Hidden Lighting for Your Home

Recessed Lighting

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Lighting truly makes a room. Creative lighting design can change a dull room into a spectacular room with just the flick of a switch. Lighting fixtures themselves—and not just the light that they cast—too can become a design element. But what if you care only about the light and not the fixture so much? That's where hidden lighting comes into the picture.

Popular types of indoor lighting such as pendant lights and track lights are showy attention-getters. At the other end of the spectrum, hidden lighting can light up the room or parts of the room, while performing their job and tucking quietly away. Hidden lighting can work alone but most often it will work in conjunction with exposed ceiling, sconce, pendant, or chandelier lighting fixtures.

  • 01 of 05

    Tray Ceiling Lighting

    Single coiffured ceiling in golden bedroom with bed, side tables, lamps, and foot bed.

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    Ceiling tray-based lighting is ambient lighting at its best. In many cases, you may have seen the effects of tray lighting but not even noticed it. That's how good it is.

    To install, 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 or string lights.

    Tray lighting is 100-percent hidden. The fixture itself is invisible and only the light comes through.

    The upside of tray lighting is clear: soft, unobtrusive lighting. The downside that, before you can install the lights, you must build the trays—a costly proposition if you wish to hire a carpenter for the job.

  • 02 of 05

    Recessed Lights

    Recessed ceiling lights in a blue living room with mounted television and white chairs and couch

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    Recessed lights, often called can lights, push up into the ceiling, with only the lens and trim ring exposed. Recessed lights do recess, in the verb sense, and are invaluable in low-ceiling environments such as basements. Recessed lights are hidden lights that many homeowners can afford and even install by themselves.

    Recessed lights are not completely hidden, but about 90-percent of the light is hidden. One downside is that recessed lights can be hard to direct, as they cast a harsh circle of light directly below. Adjustable gimbal lights do allow for some flexibility. Plus, dimmer switches can easily be installed to tone down recessed lights' brightness.

  • 03 of 05


    Sidelights casting light into a living room with floor-to-ceiling windows, white couches, and brown ottoman.


    Sidelights are notches in the wall that project light downward, washing the floor with light that further reflects into the rest of the room. Sidelights may be installed in a ceiling as wallwashers. Or they can be installed in a wall but pointed upwards to wash the ceiling for a unique indirect ambient light effect.


    Wallwashing is a lighting design technique that employs hidden lights to light a room by casting light on the room's walls or ceiling.

    Sidelights are a high-end, premium lighting product that can be a bit tricky for the do-it-yourselfer to install. Hire an electrical contractor for this project.

    Sidelights are about 95-percent hidden from view. The bulb, lens, and body are hidden, but the trim is visible.

    The upside of sidelights is that they are contemporary and quite impressive. On the downside, sidelights use up valuable wall space. Also, from certain angles, sidelights can shine directly into the eyes.

  • 04 of 05

    Recessed Floor Lights

    Recessed floor lights down a hallway.


    No doubt you have already seen recessed floor lights in commercial buildings or in museums and art galleries. Recessed floor lights are like ceiling recessed lights but in reverse—and heavier duty.

    Recessed floor lights are about 90-percent hidden The fixture body is not visible, but from above the bulb, trim, and lens are noticeable. The lens is thick and impact-resistant.

    If you want to make an impression, recessed floor lights definitely will turn heads. The downside of these lights is that they are hard to retrofit. Accordingly, these lights are best for new-construction or major high-end home remodels. Also, recessed floor lights can collect dust.

    Continue to 5 of 5 below.
  • 05 of 05

    Drop Ceiling Soffit Lights

    Drop-ceiling soffit lights in a kitchen.


    Drop soffit ceilings are rarely found in residences. You need an adequate ceiling height, usually 10 feet or more, to accommodate the dropped portion. But where you find drop soffits you usually find hidden lights, too.

    The best thing about these lights is that they are 100-percent hidden. No direct light is cast into the room. Instead, the light bounces off the ceiling and gives the room a warm glow. The drop ceiling will appear to float just below the main, structural ceiling.

    On the downside, drop soffit lighting needs a drop soffit. These can be difficult for a do-it-yourselfer to build, so it's usually best to hire an experienced carpenter or a general contractor. After the soffit is built, a licensed electrician can come in and wire up the lights.