The Best Hidden Lights for Your Home

You want your lighting fixture to cast light.  But what if you don't want to see the light fixture itself so much? Pendant lights and track lights are attention-mongers, pure show-offs.  But other fixtures step to the side and quietly accomplish the job of lighting up the room.  Here are the 5 best hidden lights.

  • 01 of 05

    Recessed/Can Lights: Inexpensive, Easy

    Recessed Lighting
    Getty / Ross Chandler

    Recessed lights (also called can lights) push up into the ceiling, with only the lens and trim ring exposed.  From a ceiling-level room view, recessed lights completely melt away.  Recessed lights recess, in the verb sense, and are invaluable in low-ceiling environments such as basements.

    Whereas side and floor lights are for the elite, can lights are hidden lights for the masses.  Anyone can hop down to Home Depot, buy a few, and DIY-install them.

    How Hidden Is It?  90%.  Fixture body is not visible, but bulb, lens, and trim are.

    Good Thing:  Easy to install.

    Bad Thing:  Hard to direct, as they cast a harsh circle of light directly below.  Adjustable gimbal lights do allow for some flexibility, and dimmer switches tone down the harshness, too.

  • 02 of 05

    Side Lights: For a Lightwash Effect

    Side Lights from Kreon

    You'll notice the side lights in this image on the far right-hand side.  Side lights are notches in the wall that project light downward, washing the floor with light that further reflects into the rest of the room.

    For true lighting-addict tingles, just hear what you can do with it besides sticking it in a wall.  You can:

    • Install it sideways in a ceiling as a "wallwasher."
    • Install it in a wall but point it upwards to "wallwash the ceiling" for incredible indirect ambient light.

    High-end light maker Kreon has a simple name for this product:  Side.

    How Hidden Is It?  95%.  Bulb, lens, and body are hidden, but trim is visible.

    Good Thing:  So amazingly flexible.

    Bad Thing:  Eats up valuable wall space.

  • 03 of 05

    Tray Ceiling: Sexy, Seductive

    Single Coffered Ceiling In Bedroom
    Getty / Ke Yu

    Ceiling tray-based lighting is ambient lighting at its best.  No doubt you have seen tray lighting but not even noticed it.  That's how good it is.

    Open air soffits are built at the top of the walls.  A small gap allows for light to pass through.  Inside, there are no expensive, complicated lights—just rope lighting.  You can even use Christmas string lights.

    How Hidden Is It?  100%.  No part of the fixture is visible.  Only light comes through.

    Good Thing:  Soft, unobtrusive lighting.

    Bad Thing:  Before you can install lights, you must build the trays—a costly proposition if you wish to hire a fine carpenter for the job. 

  • 04 of 05

    Recessed Floor Lights: Novel, Contemporary

    Recessed Floor Lights

    You're experienced recessed floor lights before, but unless you hang with movie producers and industrial magnates, probably not in a residence.  You find floor lighting frequently in museums, galleries, and premium retailers.  Kreon has a very simple name for this high-pressure diecast aluminum fixture:  Up.

    How Hidden Is It?  90%.  Fixture body is not visible, but bulb, trim, and lens are.

    Good Thing:  So unique, it's guaranteed that you'll be the only kid on the block with recessed floor lights.

    Bad Thing: Hard to retrofit; best for new-construction or major remodels.

    Continue to 5 of 5 below.
  • 05 of 05

    Drop Ceiling Soffit Lights: Architecturally Unique

    Drop Soffit Ceiling

    Drop soffit ceilings are rarely found in residences; you need adequate ceiling height to accommodate the dropped portion.  And if you do find them, they usually house recessed lights.  

    Yet soffits don't need exposed lights.  Shown here is a dropped soffit that has hidden lighting as the "meat" within the ceiling "sandwich."  

    Seattle architects BUILD LLC share my frustration at being unable to find technical specs for drop soffit ceilings, but they did an awesome job of compiling info and it can be found here:  Interior Drop Soffits/BUILD LLC

    How Hidden Is It?  100%

    Good Thing:  Soft ambient lighting.

    Bad Thing:  Drop ceiling can be difficult to build.