Overhead lighting has its uses, but be sparing

  • One way to install recessed overhead lighting is in a soffit, as is seen in this picture from "Not So Big Solutions for Your Home" by Sarah Susanka (Taunton Press).

    One way to install recessed overhead lighting is in a soffit, as is seen in this picture from "Not So Big Solutions for Your Home" by Sarah Susanka (Taunton Press).

Published4/18/2009 11:54 PM

Lighting often gets treated as an afterthought, even though it's usually the most important component of a room's design.

Choosing the right kind of lighting for a specific space can be both challenging and costly. The possibilities are even more open-ended in all those new condos and apartments that come equipped with no permanent lighting, except in the kitchen and bathrooms. And when a builder does outfit a home with a few lighting fixtures, they may turn out to be poorly situated or ill suited to users' needs and preferences.


Q. We've got a lighting problem in the living room of our new condo. We don't like track lighting, and table lamps won't provide adequate illumination. We would prefer to have ceiling-recessed, adjustable lighting, but the ceiling's made of concrete! How can we install some directional lighting for bookcases and art works on the walls?

A. Without seeing the location of the art and furniture in your living room, I can respond only in general terms. I must also point out that a particular lighting choice shouldn't be made in a vacuum; directional fixtures have to work in conjunction with task lighting - for eating and reading, for example - as well as with ambient lighting for the space.

A concrete ceiling doesn't make it impossible to install recessed, adjustable lighting. You could build a soffit along one wall, as shown in the accompanying photo from "Not So Big Solutions for Your Home," a Taunton Press book by Sarah Susanka. You could also add a soffit to more than one wall or even run it all around the room. Its depth can be determined by the depth of the fixtures you intend to use. You should also be aware that adding a soffit offers potential visual advantages as well as a functional fix. If the existing ceiling is painted in a shade lighter than the walls and soffit, the eye will be fooled into perceiving the room as being of greater height than is actually the case.

Many other solutions can be applied as well. In regard to the bookcases, for example, you can use linear lighting in either incandescent, fluorescent or halogen form. These strips are generally designed to be hidden from view. Floor lamps are available in many modern designs that don't involve shading and are adjustable in their height and direction. They could be used to illuminate art works on your walls. Let me finally say that lighting should serve to enhance the atmosphere of a room and not only meet functional needs. And it's my opinion that ceiling-installed lighting can be such a prominent feature that it distracts from other elements in a room. I therefore advise clients to be sparing in their use of this type of lighting.

Readers with general interior design questions for Rita St. Clair can e-mail her at rsca@ritastclair.com.

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