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Walk-In Closet Lighting Ideas

Master closet with walk-in closet lighting

So, you’ve already taken the plunge and purchased a closet organizer. Everything is in its place and looks neat and tidy. That means you’re well on your way to a more organized lifestyle. But what about closet lighting? You probably have a ceiling light fixture in the center of the closet — maybe even a chandelier. But is that enough? If you still worry about what might be lurking in those dark corners you know it’s not. LED closet lighting systems add better functionality and overall enjoyment to every part of your closet — even the corners. It adds brightness over the individual closet rods and along shelves, providing both task and ambient light. This ensure all your possessions are properly illuminated and easy to find. There are many benefits to closet LEDs and they’re not that expensive to install. But you need to get it right. Use these walk-in closet lighting tips to take your closet to the next level.

Types of Walk-in Closet Lighting

Lighting can be categorized by type — ambient, task, and accent lighting. Each has a different role to play in a lighting plan. If you take the time to identify your walk-in closet lighting needs, you will be ahead of the game and better able to select the correct mix of lights for your closet.

Types of lighting

  • Think of ambient light as a general light source used to find your way around. Your central overhead light fixture is your main source of ambient light for your closet. Other lights can provide this type of illumination as well, but they are optional if a central light fixture is already installed.
  • Task lighting, on the other hand, focuses on providing intense illumination in specific area. In a closet, task lighting is often used to illuminate a countertop over a built-in dresser or hutch, a vanity, built-in desk, or a closet island.
  • Accent lighting for closets can be broken down into two basic types. It’s either intended to accent a display, or purely decorative for “mood” purposes.
    • Display lighting consists of lights that illuminate and draw attention to specific items you want noticed, (art exhibitions use a lot of these). If you have a collection of vintage handbags, for example, use accent lights to highlight them.
    • Decorative lights set the overall tone of a space, be it festive, restful, romantic, etc.

A good closet lighting system will always include task and ambient lighting. Accent lights may also play a part in the closet lighting plan depending on the size and uses of the closet.

11 ideas for a great walk-in closet lighting system:

1. Use recessed puck lights over dressers and hutches.

Puck lights are small, round lights about the size of a hockey puck. Hence the name. They are almost always used as task lights but can sometimes work as display lights as well. Mount them to the underside of shelves and cabinets installed over a closet hutch or dresser. Use them on the underside of the top shelf inside cabinets or cubbies for display illumination. They work very well over a mirror and can help when putting on earrings or makeup. For this reason, they are sometimes included as part of a closet vanity.

These lights do not necessarily need to be surface mounted. Recess them into your closet components by installing a double shelf and covering any gaps with a piece of trim or cabinet door. This presents a neat appearance and the space between the shelves is a handy way to conceal the wires.

Closeup of double shelf with puck light
The double bottom shelf on this cabinet is used to recess the puck lights and hide the wires. Very little space is needed to do this. Note the small gap between the shelves. The lower shelf is fixed and the one on top sits on shelf pins so that it is easy to remove and service the lights.

2. Install vanity lights.

If your closet features a sit-down vanity, don’t forget to add lights so you can see what you’re doing! Vanity lighting consists of practical lights used to improve the owner’s ability to apply makeup, style hair, etc. Get started by installing a fixture above or around a mirror. Puck lights can be used if there is an overhead shelf or cabinet. Secondary vanity lighting is also important. Install strip lights inside drawers and cabinets that surround the vanity to improve your ability to find what you need.

Built-in closet vanity
This built-in closet vanity features task lighting over the mirror.

3. Put strip lights under the shelves above your clothes rods.

Use a row of strip lights placed above your clothes rods. You’ll never mistake your navies from your true blacks again. As a type of task lighting, it provides the opportunity for intense illumination right above the clothing. It is a much better way to see what you’ve got than relying on ambient light from a ceiling fixture.

Strip lights are extremely useful, but not very attractive. However, the strip light fixture itself does not need to be visible. Make sure the panel or shelf where it is installed is routed to provide a recessed channel to accept the strip lights. That way, all you see is beautiful, soft illumination emanating above the rod or along the closet shelf.

LED strip lighting illuminates clothing rods in closet
LED strip lighting illuminates clothing rods in closet.

4. Add strip lighting along the sides of shelves.

Install strip lighting vertically along the sides of your shoe shelves and display shelves. The vertical installation will provide more even lighting than you can achieve with other types of shelf lights. You don’t need to worry about the light getting weaker as it travels from the top shelf down to the bottom. The lights will illuminate your shoes nicely on every shelf. And the closet panels can be routed to recess this lighting just as with the installation above closet rods.

