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Ceilings: The Fifth Wall Offers Great Possibilities

Ceiling lighting can enhance the architectural details of a space.

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When working out the lighting design for a room, take a moment to look upward. There is a vast canvas available that could benefit from your inspiration.

TIP 1: Flaunt what ya got

Ceilings are often the forgotten component when it comes to lighting. Architects create some wonderfully inspired elements below the roofline. There are vaulted ceilings, coffers, domes and beams that would simply fall into shadow after the sun sets unless some light was pointed upwards — don’t let these treasures be lost at night. In the image on the far left, the architect has created a circular step ceiling detail. The interior designer selected three Cascade fixtures by Boyd Lighting, which in addition to being an inspired decorative element, also project a subtle illumination onto the raised areas so that they add dimensionality to the ceiling at night. 

TIP 2:  Make some outta none


Sometimes an architectural challenge can turn into an architectural home run. The far right image shows a dining room in a high-rise condominium with concrete ceilings. There was a dropped soffit on one side of the room that hid the HVAC system. A matching soffit was fabricated on the other side, which is used to run the wiring for the lighting. A series of five box beams were suspended between the two soffits. These hollow beams were open at the top, so that linear indirect LED lighting could project a pleasing glow of illumination along the ceiling, which then bounced down to soften the shadows on people’s faces. The beams were used to house recessed adjustable fixtures with 12V LED MR16 bulbs, which highlighted the tabletop and sculptural pieces placed around the room. 

Smaller box beams could be used to create a coffered detail over a concrete ceiling as well. Adding a crown molding or a cantilever detail around the perimeter of a room creates a place to hide indirect lighting. Here’s your chance to play architectural dress-up.

TIP 3: Trip the light fantastic


Sometimes, just light itself can do a pretty good job of adding visual interest to a ceiling plane. The image in the center shows a living room with a pattern projected onto the ceiling — this comes from an LED projector made by Beachside Lighting. There are hundreds of patterns to choose from, and the focus of the projector can also be adjusted to be soft or crystal-clear.

Placing a floor mounted uplight behind a palm tree or a ficus can also create an intriguing shadow pattern on the ceiling while adding some flattering ambient light to a room. For $25 on Amazon, I got a Soothing Ocean Wave projector that looks like gentle ripples of water traveling along the surface of my bedroom ceiling. I find it very calming.

Randall Whitehead headshot

Randall Whitehead is an educator and author on the subject of lighting design. His work has been featured in many magazines, including Architectural Digest, Home & Garden and Esquire. He has appeared as a guest expert on HGTV, Discovery, CNN and Martha Stewart Living Radio.

His Latest book Beautiful Light outlines how to create successful and subtly beautiful LED lighting designs for homes and gardens. Available through Amazon and Rutledge Books.

You can see his entertaining 1-minute instructional videos at furniturelightingdecor.com. And you can follow him on Instagram:  @randall.whitehead


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