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Lighting Design for High Ceilings and Open Spaces

Think about it: You’ve just moved into a gorgeous new house with high ceilings and an open floor plan. But you flick the switch, and you’re hit with bad, contractor-grade lighting or, worse, no light at all. You know that lighting can make or break a room, but how do you tackle these tough spaces while still making them feel welcoming and cozy?

Don’t worry- we’ll share some easy tips and tricks using innovative lighting solutions to make your home warm, stylish, and brilliant.


Create Zones

Lighting and lighting fixtures can be your greatest allies in defining large, open spaces. Double-height rooms benefit from a visual break in their vertical expanse, and airy open-plan layouts beg for zones that imply separate “rooms.”

The process of zoning defines separate sections inside the space, creating more human-scaled areas that feel more intimate and personal. While we’re used to zones being created by furniture, well-designed zoning also uses recessed lighting, floor lamps, wall sconces, and pendant lights to reinforce design decisions. Not only that, but remember that the right lighting is essential for achieving the different moods needed in areas like dining rooms, entryways, kitchens, and living rooms.

When defining zones, look to your recessed lighting (or lack thereof) first. A grid of lights without much relationship to the furniture below is the first tip-off that a contractor, rather than a designer, was responsible for your lighting layout. While relocating and even removing lights to create zones is a costlier option, you can also switch out bulbs for more focused beams, swap downlights for adjustable models, and add in dimmers so you can control levels by zone.

Another cost-effective option is to swap in track lighting that uses your existing recessed light electrical connections. Track lighting is extremely flexible, and newer models offer “heads” that include pendant lights, unobtrusive downlight arrays, and easily focused beams of light that can highlight art. Some tracks can even be recessed into your ceiling to create the ultimate, clean, modern appearance.


Layer in Decorative Lighting

Next, mix in key decorative fixtures like pendants, chandeliers, and wall sconces to reinforce your zones. Linear fixtures have become extremely popular when defining rectangular dining areas, while a line of three pendants above an island beautifully articulates space while providing excellent illumination for preparing meals. Wall sconces can help to define a “room” when coupled with artwork or furniture like a console or credenza below. Even carefully placed picture lighting above prints can provide a warm glow while breaking up large expanses of wall.


Humanize High Spaces

The same zone principles apply to high ceilings. Chandeliers pull double duty by extending attention upwards and eliminating dim corners, while also providing a visual “cap” to make a room feel less cavernous and tall. One of the most common mistakes with tall spaces is hanging fixtures too high, resulting in an oddly unbalanced, unwelcoming look. In most cases, fixtures should be hung so that their lowest point is no higher than the mid-point of a room’s height.

With slanted ceilings, remember to use fixtures with either a chain or rigid rods designed to hang at an angle. If you’re installing recessed lighting, remember to use adjustable models so that you can aim the beam down rather than diagonally into you and your guests’ eyes.

Selecting the right design for your space is essential. Coordinate metal colors and tones to bring a consistent design point of view, and remember, contrast is a good thing. Are you using light walls in your great room? Select a darker finish for your chandelier to add crispness and form to the open space above your furniture groupings.

The style of a chandelier can also help to articulate large open spaces. Complex, multi-tiered designs that might overwhelm smaller rooms can breathe in double or triple-height volumes, while simpler models may feel lost or undersized. Narrow, tall foyers can accommodate slender fixtures, and for additional drama, look at designs with crystals or prisms that throw patterns on the closer-in wall surfaces.

Working with unusually large spaces or proportions that off-the-shelf designs can’t fix? Remember that most manufacturers offer customized versions of their fixtures, so you can go as tall or broad as you need to get things perfect.

Great lighting can be your secret weapon in making even the most challenging open environments feel beautifully thought out, cozy, and welcoming. Looking for help in defining yours?


The Dominion Lighting team of designers brings you insight and access to over 300 manufacturers to bring brilliant solutions to even the trickiest spaces. Schedule your complimentary lighting consultation with us today!
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