Vertical strip lights illuminate shoe shelves
Vertical strip lights illuminate the shoe shelves in this closet. Notice how the strips are recessed into the closet panels so that you don't see the flexible LED strip at all. All that is visible is lovely bright light illuminating the shelves.

5. Put lights inside cabinets.

Use puck lights and/or strip lights inside your closet cabinets. Puck lights make a nice addition behind the glass doors of display cabinets. Use them in conjunction with glass shelves to show off your handbag collection, vintage shoes, jewelry, etc.

If your cabinets are too dark, install vertical strip lighting inside the cabinet. It goes in the same way as for shoe shelves. When you open the door, you’ll have no trouble seeing items installed inside. When installing this lighting, place it along the front one third of the closet panel, closest to the cabinet door. This will provide better illumination than the center of the closet panel.

Closet cabinet with interior strip lighting around roll-out tie organizer
Make selecting the perfect tie a simple affair with a set-up like this one. The closet cabinet features interior strip lighting around a roll-out tie organizer that holds 44 neckties.

6. Light up your drawers

Do you have drawers in your closet island, built-in dresser, or other closet feature? Install strip LEDs so that your drawers light up when you open them. It makes it so much easy to find what you're looking for and you'll never misplace items in the back of the drawer.

Drawers and cabinet with interior lighting
These drawers (and the cabinet below) are equipped with lights that turn on when the cabinet doors or the drawers are opened.

7. Consider motion sensor closet lights.

Your closet lights can be made to automatically turn on when you enter the room. Use this with walk-in closet lighting so that you never have to stumble around in the dark.

8. Install LED strip lights behind a piece of crown moulding

Install up-lighting behind a strip of crown moulding as an accent light for a glowing effect. As a relaxing source of accent lighting, it can transform your walk-in closet into a private retreat. The best way to achieve this is with LED strip lighting because the diodes are evenly spaced, and it emits a very balanced light. Place the strip lights behind the crown. This will hide the light source and all the wires while keeping the lights accessible for easy maintenance.

Closet cabinets with up-lighting installed behind crown moulding
These closet cabinets feature up-lighting installed behind crown moulding.

9. Use a backlit translucent countertop on your closet island.

The usual way to light a closet island is by hanging a light fixture above it. But you can do so much more. Create a unique and elegant ambience with your walk-in closet lighting when you backlight a translucent stone countertop over the island.

Closet island with lights shining through translucent stone countertop.
This closet island uses LED strip lights under the translucent stone countertop for a glowing effect.

10. Place a reading lamp next to your dressing room closet seating.

Your walk-in closet isn't a dressing room without a comfy chair. And the chair isn't very practical or useful unless a good reading lamp is nearby.

Closet dressing room with island, reading chair, and lamp
This plush dressing room closet includes a comfortable chair and lamp for reading.

11. Put everything on dimmers, zones, and low voltage wiring with wireless controls.

Some ambient light sources can double as accent lighting when you use a dimmer switch to control the brightness. Start by choosing a low voltage closet lighting system. Set up various zones for your hanging, shoe shelves, closet island, dresser, hutch, and vanity. Up-lighting should also be on its own zone. Wireless dimmers are standard with low voltage systems. Use them to set the desired ambience — whether it's all lights on full power while you get ready for work or low-key dimmed lighting with a relaxing drink before bed. You'll be happiest with a zoned system because some lights can remain completely off while you control the level of brightness on others with your dimmer switch.

More Walk-In Closet Lighting Considerations

Always choose LEDs for your closet illumination. They are a better choice than incandescent, halogen, or other types of artificial illumination. They are also more economical over the long run even though initial cost may be higher than incandescent. They run much cooler than other types of lamps and are environmentally friendly. LEDs come in different color temperatures as well. The temperature you choose is a matter of personal preference. However, all the lights used in your closet should be the same color temperature. Furthermore, when choosing the color temperature for lights in your closet, look to the lights in the rooms immediately outside the closet for guidance. For example, if your bedroom uses warm lights, use warm lights in the bedroom closet as well.

A low voltage LED system can be a do-it-yourself project for the handy homeowner because there is no wiring inside the walls. However, a professional closet company will recess the lights, routing out appropriate tracks in the closet panels and drilling to hide puck lights. It's best to do all drilling before the closet is installed so be sure to let your closet designer know ahead of time if you think you might want walk-in closet lighting.

Whether you do it yourself or have someone else install for you, use these tips to help design a quality lighting system. Done well, it has the potential to be the pride and joy of your closet. So why not give it a try? Banish those dark corners for good and make your closet more functional in every way with walk-in closet lighting.