Soft lighting is not ideal for task completion.

The Best Ways to Light a Room With a Sloped Ceiling

by Linda Erlam

Lighting a room with a sloped ceiling may, at first glance, seem intimidating -- but if you do it the way decorators do, you'll be successful. The design guideline for lighting a room is to light the components of the room, not the room itself. Lucy Martin, author of “The Lighting Bible,” says, “A good rule of thumb is to question the function of every fitting. If it does not have a specific task you should delete it from a scheme.” Well-placed lighting results in a well-lit room, regardless of the shape or angles of the walls or ceiling.

Floor Plan

Sketch a floor plan, include all the furniture used in your room. Draw arrows on the floor plan indicating the traffic flow, which is the path people take to move around in the room and through the room. Include any architectural features you want to highlight, such as a fireplace or the sloped ceiling.

Ambient Lighting

Plan the ambient lighting first. This is the lighting necessary to ensure safe passage for people moving around within and passing through the room. Use down-directed recessed lights or wall sconces; make sure that hanging lamps or recessed lights that direct light down to the main floor area are strong enough to light the traffic area. If there are stairs leading to a balcony, add ambient lighting directed at the stairs. A sloped ceiling has no functional task or traffic flow associated with it, therefore no ambient light is directed at it. Remember to light the components of the room and the whole will take care of itself.

Task Lighting

Make a list of the tasks that take place in the room and the type of lighting each task requires, including the fixtures, and add them to your floor plan. For example, your list might include: "playing piano; two wall sconces and a down-directed light over the music." If you want to hang lights from the sloped ceiling, ensure that the cords are long enough to reach down to light the task area.

Accent and Mood Lighting

Think about the accent lighting. This is the accessory lighting, added after all the other lighting is in place, which makes the nonessential things in the room look good. For example, you may want a down-directed fixture lighting a piece of art or a fireplace, an up-light illuminating a plant in a dark corner, or two wall sconces flanking a mirror or a pair of candlestick fixtures on a sideboard. A down-directed light on a sloped ceiling must be further away from the wall that houses the art in order to illuminate at the right angle. If there is a shelf running around the room and you consider it a feature of the room, consider adding accent lighting directed at the shelf. If the sloped ceiling is an architectural feature you wish to accentuate, direct light toward it just as you would a piece of art. But, as you would not direct light at a straight ceiling just for the sake of lighting it, do not direct light at the sloped ceiling unless it is something special.

Light Direction

A well-lit room has lights at different heights from the floor and lights illuminating in different directions. For example, some table lamps will direct light down to a work surface; some may be taller and throw light both down and up. Wall sconces can direct light up, down, or in both directions. Vary the intensity of the lights. For example, ambient lighting must, by necessity, be stronger than mood lighting. Recessed lighting in the sloped ceiling can add visual interest to the slope; just make sure the wattage is sufficient to light down to the main area and put the lights on dimmer switches.

The Plan

List the required lighting fixtures you have indicated on your floor plan. Take the list with you when you shop, and purchase your fixtures accordingly. Multiply the length of the room by the width and multiply the result by 1.5 for the total minimum wattage required for basic lighting. For example, for a room 10 feet wide and 12 feet long, the total wattage of all the light bulbs should not be less than 180. This is a general guideline for ambient light only; task and accent lighting is not included in this calculation. Ambient light is the lighting used to light the pathways through the room, and the fixtures that supply this light must hold enough wattage to accomplish the task. For example, if you have one ceiling light that you expect to illuminate the whole room, it must hold enough bulbs to provide adequate light. A sloped ceiling does not change the basic lighting requirements of a room.

About the Author

Linda Erlam started writing educational manuals in 1979. She also writes a biweekly newspaper column, "Design Dilemmas," in the "Lakeshore News" and has been published in "Design and Drapery Pro" magazine. Erlam is a graduate of the Sheffield School of Interior Design and is a practicing interior decorator and drapery workroom operator.

Photo Credits

  • Desk Lamp on Wood Surface image by Andy Dean from