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3 Tips for Lighting Your Vaulted Ceiling

Successful lighting design in a timber home with cathedral and vaulted ceilings soaring 20-plus feet into the air creates an additional set of challenges. Here’s a three step plan for getting lighting right.

Written by Suzanna Logan
 
 
Proper lighting is a fundamental element of good home design. If you’ve ever tried to read a book or prep a meal in a poorly lit space, you know that adequate lighting is essential from a functional perspective. The right lighting also plays an important role in the look and feel of your rooms.

Striking the right balance between form and function can be a challenge in any space, but successful lighting design in a timber home with cathedral ceilings soaring 20-plus feet into the air creates an additional set of challenges. Lighting from fixtures that would work well in a room with traditional 8-9 feet ceilings can get lost in a two-story room.

Timber home owners Bill and Monica Verhoff quickly discovered the importance of creating a special lighting plan to suit the vaulted ceilings in their Ohio home. Here’s an inside look at the couple’s three step plan for getting lighting right:
 

1. Focus on Function

A lot happens in the shared living areas under a cathedral ceiling, from cooking, dining and entertaining to watching television, playing games and reading. As a result, lighting in these spaces matters—a lot. Focusing on function first will help determine when and where to appropriately incorporate task, ambient and accent light. Something to keep in mind: Unlike traditional construction, there are limited cavities to conceal wiring in a timber home — even more so in the case of a Structural Insulated Panel (aka SIP) roof system like the Verhoffs’, where recessed lighting wasn’t an option.

To ensure their lighting met the functional needs of their common areas, Bill and Monica thought about the activities that happened in each room and centered lighting around those activities, choosing a mix of chandeliers and pendant-style fixtures. A trio of pendants hang above the kitchen island to aid in cooking prep, while a single fixture glows above the sink. A chandelier and pendant lighting in the dining and living room add ambient light, while table lamps in the living room provide task light for reading.
 

2. Add a Style Statement

To help choose the right fixtures and determine placement, think of the areas below a vaulted ceilings like a blank canvas and the fixtures as your art. Your goal is not only to provide adequate lighting but also to create visual interest, adding a layer of style into an otherwise empty space. (Think of lighting like the statement jewelry for your cathedral ceilings.) Decide on the look you want—rustic, contemporary or transitional—to direct your search.

The Verhoffs settled on a mix of rustic and contemporary designs and quickly discovered that size matters when choosing fixtures to accent the large volume of space under a cathedral ceiling. Chandeliers or pendants that would create impact in another space can disappear (or worse, look comically tiny) in a vaulted room. Stylish and practical, an eye-catching 20-bulb chandelier above the dining room table provides light during mealtime and also acts as a statement piece. In the adjacent living room, a grouping of four pendant lights cast light upward, calling attention to the tongue and groove panel ceilings.
 

3. Consider the Source

When choosing bulbs to place in the fixtures in your cathedral ceiling, LEDs and CFLs are both a smart pick. As a rule of thumb, LED bulbs are best for providing directional lights, such as for task lighting for reading or cooking, while CFLs are a good choice for general or ambient lighting. (Tip: you can also purchase diffusers for your LED bulbs to make them better suited as an ambient light source.)

To keep from swapping out bulbs for as long as possible (keep in mind — your bulbs are two stories up!), opt for LEDs which have a slight edge over CFLs. Both types are available in a range of shades, from warm white to daylight, and are known for their energy efficiency. Because of the added space the light needs to travel in a room with a vaulted ceiling, it’s best to look for 120-watt equivalent bulbs to ensure adequate lighting fills the spaces above and below the fixture.