Cove lighting is one of the basic lighting techniques, a type of uplighting that directs light to the ceiling plane from a cove on one or more sides of a room to provide overall diffuse illumination. It is also referred to as ambient luminescence. Cove lighting is typically mounted to or incorporated into a wall, but it can also be located within a ceiling coffer.

Some things to consider when setting up a cove lighting detail:

1. Be aware of how you are positioning the fixtures. Any joints or gaps between fixtures will show up in the light pattern. Socket shadows (dark spots at the end of a lamp) can be eliminated by placing fixtures end-to-end, in a staggered or a slanted arrangement. Depending on source selection, make sure to use the appropriate spacing between fixtures as well as the positioning from the back wall of the cove.

2. The top of the lamp should be level with the cove fascia; if not, it will create shadow lines.

3. To prevent sharp cutoff lines, stop a cove short of the end wall.

4. Generally, ceiling surface should be a high-reflectance matte or satin finish surface. The inside surface of the cove should be flat white. This minimizes specular reflections.

5. As a cove nears end wall, maintain a minimum clearance of 12 inches at inside corners to prevent hot spots.

6. As the cove’s distance from the ceiling plane increases, the uniformity of the ceiling brightness will also increase.


J.E. Flynn and S.M. Mills, Architectural Lighting Graphics, Van Nostrand Reinhold, New York, 1962, p. 182–183

M. David Egan and Victor Olgyay, Architectural Lighting, Second Edition, McGraw Hill, p. 226–227

Mark Karlen and James Benya, Lighting Design Basics, John Wiley & Sons, 2004, p. 59