coved ceilings and recessed lights in bedrooms?

remodel-mamaApril 1, 2010

I am new to this forum and wanted to get your opinions on recessed lighting in bedrooms with coved ceilings. The house was built in 1912, Edwardian style. People are telling me that recessed lights incress the resale value - while we are putting them in other rooms of the house, I am having a hard time envisioning them in the bedrooms that have coved ceilings. Thoughts?

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Potlights with Coved Moulding

Coved Moulding, ceiling mouldings and potlights in Master Bedroom

Photos: Harvey Kalles Real Estate

One of the more understated mansions in Toronto's Bridle Path area.

Full pics here.

    Bookmark   April 1, 2010 at 11:14PM
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I have been heavily influenced by the Cote de Texas blog. She deplores can lights except for kitchens and utility areas; calls them swiss cheese ceilings.

Here is her post on lighting which discusses them in detail:

I would not consult a real estate agent on matters of decor for an older home, unless you are selling this year. What is trendy or desirable now might not look best in an older house long-term. The lowest risk way to maintain/enhance the value of an older home is to preserve original details, while adding new functionality in a style that is consistent with the house. For example, if I do a carrera/hex/subway bathroom in my 1887 house now, in 20 years, it will still look appropriate for the house. If I do a travertine/glass tile/tuscan hardware bathroom now, it will look dated in 5-10 years.

    Bookmark   April 3, 2010 at 8:03AM
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Two issues here. Installing potlights in a new home and retrofitting potlights in an older home for resale purposes.

As most contemporary designer homes use potlights--but in conjunction with other types of lighting--I'd include them. Retrofit, I'd leave them out unless it was for immediate resale and the market valued them.

Otherwise, as noted above, in a few years they may look dated. I built luxury homes in the late '80s, early '90s. Buyers insisted on loads of potlights. I remember endlessly counting and recounting the potlights in one home to be sure the buyer got all the potlights they specified. Was that 118 or 120?? Those large incandescent floods date the home and are energy gluttons. Now, I use halogens with half the wattage. Within a few years, pinpoint LEDs will be the luxury standard.

    Bookmark   April 3, 2010 at 2:35PM
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Personally, I wouldn't be putting them anywhere in a historical home, but for modern lighting needs, I suppose they make sense in the living spaces. They may make the most sense in the kitchen, followed by infill lighting to supplement a chandelier in the dining room. Personally I dislike *any ceiling lighting in a living room unless the house is modernist, and even then I prefer table or floor lamps. I think it looks commercial: its not a hotel, (or an operating room--thats how overlit some houses are getting) its a house.

In a bedroom I really wouldn't do it. Find some appropriate sconces or wire the a wall switch to light some of the table lamps.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2010 at 11:49AM
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Palimpsest, I also deplore ceiling lights in most rooms. As I think of it, the light which comes on with a wall switch is usually a ceiling fixture. I prefer lamps and sconces also. Unless, of course it is a dining fixture over the table which is SUPPOSED to have a dimming function. My DH insists on using the ceiling light and not lamps, so I am replacing all overhead fixtures in our small house with ceiling fans having NO LIGHT INCLUDED. Sort of forcing him to use a lamp.

I do think that for mood lighting you can include the small lights inside glass door cabinets in any room to good advantage, and in any era home. I do not have a historic home to work with, so I'm pretty free to choose what I like. And where I have ceiling height wall-to-wall curtains, I can install the LED rope lights on dimmers and it does make a rather theatrical light level across the room. So far I've done the rope lights on a sunroom on the 3 window walls, and on the two walls 34' long by 12' wide of a family room. The color of the light is much more attractive than a ceiling fixture gives. Also on the walls of the family room, between rectangles of molding all along behind a huge sectional sofa, I put a total of 5 small 3way wall mounted swing arm lamps. It washes light up the wall, and it gives appropriate light while sitting there. And they are all plugged in to a series of outlets in which ONE plug is operated by the same wall switch.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2010 at 1:39PM
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I'll go against the flow to say that I prefer recessed lights in historical homes, mainly because they're unobtrusive. For homes built before gas lights or electricity, there are very few, if any, ceiling fixtures appropriate to the period (which suits me just fine because I hate ceiling fixtures) but occasionally, general lighting in a room is necessary. All of my recessed are on dimmers & I didn't put in nearly as many cans as recommended - I have 4 in each 14' x 17' room. If I'd used the suggested quantity, my house could have served as a beacon to land planes!

If I had a coved ceiling, I wouldn't hesitate to put in small, plain recessed lights with the trims blending seamlessly with the ceiling color.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2010 at 11:27PM
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I have used recessed cans in historic houses when there is no other way to light the space that makes sense. And I do the same...paint the housings to match the ceiling.

However, I don't know that a living room or a bedroom really needs that much general lighting, not in my opinion. Pools of light from bedside or table lamps and sconces and areas of shadow are effective in rooms like this. Maybe for cleaning and vacumming and that can be done in daylight.

There was a new rehab of an 1840s building down the street that went from almost *no ceiling lighting (like mine) to a ceiling lighting overload. The living area had at least 16 recessed cans. Every apartment was lit as if there wasn't going to be a table lamp in the place. I notice this because I notice, but while I was looking at a number of units in the building, random people on the open house were commenting on it...there was so much lighting it created heat, and a couple people said it was "lit like a department store".

    Bookmark   April 5, 2010 at 2:36PM
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Thanks for all the feedback everyone - this is really helpful. My husband is definitely more into recessed lighting that I am -- I think he mainly thinks it's easier than shopping for the perfect ceiling fixtures and/or lamps. I am guessing that we will do a mix of both - I will try to keep him from turning our ceilings into swiss cheese :)

Here's a pic from the dining room to give you an idea of the house.

The coved ceilings are in the bedrooms...

    Bookmark   April 7, 2010 at 2:16AM
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It would be historically appropriate to put small pendant fixtures on the intersections of the beams. Look at Rejuvenation for some examples.

Here is a link that might be useful: Rejuvenation

    Bookmark   April 7, 2010 at 10:24PM
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HI - I actually wrote an article on Rose Tarlow - she is one who got me hating recessed lights!!! if you haven't read it, go to and lijit search rose tarlow, it's interesting. I love lanterns and lamps and chandeliers and sconces. unfortunately, my house is littered with recessed lights that I loved when we built it 16 years ago. Times change and so have I.!!!!
cote de texas

    Bookmark   April 11, 2010 at 10:09PM
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Well that is classic Joni (cote de texas); meticulous about citing her inspirations and won't take full credit herself. Her combination of wisdom and modesty is prolly what keeps me and others returning to her blog. My house looks better for it!

Remodelmama, your dining room is stunning. Please repost a photo after you've furnished it.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2010 at 10:18AM
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