How to Deal With Concrete Ceilings

Q: We have moved into a fantastic high-rise condominium, but we have a problem: The ceilings are concrete and we just have one junction box in the main room. How do we do anything beyond track?

A: First of all, congratulations for being able to buy a home in these difficult times. I am currently subletting my kitchen to a family of four. You have a problem that many condo owners face. How can you create effective lighting when there is an impenetrable surface? The answer is to create a surface that is penetrable. This involves lowering the ceiling enough to allow for recessed fixtures. More than likely, it has already been done in the kitchen and bath to get fans, HVAC and some recessed fixtures into these areas. One of my favorite techniques is to just drop sections of ceiling with panels that appear to float away from the ceiling. Suspend these panels just far enough from the ceiling to allow for recessed remodel cans (around 6 inches). For an added layer of illumination, install a perimeter run of indirect light to bounce off the actual ceiling. The illusion is that the ceiling appears to be higher, not lower. The cost is much less than it would be to lower the whole ceiling. A variation on this approach is to create a series of box beams (hollow beams that are open at the top) or coffers and run them from wall to wall. These not only provide a wire-way, but also a location for recessed adjustable fixtures and pendant fixtures. In addition, these beams can float slightly away from the ceiling to provide some ambient light. This is especially good for rooms where there is no electricity in the ceiling, but the power can be run through the walls. In addition to these ceiling details, I would suggest adding wall sconces or torchieres for additional ambient illumination, plus table lamps and reading lights to create little islands of illumination.

Randall Whitehead, IALD

Randall Whitehead, IALD, is a professional lighting designer and author. His books include "Residential Lighting, A Practical Guide." Whitehead has worked on projects worldwide, appeared on the Discovery Channel, HGTV and CNN, and he is regular guest on Martha Stewart Living Radio. Visit his website for more information on books, upcoming seminars and the latest lighting trends.

Leave a Comment

Submitted by Kevin (not verified) on Sun, 05/14/2017 - 20:05


This sounds interesting. Does anyone have pictures to show what this looks like?

Submitted by Dog Lover (not verified) on Thu, 09/07/2017 - 10:48

In reply to by Kevin (not verified)


I was wondering the same thing when I came across this article. I found a few that might illustrate the general point:

Submitted by Joan McLoughlin (not verified) on Wed, 08/23/2017 - 13:23


Hi Randall,

We are trying to light the art in our condo and discovered that we can not drill into our cement ceilings. We are located on the ground floor of a 16 floor condo complex. Is there any way to install track lights or other rotational lights without drilling into the ceiling? Not keen on a drop ceiling.

Submitted by Dave (not verified) on Sun, 10/29/2017 - 09:00


Randall - do you have any pictures with examples or websites explaining these ideas?