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on September 18, 2015

How To Wash a Wall With Light

It's a staple in hotel, art gallery, and museum lighting design, and for good reason. Wall washing recessed lighting makes a statement, calling attention to architectural details, sculptures, fireplaces, wall hangings, and more. It's an easy way to create a dramatic effect in virtually any room.

Tip: Wall washing also makes a room feel larger. Since you're emphasizing the vertical surfaces, it tends to create a visual expansion effect!

Here's how to reproduce the look using recessed lights:

1. Find a wall wash recessed lighting trim.

It should have a partial opening so that light is only emitted through the opening (see this page) for examples. Do you have a sloped ceiling? Most people think washing a wall with light is impossible with a sloped ceiling, especially if the angle is pointing away from the target wall. It's not! You just need a wall washing recessed lighting trim for sloped ceilings.

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2. Determine your mounting & spacing guidelines.

The "mounting distance" is the number of feet between the wall and your recessed light on the ceiling. The "spacing distance" is the number of feet between each recessed light. The rule of thumb here is for your mounting distance to equal your spacing distance. To determine that, take 1/3 of your ceiling height and you have it!

  • Mounting and spacing distance should be 2-3 feet for ceilings up to nine feet high.
  • Mounting and spacing distance should be 3-4 feet for ceilings between nine and eleven feet high.

3. Position the trim on your target wall.

The opening should be closest to the wall you want to wash with light. Some wall washing trims have adjustable openings so you can control the light output even more closely.

*Note: Wall washing is different from wall grazing, which creates more shadows to emphasize texture. Whereas a wall wash tends to "smooth out" a wall and minimize its texture due to the even illumination, a wall graze creates dramatic high and low levels of light on irregular surfaces (such as brick or stucco). If you're going for a wall grazing effect, you need to place the light fixtures much closer to the wall - the typical guideline is somewhere between six and twelve inches.

As always, let us know if you have questions!