Lighting is probably the last item on the list when architects and home builders plan their project. How else could it be when looking at the poor light plans even the most modern homes offer. Such a pity when you consider how dramatic is the impact of lighting on the atmosphere and wellbeing, not to mention the value it adds.
When we moved with my family in our new house last year we were extremely happy to have found a nice modern city house with all the convenience of a modern home in terms of insulation, heating, efficient layout, brightness. With regards to lighting though, there was no exception and the layout was pretty much the same as a 1910 built home. Doomed to install chandeliers?
For every room we needed to rethink the lighting installation, dealing with the old-school electrical network. For this post, we will look specifically into our living room upgrade and how we built with my father, a professional installer, a 6 meter long cove. Adding architectural lighting in a home is not impossible. Let's go through this project together and find out how complex is the installation, the cost breakdown and of course the outcome in terms of lighting effect.
With three connection points for the whole 40 m2 living area, each positioned in the middle of distinct zones (lounge, dining table, music corner - see red numbers on the layout), it couldn't be much worse, from my perspective. I much prefer multiple connection points close to the walls vs a single central connection. On top of that our floor is very dark which literally sucks the light out.
We started by using two of the three ceiling connections, one with a double spot fixture that the previous owners left (no 3 on the layout) and the other with a Muuto Unfold hanging light we already owned above our dining table (no 1 on the layout). Sadly, the position of the connection was not ideally centered with the table but this was good enough to get started. Beyond that, we only used our free standing luminaires (see yellow numbers on the layout) and took it from there.
Here is the complete list of the light points we started with:
- No 1 - Muuto Unfold hanging light with Philips Hue White lamp, 800 lumens
- No 5 - BoConcept Curious table lamp installed on the sideboard, E14 reflector lamp, Philips Living White power plug for dimming control (Hue ZLL compatible)
- No 6 - Philips Hue Lightstrip (first generation with colours only), 120 lumens
- No 4 - BoConcept Kuta floor lamp, Philips Hue A19 lamp, 650 lumens
- Music corner:
- No 3 - Double ceiling spot lights, Philips Hue gu10 lamps (2 x 250 lumens)
- No 7 - Philips Hue Go, positioned on top of the upright piano (250 lumens)
With this initial setup we have different light sources spread out in the room but each are either directional or contained into a small area. The conclusion is that for cosy atmosphere it's ok but we are missing on the overall light level when bright light is needed. A first upgrade was implemented last fall with the installation of the new Philips Lightstrip Plus as a backlight on the sideboard (see Philips Lightstrip Plus Review - No 8 in the layout). The indirect light helped a bit bringing the light level up with the extra 1500 lumens, but not enough to be sufficient.
The requirement for this upgrade was then to further lift up the light level in the room while maintaining a compatibility with our Philips Hue system in order to be controlled from the smart light switches (see Philips Hue Dimmer Switch review) and included in our light scenes.
To fulfil the requirements we decided to make 2 modifications:
- Build a cove from the level of the kitchen false ceiling to the garden wall (for a total of 6 meters) in order to install a lightstrip. The natural choice of course is the Philips Hue Lightstrip Plus. It allows to connect directly to the Hue system and can extend up to 10 meters thanks to the 1 meter extension sets. The light output is however limited to 1650 lumens beyond 3 meters so in order to really boost the light level in the room we decided to double the strip to bring a total of 3300 lumens.
- Add a second hanging lamp above the table. Our previous table had a square shape so one was enough but now that we have a rectangular table it is quite a natural upgrade to simply double the light points. Same luminaire, same lamp. To manage the problem of the wrongly positioned electrical connection point, an electrical line will be brought through the cove and a discrete aluminium track will be installed in the ceiling at the exact middle of the table to allow a central alignment of the hanging lights with the table.
Those upgrades combined more than doubled the light output in the room which should make up for the limited light level. The fact that all sources are controlled via the Hue system allows for individual and scene control possibilities.
There are different ways to build a cove and different light effects can be achieved. Looking at our setup and the existing constraints of the house helped us narrowing down the options.
Building a cove is basically integrating light in the architecture of your building and hiding the light source away. The cove structure should therefore blend in the walls in a natural way. Since our Kitchen has a false ceiling we decided to level the cove with the false ceiling to give an impression of continuity in the ceiling. The second step was to decide whether the light should go down the wall or onto the ceiling. Since it's a single light line and not a square or oval cove, I decided for a wall effect instead. Ceiling coves work better when the lights loop around the room or an area. Our room being asymmetrical, the wall effect seemed a more natural choice.
From the visuals above you can see that we tested 3 different positions for the lightstrips in order to get the best light effect.
