1THING: New Build Bedrooms

I am having fun with both 1THING series, and this week’s post on bedrooms is no exception. I am pretty good at overcomplicating things, so the mental gymnastics of forcing myself to make a single choice is proving to be good exercise. Plus, I think I might quit my job so I can just sketch and doodle on my iPad all day because it is just too much fun. Shh…don’t tell my boss.

This is not the first time I have written about bedroom lighting, nor will it be the last. Bedrooms offer plenty of opportunity for good and bad lighting, but today I am imagining that you are building a new home and the electrical contractor gives you the ultimatum: what is the one light you want me to wire up for you? For me, it is cove lighting. But first, let me tell you what is usually on my ceiling when I buy an older home: A ceiling fan light.

I call this condition CFLS, or Ceiling Fan Light Syndrome, and it is no better in a bedroom than a living room or any other space. Ceiling fans are awesome – I love them – but the light kits put the light in about the worst place for everything with the possible exception of packing a suitcase. The glare bomb in the middle of the ceiling means almost everything important is in shadow and your eyes will hurt no matter where you look. But what about pretty light fixtures instead?

Decorative fixtures are another common find in bedrooms. Usually hanging in the center of the ceiling, these fixtures are there to look pretty and remind us of a time when the only way we could light a room was to hang candles or gas-burning chandeliers in the middle and hope for the best. Chandeliers can look lovely, especially when turned off, but the quality of light produced ranges wildly from excellent to atrocious. Since I rarely get to pick the decorative fixtures (and that’s a good thing – interior designers are better at that), I cannot guarantee that the light emitted will be of much use. That does not mean that I want the bedroom to be dark.

I remodeled the bedroom in my first home and added a built-in ceiling cove that gave me a location to hide lighting (it was incandescent back in those days). The resulting cove light spread out softly throughout the room, doing a better job than a ceiling fan or chandelier at getting light into the space without uncomfortable glare. That was twenty years ago, and I’m still in love with cove lighting. Here’s a flashback photo of that first attempt:

Time marches on and I have a lot more ways of delivering gentle illumination to a bedroom, but my go-to solutions are all derivatives of that first cove. Check out this recent photo of a relaxing bedroom:

(Photo by Matt Cashore)

Did you notice the linear light embedded below the crown molding? That’s okay if it didn’t stand out- good lighting is not about calling attention to itself. This subtle approach allows me to fill a room with diffuse light without framing up a large cove. It also happens to be one more reason to love linear lighting.

So if you have just once choice in your next new build bedroom, try cove lighting. You will likely find it the most relaxing light you’ve ever experienced. And isn’t that what bedrooms are for?


As is my habit, I like to tack on one more idea in case you want to take things a step further. In this case, the answer is simple: bedside lamps. I’ll dig into these in a future post, but nothing beats a bedside lamp for reading, relaxing, and convenience when turning out the lights. Of course, I’ll find a way to complicate things….

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