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Wash Walls with Light to Dramatic Effect

When you display fine art on your wall the expectation is that people will look at it, but they may not be able to appreciate the color, texture and message that so captivated you — maybe their eyesight isn’t the best or they’re ruminating about their lost golf game or any number of other factors.

A technique known as “wall washing,” in which LED bulbs are mounted on the ceiling and directed toward a nearby wall, can ensure your masterpiece will be fully appreciated.

It can also inject drama and highlight texture, create a spacious feel and, oddly enough, conceal surface flaws when it’s done correctly. All these goals can be achieved with either track lighting, which can be easier to manipulate, or more discreet recessed lighting.

The bulbs are generally positioned about 2 or 3 feet away from the wall. This technique is more effective on light-colored walls than dark, and getting the right angle is key to success.

Spotlight your art

Whether you have one impressive object of wall art or several, wall washing is the way to go, but be certain you’re using an amount of light proportional to the piece. Putting too much or too little is bound to leave the viewer overwhelmed or perplexed.

The beam of light should hit the center of the object to be highlighted to give it the proper attention, but be sure to look at any shadows that might be cast onto baskets or sculptures that aren’t completely flat.

Add breathing room

Wall washing is adept at creating the optical illusion of more space, particularly in hallways and other narrow spaces. Indirect light trained on empty or sparsely decorated walls keeps the eye focusing on those surfaces and not the narrowness of the passage.

Softer lighting in particular generates an airy atmosphere that adds visual breadth to the passage by highlighting the expanse of the wall.

Wash out any blemishes

Lighting a wall from top to bottom from a wide angle highlights the sameness of the surface in a way that obscures any of its details, including cracks, scratches, dents or any other imperfections it may have picked up along the way. This is a great way to handle blemishes that for whatever reason aren’t going to be easy to patch up or camouflage.

Bring out the texture

When you’re in the opposite position of wanting to emphasize the details and uneven surfaces of a wall because it’s built from bricks, natural stone or another material with inherent character you’ll want to turn to a related lighting technique known as “wall grazing.”

Here the lights are placed closer to the wall and can be mounted either on the ceiling or floor to show contrasts in shapes, colors and materials; it helps highlight the craftsmanship of the people who worked on it.

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