Historically speaking, the guts of buildings were kept under wraps. With the exception of Timber Framing, and a stint during the 70’s where wood beams were left exposed as a testament to connection with nature, there was nothing beautiful or admirable about the framing of a home. Finished surfaces and hidden duct work was the name of the game. We now know, love, and appreciate the beauty in raw and exposed materials. Beams, joists, and lintels are now becoming PART of the architectural design intent. Let me tell you, it is a Lighting Designer’s DREAM.
Exposed beams can be used as a platform to enhance the lighting, enhance the mood in a room. Here is a glimpse into a few of those that we’ve successfully used on past projects. Use the following lighting design techniques in conjunction with an exposed beam: uplight, recessed downlight, pendant, graze, wash, track, etc.
Exposed Beam Lighting Design Ideas
Indirect Linear Uplight By far the most cost effective and dramatically altering solution. As a rule, when uplighting a ceiling, it will instantly make a space feel larger, grandeur, and more open. Uplighting with indirect (no view) fixtures, creates mystery and appeal alongside the aforementioned enhancements. Because the linear lighting is out of sight, it does not need to physically look good. It just needs to perform. In this scenario, do not spend money on the way a fixture it looks. Let’s not confuse this with the way it is detailed. Consider the following when uplighting:
- Distance from light source to the ceiling
- Color/finish of the ceiling
- Mounting location/angle
- Does the light source need optical control
- What is the output of the fixture
Even with accessibility to software that will calculate some of this, the surefire way to be certain of how it looks is to do a site mock-up.
Recessed Lighting – Recessed downlights, also referred to as ‘can lights,’ are an ever-growing-constantly-changing product that can light a room using exposed beams. Utilize an architectural flat surface, whether parallel to the floor or angled, to recess downlights. Paint the trim to match the finish of the beam. This in turn will cause them to disappear from a visibility standpoint. Use downlights to spotlight furniture, highlight artwork, or create general light levels.
Track Lighting – Track lighting in itself is great from a flexibility standpoint. It’s form factor, typically linear, works well in open ceiling with exposed beams. Mount track into the bottom of a beam, to the side of one, or hung at the same plane as beams. In retail, offices, restaurants, galleries, and other areas that could be altered in the future, use track lighting to allow for flexibility. Track lighting’s connotation is no longer that is it big and bulky. Track heads now come small, compact, and in dedicated LED. Color temperature, finish, beam spread, and style are all available as options.
Point Source Grazing – For a more dramatic approach, a point sources will either graze across the beams, or illuminate the surface in between them. This design intent is meant to draw attention directly to the beams. This creates visual interest by highlighting the architectural elements, making them a feature or focal point in the space. Recess the point sources into a vertical surface with low visibility directly into the aperture. Wall mount the fixtures is recessing is not an option. Point sources come in a variety of shapes, sizes, outputs, colors, and styles. The most important factor is the beam spread, or the angle/degree of light that comes out of the fixture’s aperture. Depending on the mounting/location of the fixture:
- With a wider beam spread, the light will create a ‘wash,’ and the light will spread out more to cast a blanket of light on the materials being lit.
- With a narrower beam spread, the light will create a more dramatic ‘grazing’ effect and used when emphasizing a textured surface or a lengthy surface.