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Five Unconventional Ways To Create Ambient Light

Great Lighting Happens in Layers. Think of Ambient Light As The Base Coat.

When I experience lighting in someone's home the biggest problem I encounter isn't usually that a specific fixture was right or wrong, what I usually encounter is that people forget the most basic of lighting design concepts. Great lighting requires layers. Usually, great lighting requires that at least 3 of these four layers are met:

  • Ambient Lighting
  • Accent Lighting
  • Task Lighting 
  • Decorative Lighting

Of course there are creative ways to bend this rule, today I want to talk about some unconventional ways to create ambient lighting in your home.

Cove Lighting

Probably the most conventional of this list, cove lighting is often thought of as a decorative accent - a way to show off crown moldings or give the room extra glow. The truth is it can also be a beautiful source of ambient light. Designing a cove that works as an ambient light source can be tricky. You need a source that's bright enough that's set into a detail where light can escape but the source itself doesn't become visible. I can't stress how important it is to create mockups of coves before signing off on an installation. It's critical that all designers on the project see exactly how the light will be mounted and how the light will work with the ceiling and molding. When done right cove lighting is beautiful. When done wrong cove lighting can be a mess.

Cove Lighting concept sketch I did last week, 

Cove Lighting concept sketch I did last week, 

Bounce Light

The term "bounce light" comes from the film world. It's the term used for creating soft ambient light by (as the name implies) bouncing it off ceilings, walls or reflectors. In architectural circumstances, bounce light can be created a few ways. Recently there's been a trend towards large theatrical style fixtures on stands. The body of the fixture looks theatrical but the source usually isn't. A fixture like that could be used to bounce light off the ceiling in the corner of the room.

I saw this fixture walking by the window of Gracious Home the other day.

I saw this fixture walking by the window of Gracious Home the other day.

Another way to create ambient bounce light is with wall mounted fixtures. Think about sconces in which the light source is completely obscured but light floods out of the top of the fixture running up the wall and off the ceiling. Depending on the room architecture this style fixture can create both amazing ambient light and an architectural rhythm in the space.

This very clean, modern uplight sconce is from Bega Lighting

This very clean, modern uplight sconce is from Bega Lighting

Wall Grazers

I love wall grazing. I really love wall grazing. There's just something about luminous surfaces that make me very excited. Wall grazers are very much what they sound like. Image a linear strip of light mounted either to the floor or to the ceiling. The light fixture projects a narrow beam of light that, as the name implies, grazes the surface of the wall making it glow. Not only does this effect create drama - if enough surface area is lit there is a low-level of ambient light created by the effect.

Two-Row LED Wall Grazer from Boca Flasher

Two-Row LED Wall Grazer from Boca Flasher

Wall grazing accomplished to stunning effect at the Lapicida showroom in London. Lighting design by Sally Storey.

Wall grazing accomplished to stunning effect at the Lapicida showroom in London. Lighting design by Sally Storey.

Stretched Fabric Ceiling 

Stretched fabric ceilings made by companies like Barrisol can also be a tremendous lighting opportunity. Stretched ceilings materials like this create beautiful luminous planes. This can be a terrific solution for spaces dressing areas.

Backlit Wall Panels

Luminous Wall Panels are an awesomely unconventional way to bring light into a space. They can backlight art, create bursts of color or simply make the walls radiate with soft light at a low level. Consider translucent materials as wall coverings and creating light boxes. With the advent of flat panel LED you can create this effect without losing a lot of floor space.

Backlit stone art at Lapicida

Backlit stone art at Lapicida

Internally edge lit stone panel by Lamellux

Internally edge lit stone panel by Lamellux

So how will you create ambient light on your next project? Can you get unconventional about you might create it? Tell me in the comments or find me on Twitter or G+