The dimension of the cove were defined based on the height of the false ceiling and quite specific. We initially decided to build the cove out of MDF which is the best option. Finding a shop to cut MDF to our exact dimensions was not easy and we did not want to buy the equipment necessary to do the work ourselves. We got lucky to find wood planks pre-painted in white at the exact height required so we went ahead and bought this as an alternative to MDF. For the rest we used basic wooden strips.
Wooden strips were glued with adhesive mastic and fixed to the concrete ceiling with screws. The distance from the wall was calculated in order to let a gap of 7 cm between the Cove structure and the wall to let the light out. The L-shaped Cove modules were pre-mounted and then fixed to the wooden strip on the ceiling with screws (see pictures for more details). Although we were happy to have found the wooden planks at the perfect dimensions we did lose time during the installation due to the fact that the planks were not perfectly flat and aligned. MDF would surely give a cleaner result and therefore less "fixing" efforts. Note that we painted the inside of the cove in white to maximise light reflections. The final step was obviously to mud the screws and junctions, sand the complete structure and then apply 2 layers of paint with sanding in between for perfect finish.
With regards to the installation of the lightstrip, and the 3 positions tested, we experienced different results and faced a tradeoff. Position one, facing the wall, offered the advantage of perfectly hiding the strip within the cove structure but the light was casting a shadow due to the bottom part of the cove (see picture below). The shadow was not offering a satisfying light effect and the fact that the planks weren't perfectly flat even worsen the situation creating a "wave" in the shadow.
By installing the strips on the ceiling with the light going down the wall we improved the effect removing the shadow and increasing the light output. Best position ended up being the mark 3 with smoothest light effect and maximum light output (see picture above). Those benefits came at the cost of visible light strips when you get closer to the wall but this is a small downside and in most situations LEDs are invisible.
When planning the construction of a cove, keep in mind potential shadow effects.
Let me first start by saying that electrical work can be dangerous and you should not do any DIY electrical installations unless you are qualified for it. You should use the help of a professional when necessary.
The electrical aspects of this project are pretty simple in fact. The Philips Hue Lightstrip Plus is a consumer product which do not require any specific electrical knowledge as they simply need a power socket to operate. With regards to our hanging lights, however, we pulled a line which we also ended with a power plug to simply connect to a wall socket. All, of these connections were made at the bottom corner of the garden wall and wires were channeled through a plastic duct (see pictures below).
Project cost breakdown
Here are rounded numbers of the costs involved in the project. Bear in mind, I did not have to buy all materials as I already had some of the supplies like screws, plugs and tools.
- 2 x Philips Lightstrip Plus, total value EUR 160
- 8 x Philips Lightstrip Plus Extension sets, total value EUR 200
- Wood supply (planks, strips), total value EUR 120
- Other supplies (wires, ducts, mastic, sanding paper, miscellaneous ) EUR 50
The total cost of the installation was slightly over 500 euros for a 6 meter long cove. Of course the double strip impacts the overall cost by 180 euros so if you plan a similar project and you don't need that much light, you can make some savings there. Keep also in mind that the Light output of the strip is constant over 3 meters. Doubling the strip allowed to maintain 500 lumens per meter of light output. If you only need 3 meters then a single strip will give you exactly 500 lumens per meter and therefore offer the same performance as this setup. If you intend to use the strip for general lighting purposes I suggest to target a minimum of 500 lm/m. For more decorative purposes, level can go as low as 150 lumens per meter as an indication and that's equivalent to the minimum light output of the Lightstrip Plus for an 10 meters length.
We found the final result very satisfying and fulfilled the objectives we set. The cove is very discrete and blends perfectly in the wall while the second hanging light boosted the light level on the dining area and created a more balanced integration with the rectangular table. Finally, we added the new lights to our Hue light scenes (bright, dimmed and movie) for seamless operations. See the pictures below to check out the light effects.
Of course, the Philips Hue system allows for very interesting and creative atmospheres. The lightstrips are the perfect solution to add a touch of colour to light scenes.
Building the cove has proven to be a bit more complicated than we anticipated but mainly due to the fact that we went for wood instead of MDF. It took us 3 to 4 days to complete the project but we weren't working full time and took it quite easy. With proper planning and guidelines I believe this project can be done much quicker although mudding and painting will always require drying breaks.
Other than that, the construction is rather straight forward and not so complicated after all. The average DIYer should be able to conduct a similar project without too much troubles.
Although quite subjective, we found the outcome to be very gratifying and bringing a lot more value to the house than the relative cost of the installation. I hope this project can inspire some readers in building similar cove and lighting upgrades. Obviously, if you have any questions related to this project and the installation, please, feel free to comment below and I will make sure to answer your questions.
Thanks for reading!
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