Since the beginning of the pandemic, I have been spending more time working from home. It quickly became apparent that the lighting in my work area was somewhat dark and uneven, which was causing me additional eye strain. To fix this, I wanted to add some sort of light panel in front of my desk that could provide even lighting over my work area. Ideally, I wanted something that would allow me to change the light color and brightness to suit my mood. Even better, I wanted something that could connect to my home automation system so I could integrate it with my current smart home setup.
I looked at a number of solutions but could not find exactly what I wanted. While there are large LED panels on the market today, most are ceiling lights that are intended to be wired directly into the electrical system. Another solution would be to position multiple lights in around of my desk, but this would take up space and could still result in some odd shadowing. As I couldn’t find anything I liked, I decided to build my own light panel using Philips Hue lightstrips.
For this project, I used 160 inches of Philips Hue color ambiance lightstrips (one base kit plus two extensions), although it would be possible to use any type of LED lightstrip. Although the Hue lightstrips are expensive, they seamlessly integrate with most home automation systems. They occasionally go on sale, so I was able to buy them for a decent price.
The first part of building the light panel was to figure out what type of enclosure to use. The enclosure needed to be deep enough to allow for effective diffusion of the lights inside. After some searching, I found an 18″ x 24″ shadow box with a 1.5″ depth, which seemed to be roughly the size I wanted.
The shadow box frame used four wood supports to anchor a sheet of glass in the front. I simply removed the staples from the sides and gently pried the supports from the frame, which allowed me to remove the glass. I then stripped the black lining from the side supports and painted them white so that they would reflect light inside of the frame. The backing board of the shadow box had a foam layer for pinning items to the back of the frame. This would not be ideal for mounting the lightstrips so I stripped off the foam layer and painted the board white.
The next step was to find the right diffusing material to use in place of the glass. I ordered samples of different light diffusing acrylics to see how they performed at the frame depth. Ultimately I decided on Acrylite Satinice White as the best diffuser for my purposes. I ordered a custom cut piece to fit the shadow box frame. Once it arrived, I slid the acrylic into the frame, glued the frame supports in with Gorilla Glue, and nailed some small tacks in for additional support. I then clamped down the supports and let the glue dry overnight.
The next step was to mount the lightstrips to the backing of the frame. I experimented with different methods of attaching the lightstrips to the backing board. I quickly learned that the Hue lightstrips are fragile and can break if you are not careful. My first strategy was to cut the lightstrips and re-attach them with Litcessory extension connectors so that the lightstrip segments would lay flat. This ended up being a costly mistake as the connectors were very finicky and would often not connect all of the pins correctly, which made chaining multiple segments very problematic. I then decided to leave the remaining lightstrips intact and simply zig-zag them on the backing board. This solution meant that areas of the lightstrip would not lay flat, which could result in uneven diffusion on the edges. I used hot glue to support the lightstrips in areas where they lifted off of the backing. I then covered the lightstrips with a thin layer of light diffusing fabric to even out the diffusion over the raised areas. Ultimately, this simpler solution seemed to be the best.
The last step was to drill a hole in the bottom of the shadow box frame so I could connect the Hue power cord. I then simply replaced the backing on the shadow box frame and hung my new light panel.
I am pleased with the outcome of this project. As it integrates with my home automation system, I can configure the light panel to match the ambiance of the room, change colors for specific notifications, or even to turn off as a reminder that it’s time to be done for the day.