Wall grazing and wall washing are accent lighting techniques that add visual interest to an often-overlooked element of a room: its walls.
You can use wall grazing or wall washing to evoke a specific atmosphere with lighting. These techniques are achieved through similar methods but produce different effects.
What is Wall Grazing Lighting?
Wall grazing is a lighting technique where lights are positioned closely to a wall, either from the floor or ceiling, to force the beam of light to hit the wall at a narrow angle.
This angle draws the eye to the texture of the wall by creating shadows. Shadows can be deepened or diminished by moving the lights closer to or further from the wall, which changes the angle.
You may have seen wall grazing at restaurants, businesses or homes. Can you remember seeing an interior waterfall with a rocky backdrop at a restaurant? Your eyes were likely drawn to the rugged wall because a grazing lighting technique highlighted its unique texture.
This style of accent lighting is also often used to illuminate the exteriors of stone homes at night.
Wall Grazing Lighting Ideas
Looking to accent a wall and increase shadows? Here are some ideas for wall grazing lighting.
1. Home exterior
Wall grazing is a smart idea for stone homes. At night, lights positioned closely on the ground can emphasize the rough, jagged edges and create a dramatic appearance.
2. Brick wall
Inside or out, wall grazing can accentuate the details of a brick wall. You can place the lights at the bottom or the top of the wall, depending on the effect you want to create.
3. Kitchen backsplash
Tuck accent lights under kitchen cupboards to highlight a textured backsplash. Wall grazing can call attention to the crevices between tiles or the edges of a trendy, unfinished backsplash.
4. Stone pillars
While a smoother stone pillar may benefit from wall washing, you may want to highlight the worn features of an older stone pillar. Wall grazing increases shadows and establishes a stately atmosphere.
What is Wall Wash Lighting?
While wall grazing highlights the texture of a wall through shadows, wall washing enhances its smoothness by eliminating shadows.
A wall washing effect is produced by mounting lights on the ceiling so that the beam of light falls on the wall at a wide angle. By installing ceiling lights at least 2.5 to 3 feet away from the wall, you can wash 8 to 9 feet of vertical wall space with light.
This type of lighting makes sense in places like art galleries, where the goal is to display multiple pieces of art hung on a blank wall.
Wall Wash Lighting Ideas
If you want to reduce shadows and make a room feel larger, try one of these ideas for wall wash lighting.
From paintings to decorative wall hangings, wall washing is a great idea for showcasing your artwork. Where wall grazing would draw attention to the wall behind the art, wall washing distributes the light to help the viewer focus on the art.
2. Indoor plants
Indoor plants near walls can also benefit from wall wash lighting. Since wall washing minimizes shadows, this technique can foster a bright, cheery atmosphere.
Wall wash lighting can be an interesting idea for lighting collectibles such as motorcycles and cars. In a small space, wall washing opens the room to make it feel larger.
4. Outdoor signs
Washing a simple outdoor sign with light is a smart choice when you want to make sure your sign is readable. You won’t have to worry about three-dimensional letters casting shadows that make it difficult to read.
Wall Grazing vs. Wall Washing: Which is Best?
The main difference between wall grazing and wall washing is how far away lights are installed from the wall. Mounting a light less than 2 feet away from a wall will produce a grazing effect, whereas a distance over 2.5 feet will widen the angle of the light beam and wash a wall out.
Wall grazing lighting is best on textured walls and when you want to add visual variety to a room. If your wall has multiple textured elements, though, wall grazing might exaggerate the shadows too much.
Wall wash lighting is best for smooth, flat walls and when you want to focus attention on wall hangings rather than the wall. If your wall has imperfections you want to hide, wall wash lighting can help wash them out.
Both techniques can draw attention to certain elements, but which technique is best will depend on the material of the wall and the effect you want to create.
This article was originally published on April 1, 2015. It was updated and republished on April 7, 2021.