Hidden Illumination: Cove Lighting

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Let your interiors shine with lighting that illuminates the space but doesn’t distract the eye: cove lighting.

In this popular style of lighting, all the hardware and bulbs are hidden so it does not call attention to itself, but the soft light it provides is an integral part of the room’s design.

As its name suggests, cove lighting is built into ledges, recesses, ceiling nooks or valences, typically on the ceiling or high up on the wall. When directed upward, its soft, diffuse glow illuminates architectural features such as ledges, crown molding and trays.

Where a homeowner has taken the time to create a decorative ceiling, “lighting plays a big part — it’s not just what you apply to the ceiling but how you light it,” says Ann Svenstrup, design director at Faulkner Design Group in Dallas. “I’m a big fan of cove lighting. It intensifies the effects of ceiling and wall treatments.”

Textured and metallic wallpapers, which have returned to popularity in recent years, “come to life” when properly lit, she adds.

Many types of bulbs may be used in cove lighting installations. “The most important thing is that the light source is concealed,” says Durham, Conn.-based interior designer Sharon McCormick. “LED lights last longer and are more energy-efficient, but choose carefully. Some give off true white light that can seem a bit cold in traditional rooms, although it may be perfect for contemporary settings.” 

McCormick’s favorite is ribbon lighting, a low-profile strip of lights that conforms to any shape. “It can be placed on the top of cabinets that don’t go up to the ceiling — no woodworking involved, and your kitchen will glow.”

An alternative to uplighting is to use cove lights under cabinetry to illuminate countertops or flooring. They can also be used to light bookcases.

“Be sure to install dimmers,” McCormick says, “so you can create many moods with your lighting.”

Tags: cove lighting, hidden, LED