Three Ways Metal Ceilings Are Influencing Design Trends

Written by Robert Marshall, Senior Technical Manager for CertainTeed Architectural Products

Metal ceiling tiles have a rich history that date back to the late 1800s, when they were originally made from corrugated iron or tin covered steel. They were considered cost-effective and decorative solutions for interiors. The metal tiles brought intricate patterns to ceilings and lifted the eye upward, giving both residential and commercial spaces a feeling of ornate elegance. 

Fast-forward 150 years and the vision for metal ceilings has expanded considerably. Today, specifiers choose metal ceilings for their durability, cleanability, and sustainability. Robust panels resist wear and tear, rarely needing to be replaced, and they are ideal for the rigorous cleaning standards demanded by the global pandemic. Metal ceilings don’t harbor microbes and are moisture and corrosion resistant, enabling them to withstand harsh cleansers. Made from high recycled aluminum content, they contain no VOCs, and manufacturers even offer GREENGUARD Gold Certified metal ceiling products. 

But beyond their performance, sustainability, and practicality, today’s metal ceiling tiles are also eye-catching – even dramatic – and can aid in promoting health and well-being. This article will explore the influence of metal ceiling products on design trends and focus on three characteristics manufacturers of the past never would have imagined – customization, acoustical control, and the ability to marry metal ceilings with biophilic design.

Bedford Institute of Oceanography. Credit Julian Parkinson

Encouraging Virtually Limitless Customization

From large-format tiles and linear planks to beams and baffles, metal ceiling products can be customized to meet virtually any specifications. “We have brought amazing renderings to life, creating some truly incredible projects,” says Steve Udolph, specialties sales manager for CertainTeed Architectural Products and Hunter Douglas Ceiling & Wall Products.

Metal ceilings go far beyond standard tiles and traditional ceiling structures. Segmented flat panels can be placed in uniquely designed suspension systems for eye-popping 3-Dimensional geometrical forms or bend along the arch of a corridor. 

Because it is such a versatile and durable material, metal can be bent and curved easily, which allows architects and designers to create the feeling of movement across a ceiling. Baffles can be transformed into undulating waves and beams can simulate railroad tracks, suspended overhead – weaving throughout a building to aid in wayfinding. 

“The design trend is leaning toward bigger and deeper beams to create even more unique effects,” says Udolph, and manufacturers are listening to these creative thoughts. They are expanding their portfolios with the addition of larger products – one metal beam ceiling product is available up to 12-feet long and up to 15-inches deep.

With the ability to mimic almost any wood species, metal is a cost-effective substitute for wood ceilings that are viewed from a distance. Manufacturers also feature an array of colours – some offer over 80 different finishes – and hues can be customized to match specific design palettes and brand identities.

Cenovus Energy. Credit Tyler A.W. Burke, Creative Visual Works

Enhancing Acoustical Comfort

Even acoustical comfort can be customized. While metal is a reflective surface that doesn’t absorb sound itself, perforations in the material paired with sound-absorbing infill on select panel types, can decrease noise levels to varying degrees. The exact degree to which sound is absorbed is dependent on the type of backing material, as well as the number, size, and shape of the perforations. Highly perforated metal ceiling panels can provide an NRC rating up to 0.90. 

Perforations can also serve an aesthetic purpose. Advances in technology paired with mathematical algorithms have resulted in the ability to perforate metal ceiling panels with custom designs and patterns that result in one-of-a kind works of art.

Ceilings can express movement with panels perforated in circular patterns, rolling waves, or streaks of rain – to list just a few possibilities. A single image can be perforated into many standard-size panels for a more holistic look that seamlessly flows from one panel to the next. Or designs can be repeated panel by panel and positioned in a randomized pattern. Even asymmetrical patterns can be perforated into the metal panels for a more contemporary aesthetic.

“Manufacturers are always searching for more innovative ways to allow designers and architects to express creativity, while at the same time increasing a product’s performance,” says Udolph. The artistic use of perforation designs is just one-way manufacturers are melding acoustical needs and design aesthetics.

Golf Ile De Soeurs Chalet, Montreal, QC, Canada. Credit Stephane Brugger

Contributing to Biophilic Design

Metal ceilings can also contribute to occupant well-being beyond acoustical comfort. With the ability to mimic specific species of wood or offer high light reflectance, metal ceilings contribute to biophilic design principles. Studies have shown that biophilic design improves productivity for employees in offices, increases learning functions for students in schools, and decreases healing time for patients in healthcare facilities. 

A metal ceiling with a wood-look finish adds biomorphic texture to the space. Used in biophilic applications, metal ceilings help create natural-looking environments that are shown to increase cognitive performance and reduce stress. Natural wood ceilings generate the same responses. However, metal ceilings are often more cost-effective, easier to clean, and resist fading and discoloring in sunlight.

White metal ceilings also improve well-being. By reflecting light and brightening a space, they induce positive moods and increase productivity. Large-format panels specified in white give a sleek, contemporary, monolithic look to a large room, while offering the added benefits of being durable and easy to clean.

Closing Thoughts 

Likely, the first manufacturers of metal ceilings never considered whether their products were customizable, enhanced acoustical comfort, or promoted a sense of health and well-being. Today’s manufacturers are rising to the demands of these trends with products that help architects and designers achieve effects beyond their imaginations.

Three Ways Metal Ceilings Are Influencing Design Trends

About the Author

Robert Marshall is Robert Marshall is senior technical manager for CertainTeed Architectural and a 45-year participant in the commercial ceiling industry. 

CertainTeed Architectural offers a world of innovative, high-performance walls and ceilings solutions that can help transform a space into an environment that is sculptural and stunning. Its portfolio includes aesthetically dynamic metal, colorful fiberglass clouds and baffles, eco-friendly acoustical felt, translucent back-lit panels, natural wood, and the unexpected visual texture of perforated acoustical gypsum. For more information, please visit: