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Written by Annie Josey on September 23, 2015

How to Light a High Ceiling

I remember way back when I was a sophomore in college, I had a pretty weird housing situation. Unlike most dorm rooms where you can barely get the door open without smashing into your desk, my dorm room was huge. Uncomfortably huge. I shared it with two other roommates, and yes, our furniture took up a lot of the space, but as I stared out from my lofted bed in the corner at the expansive walls and high ceiling, I couldn't help thinking it felt more like a gymnasium than a bedroom.

Eventually, I put up some posters and learned to ignore it. Then, I moved out.

Large rooms can be nice though, right? In them, you can spread out, or have parties – they're so versatile and the decor possibilities are seemingly endless. But when you're charged with making a huge space feel full and cozy - like a home - things can get real. Suddenly, the room is an ocean, and you are drowning.

While you can add furniture and wall hangings to your heart's content, there's nothing like a quality lighting scheme to fill a room without making it feel cluttered.

Warm light bouncing off the ceiling and walls gives you control over the entire area of your space. It will turn a huge cave of a room into a place that can envelop you.

Here's how:

Divide your room into three sections. Add lighting to all.

If you're at all into art, photography, or design, you've probably heard of the rule of thirds. Applied to a room, this rule has you split the wall into 3 equal, balanced parts - the top, the middle, and the bottom. These are your three different "design levels." Furniture or wall paneling can go at the bottom, art or other wall hangings in the middle, and the top remains as is.

Modern living room with high ceilings and cove lighting

By adding lights to each of these layers, the space will feel fuller and more cohesive, with focal points to diminish the room’s large, intimidating feel. Add table lamps, step lights, or uplights to the bottom portion. Floor lamps, wall sconces, or low-hanging pendants can go in the middle. The top should have recessed cans, track lighting, or larger, higher hanging lights or fans.

Finally! You can make your hanging light dreams come true.

Speaking of hanging lights – you now have permission to go wild. In small rooms, with lower ceilings, you can have a few small pendants, or maybe a modest chandelier over a table. But in your room? Almost anything goes, because you have the space for it. How about an elegant set of lanterns or a giant, modern blown-glass pendant? Now is the time to make a statement.

Luxury room with tall ceiling and chandeliers

Whatever lights you choose, they'll be able to fill up the top third of your room, and add a nice focal point so filling the rest of your space won’t be quite so overwhelming. Don't be afraid to light your room with multiple chandeliers of different styles. This can help you subtly divide the room into different areas - dining, lounging, etc.

Be generous with recessed cans.

A high shadowy ceiling is a comfort to no one. That alone can turn an otherwise beautiful room into a spooky cavern. However, recessed lights can fix this. Their sleek, modern design allows them to provide great ambient lighting without making the ceiling look too cluttered. You can use them on their own, or to supplement the ambient light provided by a hanging fixture.

To get rid of those creepy shadows against the walls, install lights closer to the edge of your ceiling. To pull focus on a single point, place cans in a square or circle around the central fixture. You can install adjustable cans or even lights for sloped ceilings, so you can have just the right lighting scheme.

Luxury bedroom with tall ceiling and recessed lights

Track lighting is your new best friend.

Track lights are adjustable light fixtures mounted on an electrified metal track. When you install these lights on your ceiling (even your sloped ceiling – dream big!), you can turn them in almost any direction and adjust them whenever you feel the need.

You can aim the track heads in different directions for even illumination around the room, or to highlight certain areas or features. They can wash or graze you walls with light – another way to eliminate shadows and/or highlight texture.

Have you been blessed with serious architecture? Flaunt it, please!

Coves, cathedral ceilings, beams, high display shelves, arches and the like need the night kind of lighting to avoid that uncomfortable, imposing feeling. Accent fixtures like tape lights, rope lights, and puck lights in the right places will add texture and warmth to an otherwise bare-looking space.

No wonder my massive dorm room never felt comfortable. I had two fluorescent ceiling lights and a desk lamp. There were shadows in every corner! Oh, if I'd only known...