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Well-Planned Lighting Is A Key Element Of Garage Design

Well-Planned Lighting Is A Key Element Of Garage Design

How the Right Layers of Light Can Totally Transform Your Space

When you consider the different aspects of garage design, lighting may not seem like a priority – but it should be. Proper lighting can make a space comfortable and highlight the room’s best features, just as poor lighting and shadows can create an environment that’s uncomfortable and fatiguing. 

Few design elements are as central to shaping a room’s ambience as the power of light. This is especially important if part of your lighting’s purpose is to display high-end automobiles or other treasures.


To put it simply: lighting is one of the most important elements of a garage space, whether that’s a home workshop, a professional space where mechanics work, or an automotive showroom with luxury vehicles on display. In service areas, having a well-lit space is indispensable. Ever try waxing a car in a poorly lit room? Or how about finding a dropped fastener?

As far as showrooms go, an automobile dealership wants to accentuate the beauty of a new car while ensuring it looks the same inside the showroom as it would out in the daylight. In a showroom, it is also vital to present color accurately, so, for example, silver does not appear light blue, or red doesn’t appear as orange.


The lighting requirements of many home garages are not much different from professional workshops or showrooms, yet lighting is an element that’s often overlooked in the residential market. This is evidenced by the limited number of fixtures that have been designed for the unique requirements of this space.

Lighting in most residential garages is woefully inadequate, usually consisting of a few incandescent bulbs or fluorescent cans hanging from the ceiling. In garages that lack windows – which is done for good reason, as direct sunlight can fade car paint and interiors – the situation is compounded by the lack of a natural light source. A poorly lit room can be an unpleasant place to work or relax, particularly if there is no natural light or if there are fixtures with ballasts that hum noisily.

Combining levels of light to transform your home garage


Designing your garage to be well-lit is crucial, and can immediately transform the feel and functionality of your garage. Like other rooms in the home, the garage should be illuminated in three layers of light: ambient (general or main) lighting, task lighting, and accent lighting. Each plays an important role in bathing the garage in three to five sources of overlapping light to eliminate shadows and dark corners.

Let’s look more closely at each level, as well as the unique value offered by decorative lighting and the emerging trend of LED lighting.

Lighting Level 1: AMBIENT LIGHTING. Ambient lighting will provide the majority of the light within your garage. As general lighting, its task is fairly basic: to produce a sufficient and uniform brightness and to create a safely lit environment. Ever pull your car into a garage only to run into something you didn’t see? It happens all the time due to inadequate ambient lighting.

Ideally, your ambient lighting should turn on instantaneously so that they do not take a long time to warm up before they produce adequate light. Some light sources can be affected by cold temperatures, so if the garage is not heated this may slow performance during winter months. For safety, it’s important to choose reliable general lighting sources that turn on instantly.

As far as placement, fixtures that are flush-mounted are the most common in garage with 9′-10′ ceiling heights or less. If the garage has extra tall ceilings, suspending luminaires on chains or cords can also be used. Fixtures that will bounce light off the ceiling will improve the lighting conditions within your garage.

It’s important to remember, though, that sources for general lighting should meet functional needs first, and aesthetics second. In other words, light requirements should be prioritized over style or form. 

TIP:  Consider wiring your general light source to a motion-detector so your main lights turn on if you walk into the space, or if your garage door opens. In addition, placing your ambient lights on a timer so that they shut off completely during unoccupied times will save energy.

Lighting Level 2: TASK LIGHTING. Task lighting is designed specifically to meet the needs of the tasks you want to accomplish. Fixtures should be placed within close proximity to your task – such as lighting a workbench area or tucking lights underneath your wall cabinets to better illuminate the work surface below. Where task lighting is concerned, the relevant criteria are good contrast rendition, appropriate luminance levels, harmonious brightness distribution, and elimination of glare.

TIP:  When selecting individual fixtures for task lighting, look for fixtures that can rotate, revolve, and/or swivel so that the light source can be aimed or concentrated at the specific task area.

Lighting Level 3: ACCENT LIGHTING. Accent lighting indirectly highlights an area or object(s) to create or reinforce the character of a room. Accent lighting is just beginning to be promoted for use in garages as an effective way to create mood. It can be used to catch your eye to spotlight a vehicle, artwork, wall sign, or interesting architectural features in the space, such as beamed ceilings.

Layers of accent lighting create drama

Accent lights that are focused on an object will help draw the eye toward that object in contrast to its background. Lighting aimed toward the walls and ceilings can make the room appear brighter than if light is directed downward to the floor. And lighting the corners of a garage will make the space seem larger than it really is – in this case, the eye will be fooled into seeing the space appear to stretch into eternity. 

Another accent lighting technique, very effective in automobile showrooms, involves spotlighting a vehicle within a soft pool of light that’s surrounding it. Your eye is led to the spotlighted car while the rest of the room recedes back, making the background disappear.

DECORATIVE LIGHTING. Though not one of the three primary levels of light, decorative lighting can go a long way in shaping the atmosphere of a garage space. With decorative light sources, the light fixture is a statement piece and is added to the layout to create visual interest in the room. Decorative lighting can be both stylish and functional – neon signs, hanging pendants, and gooseneck barn lights are just a few popular sources of decorative light. The soft warm glow of neon is a great example of how decorative lighting can be used to create visual interest and shape a space’s character.

Neon signage can create a mood

LED LIGHTING. One emerging garage lighting trend we are starting to see more and more is the use of LED lights, most commonly placed under wall cabinets to illuminate countertops, below base cabinets to illuminate the floor (handy if you drop a fastener), and in soffits to create ambience.

Under cabinet lights will highlight work surfaces

Bottom line, when planning your garage it’s very important to take into account the activities you’ll be doing in the garage, what you want to get out of your lighting, and what illumination level is best for what you are trying to accomplish. Using only one light source may result in shadows that limit what you can do with and in your space – but these limitations can often be removed by adding other indirect light sources.


That’s a lot of lighting know-how to take in. Luckily, we’re here to help you sort through your lighting needs. VAULT®‘s garage design pros can help you customize lighting solutions for your garage, shop, business, barn, showroom, or any other space you’re ready to bring out of the shadows. You can learn more about VAULT®‘s lighting solutions on our website’s lighting page. And when you’re ready to discuss your lighting project and see what VAULT® custom lighting solutions can do for you, contact us today at (310) 622-4477 to book your free lighting consultation.