Light Up Your Garage With Flair

A combination of showroom and task lighting does it best

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Let’s face it: Most garages are poorly lit, often by just a single bulb or fluorescent fixture. To give this garage plenty of light for project work, I installed a task light above the work surface and designed two ceiling islands to provide even more direct light. To add some showroom flair, the islands include indirect lighting that complements the illuminated countertop and the accent lighting along our garage walls.

Tools Required

  • Basic carpentry tools
  • basic electrical tools
  • Drill
  • Pocket hole jig
  • Router
  • Sander
  • Soldering iron
  • Table saw

Materials Required

  • 1-in. Kreg Screws
  • 2-in. wood screws
  • 1-1/4-in wood screws
  • 1/2-in. MDF
  • 1x4 x 8' pine
  • 1x6 x 8' pine
  • LED light controllers
  • LED strip lights
  • Spot lights

Meet the builder: Jay Cork, an associate editor at Family Handyman, is an inventor at heart.

Project step-by-step (18)

Step 1

Lighting Design

Inspired by the inlaid lighting design of the countertop, I echoed that shape in the ceiling islands. Each island has five spotlights that connect to 110-volt service. Hidden inside are low-voltage LED strips for indirect accent lighting. Accent lighting for the room is used sparingly but effectively. LED light strips hidden along each of the walls perfectly compliment the ceiling islands.

Make a Drawing

  • A sketch is my most important tool for designing a lighting project. It helps me conceptualize the design and gets me to the next step — the math.

Do the Math

  • To figure the power draw, I multiplied the total length (91 ft.) by the wattage per foot (5.1). The result: 464 watts.
  • I chose to double up. Two 400-watt, 24-volt power supplies means I’ll have plenty of power now, and when I add more lights down the road.

Buy your Power Cable

  • A lighting project like this requires running power cable. Always order extra. If I think I need 100 feet, I’ll order 140.

Make a drawingFamily Handyman

Step 2

Make the Ceiling Islands

Ceiling Island DiagramFamily Handyman

Cross Member DiagramFamily Handyman

Ceiling Island Cutting DiagramFamily Handyman

Ceiling Island Cutting ListFamily Handyman

Step 3

Assemble the Frames

  • Each ceiling island uses 1/2-in. Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF) for the face and 3/4-in. pine for the sides. After assembling them with pocket hole joinery and construction adhesive, chamfer the edge of the face with a router bit. I sanded the islands lightly and painted them to match the ceiling.

Assemble the framesFamily Handyman

Step 4

Drill Holes for the Spotlights

  • Using a hole saw, drill three-inch holes for the spotlights.
  • Because these ceiling islands were eight feet long, it was easy to evenly space the five lights at 16-in. on center.

Drill holes for the spotlightsFamily Handyman

Step 5

Add the Accent Lights

  • Line the inside of each island with an LED strip using a wood block as a guide to keep the strip centered on the sides.
  • The controller for the LED strips sits inside the islands and connects to the power supplies with low-voltage cable fished through the ceiling and the walls.

Add the accent lightsFamily Handyman

Step 6

Wire the Spotlights

  • After you mount and wire the individual transformers for the spotlights inside the island, the lights easily mount through the holes on the face.
    • Pro tip: The spring clips on the lights still allowed a little movement, so I used hot glue to help them stay put.

Wire the spotlightsFamily Handyman

Step 7

Make the Hangers

  • Here’s a super-simple method to hang the ceiling islands.
  • First, bolt two open-ended boxes to the ceiling joists.
  • Attach L-shaped brackets to the island’s cross members then slide the “L” into the boxes.

Hanger Box Diagram

Attach L-shaped brackets to the islandFamily Handyman

Step 8

Create a Special Effect with Aluminum Foil

  • A crinkled layer of aluminum foil inside creates random reflections on the ceiling, diffusing the light.

Create a special effect with aluminum foilFamily Handyman

Step 9

Hang the Islands

  • After connecting all the wiring, grab a friend to help you hang the islands.
  • The front bracket is longer, so slide it in first. This allows you to easily see where the rear bracket needs to go.

Hang the islandsFamily Handyman

Step 10

Install Accent Lighting

  • Scroll down to Step 11.

LED strip along the wallFamily Handyman

Step 11

Hide an LED Strip Along the Walls

  • A piece of trim applied to the bottom of the slat board provides a perfect space for an LED strip. I stuck one strip along each wall.

Hide an LED strip along the wallFamily Handyman

Step 12

Hide the Cables

  • For some LED strips, I had to get creative on running the power cables.
    • Pro tip: A piece of scrap wood helped me tuck the power cables out of sight. I gave it a gentle push so I wouldn’t damage the cable.

Hide the cablesFamily Handyman

Step 13

Work Space Task Light

  • Most of the LEDs I installed are for accent lighting, but I also wanted direct light on the main work surface.
  • I attached an aluminum U-channel ($40) to the underside of the upper cabinets with double-sided tape, installed the LED strip and snapped a frosted lens into the channel to diffuse the light.
    • Pro tip: The aluminum channel absorbed the heat of the LED lights, causing the double-sided tape to partially fail. Lock your lights into place with a bead of hot glue on the back of the channel. That fixed it for me.

Work space task lightFamily Handyman

Step 14

Hook Up the Electronics

To power all the LED strips, I used two power supplies that feed seven channel controllers. This gives me control over the color and brightness of each individual run of LED strips including those for the countertop and the hidden cocktail bar. Too much? Not at all. Remember what I said about showroom flair?

Tin the Leads with Solder

  • When you connect braided copper wire to screw-type terminals, tin the leads with solder.
  • This provides a better connection and keeps the strands of the braid from fraying.

Tin the leads with solderFamily Handyman

Connect the Power Cable

  • I used a two-conductor 18-gauge braided copper cable to connect the power supplies to the LED controllers.
  • With screw-type terminals, always give wires a little tug after tightening the screw to make sure they are secure.

Connect the power cableFamily Handyman

Step 15

Skip the quick connectors

  • The LED strips connect to the controllers using a five-conductor cable.
    • Pro tip: There are solder-less quick connectors available, but they can be difficult to use and unreliable. Instead, I solder the wire leads directly to the LED strips.

Skip the quick connectorsFamily Handyman

Step 16

Connect the Power Supplies

  • Once you’ve run all the cables into the cabinet, it’s time to connect the controllers to the power supplies.
  • The power supplies should not be plugged into an outlet while you do this. Plug them in only after all the controllers have been connected.

Connect the power suppliesFamily Handyman

Step 17

Keep Things Neat

  • Keep multiple wires and cables neat and organized with cable clips, zip ties and even hook-and-loop fasteners.
  • Troubleshooting and adding or removing components will be much easier.

Keep things neatFamily Handyman

Step 18

Program the Remote

  • Before installing all the LED controllers and tucking them away, I paired them to the remote and tested all the connections.
    • Pro tip: You can find LED systems at home centers, but I found a much more robust selection of LEDs, power supplies, controllers and wiring at

Program the remoteFamily Handyman