiders. It’s extremely hard to keep them clean and from shedding cobwebs and dust. How do I seal the beams? Is that a good idea? I’ve seen references to using boiled linseed oil. Do you have any tips or resources?
Hi Kelly, My beams are not sealed. They won’t decay unless exposed to moisture or termites but otherwise should be fine. Yes you could use linseed oil if you want but you can leave them natural too. I vacuum from time to time but there’s no more problem with spiders and cobwebs than your regular household visitors.
Kelly Burke says
Thanks very much for your reply. I was hoping for a magic bullet–linseed, polycrylic, something else–but I guess the solution is constant vacuuming and vigilance. Alas. Thank you!
Amazing result, congratulations!!! We want to expose the joists is our garage (now part of the house). In between joists there is cheap plywood. The builder says to put plasterboard between joists but that after plastering a crack will show. Any ideas how not to have that crack? Maybe put another material between joists? Or use filler to cover cracks? It seems the problem is to join two different types or materials…any ideas welcome, thanks!
Hi Fabiana, I would suggest removing the plywood and attaching sheetrock. Then apply plaster at the very edge of the sheetrock up against but not touching the joists. That is what I have done on my ceilings. There is a small gap between the plaster and the beams because my beams move (as people walk and changes in temperature / humidity) so the space is about 1/8″. Alternatively you could leave the plywood and paint it then run a bead of chaulk up against the joist. This is more seamless. Depends on the age & smoothness of your joists.
Temple Link says
Beautiful. I have a 1886 Farmhouse . Just pulled the popcorn ceilings down. The beams are beautiful. What did you put on your ceilings to make them shine.
Love hearing from other farmhouse owners! The drywall portion of the ceilings in between the beams is just white ceiling paint. They are not shiny, it’s flat ceiling paint.
Thanks so much for sharing your beautiful home. I’m doing some renovations on our family home that I just became the proud owner of after my mom passed away. In the den/converted garage there is a beautiful dark wood beam. It runs into the house but someone has put plaster and paint on it. I want to restore it to its natural beauty. Do you know any way to safely do this? I also found this by removing drop ceilings.
Again thanks so much for sharing how you turned your farmhouse into a beautiful serene home. I agree it should be featured in a magazine to inspire others as you have inspired me!
Thanks Tammy, great news you found the wood beam. I would first see if you can ‘wash away’ any of the plaster or sand off any of the paint. Be sure your sander is attached to a shop vac and wear a respirator. You might try Scott at https://thecraftsmanblog.com – he’s a wealth of restoration information. Good luck!
Janine Marquette says
Did you sand or pressure wash your beams before installing the drywall? If not, how did you originally clean them after removing the plaster and lath?
Hi Janine, I sanded the beams just to remove excess dirt, cobwebs and rough patches. Then wiped down with sponge and water.
Devin Smith says
This looks amazing! We just moved into our home built in 1797, with very similar beams, hidden behind 4 inches of plaster, lath and sheet rock. Did you verify that none of the materials contained asbestos? If so, did you find any problems with asbestos?
Hi Devin, I do not verify but the plaster was definitely horsehair.
Hi Jamie! What an amazing project! It reminds me a lot of the house I’ve been currently working that was built in 1790! It is a post and beam house as well and I also chose to take down the ceiling to expose the beams like you did! One thing I noticed was that every few days, especially if you walked upstairs, the beams on the first floor would drop some debris into the floor. This is concerning to me because I have beams in the kitchen and in a bedroom and would prefer to not have tiny wood-chips and debris to fall on someone’s bed or food.. do you have any suggestions for sealing the beams without taking away from their natural antique beauty? I’ve heard of linseed oil but don’t know much about it and if it’s the right product..
Thank you Jackie, so nice to hear from another old house lover! For the beams first I would sand and vacuum well and good (which you probably already did but worth a mention). Then I’m guessing you don’t have sheetrock installed between the beams like mine and the debris is actually falling from between the floor boards from upstairs? If that’s the case it will be hard to prevent dust and dirt from falling as it’s natural when people walk. But if you have sheetrock and you want to seal the beams I would use clear wax or linseed oil – both products will darken the wood a lot. Hope that’s helpful.
Can you recommend a particular product line for the linseed oil or clear wax? This might help my issue of cracking beams
Hi Steve, I don’t have much experience with linseed oil on or clear wax on wood beams. Sorry I’m no help there.