Coffered ceilings look fantastic – in the right place! But there are certain factors that you should bear in mind when considering installing this type of recessed illumination in your lighting design scheme.
What are Coffered Ceilings?
Coffered ceilings are often referred to as raised ceiling panels or drop ceilings. In reality, the raised ceiling is more of an illusion as it’s the surrounding area that is lowered which gives the impression of the central ceiling panel being higher. Linear lighting is then hidden in the edges of the lowered ceiling to reflect light off the original ceiling height.
Why are they called Coffered Ceilings?
Coffered ceilings date back to the Greek and Roman times and became very popular again during the Renaissance period. They originate from cross beams being used to reinforce ceilings and the panels between the beams would often be intricately decorated. These ranged enormously, from flat to curved; from many panels to only one main one. Recently coffered ceilings have become popular again and are often used in a simple form to house linear lighting to add reflected light to a space. Often they are known as Drop Ceilings and, in their simplest form, this is probably the best term for them.
What’s the benefit of a coffered ceiling?
It’s a clever use of hidden linear lighting and creates a panel of reflected light which, when linked to a dimming circuit, can either be bright and energising or soft and moody. The result will also be affected by the paint colours of the room, and layers of the ceiling.
Coffered Ceiling Planning Tips
The Room Needs to be a Good Size
Coffered ceilings can look impressive and add another dimension to large rooms but be careful to work out the proportions before going ahead.
The very nature of installing a coffered ceiling means that visually, you’re taking a chunk out of the room in order to create the lowered border around the edges. That means that what you’re left with – the area you’re throwing the light up onto – needs to be a good size to make it worth it.
As coffered ceilings are popular at the moment, there’s a tendency to build them in without really considering if they’re suited to the position. I’ve seen enthusiastic designers incorporate them into areas which are too tight, such as small rooms and narrow corridors where they don’t always work well. There are other ways you can mimic the effect which are more delicate and more cost-effective. More about that later.
Heat Sinks and Diffusers
These may sound boring but it’s important information to know when designing a coffered ceiling and using LED linear lighting in general.
The heat sink is basically the channel (profile) in which the LED tape sits. It’s usually made of aluminium to absorb the heat that’s emitted from the rear of the LED tape. Many people assume that LEDs are cool, but they can generate a lot of heat at the back of the fitting which will affect the longevity of the product if it’s not dissipated.
The profile is also used for slotting the diffuser into. The purpose of this is to soften the light so that it’s not so sharp and the little dots from the individual LEDs aren’t reflected onto the ceiling. It also protects the LED tape from dust.
Power Supply and Drivers
You need to consider where you are going to put the drivers so that they can be accessed in case something goes wrong. It’s not advisable to try and put the drivers in the recessed area around the panel as you could end up seeing shadow. You need the light to be seamless.
Sometimes the length of the linear LED is too long to be run off one driver, in which case you may need two, or several drivers serving different runs of the LED profile. This all needs to be planned beforehand.
Ensure you use good quality LED tape
When LED lighting is produced, as with all manufacturing, there will be several batches made at different times. The best lighting manufacturers will ensure that the light emitted is quality controlled and colour temperature is exactly the same. This is known as ‘colour binning.’ So it’s always vital to ensure that the LED comes from the same batch.
Some LED producers can be sloppy with this and you don’t want to reach the point where you’ve spent time and money installing the coffered ceiling, only to find that the lengths of LED emit slightly different colour tones of light
Consider Tuneable White LED tape
If the room is used in the day as well as evening, and if it has a fair amount of daylight coming in, it’s worth considering tuneable LED lighting. This is because the warm LED colour (say 2700K) looks good at night but can look yellow and dim when compared to sunlight outside, even on a dull day. Conversely, if you opt for a cooler temperature, it can look too cold at night.
So, the best option is to use tuneable white LED so that you can change the colour of the light to suit the time of day and mood.
If you have a media room, which doesn’t have much natural light, and you’re only using it mainly in the evenings, you can get away with one colour output, unless of course you would like to go for colour-changing LED (RGB).
Consider the Height of your Windows
It’s worth bearing in mind that, when creating a drop ceiling around the edges of the room, you won’t want to go any lower than the top of the window, so it’s best to start with using this as a guide.
Linear LED Lighting is not Economical
Take a large room, with a coffered area of say, 8 metres by 6 metres. This adds up to around 28 metres of LED profile, tape and diffuser. You also have the labour and material costs to lower the ceiling around the edges of the room which means the cost of supply and install can mount up.
Running costs are also greater than using LED downlights. For example, going by the above example of 28 metres using a high output LED at 19 watts per metre, that adds up to 532 watts expended. This isn’t a huge amount – in fact only the equivalent of five old fashioned 100 watt tungsten bulbs, but it’s just worth bearing in mind.
Is Light from a Coffered Ceiling Enough?
Although it’s a lovely design technique, you will usually need to incorporate more lighting in the room, depending on use of the room and size. In the project shown above I added some high output LED downlights as the room was high. These all need to be on different circuits so you can alter the atmosphere of the interior.
Things to remember:
- Coffered ceilings work better in large rooms
- Don’t skimp on the quality of the LEDs
- Ensure the LED tape is housed in an aluminium heat sink
- Use a diffuser to avoid reflected spotting on the ceiling
- It’s advisable to enable dimming
- Consider tuneable white LEDs or RGB
- Be realistic about the expenditure – installing and running costs
- The devil is in the detail
The Next Best Thing to a Coffered Ceiling
Sometimes the room doesn’t warrant the expense of a fully coffered ceiling so I’ll specify some coving to hide linear lighting. This can be run around the edges of the room, or can even help to disguise a structural beam. For a good source of lighting coving see Orac Decor
Check out our lighting design process here.
Claire Pendarves is a lighting designer with over 20 years’ experience
Luxplan offers an online lighting design service ranging from one hour zoom consultancy – ‘Ask me Anything’ to full lighting design and specification. I design and spec; you buy independently