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Are We Done With Can Lighting?

photo by sara ligorria-tramp | from: how we designed our kid-friendly family room

Overarching statements like being “done” with something as ubiquitous as can lighting is maybe a little dramatic, yes, but I’ve been discussing the topic with Emily back and forth for a few weeks now. It can be fun to be black-and-white about a topic to force people’s hand to make a decision. It’s what I call the “gun to the head” decision, which, well, is very (unnecessarily) violent (considering the day and age we live in), but an effective discussion tool when used hypothetically. Emily’s stance on the subject was that she’s seeing new trends emerge in place of the traditional recessed light (I’ll walk you through those), so, as a designer, maybe there’s no reason left to use the “builder basic” feature. Me, on the other hand (not a designer, just a design enthusiast), think there will likely always be a place for them. That said, we thought to take our discussion to the internet…and here we are.

From Emily: “It seems like back in the day, the only options we had for overhead lighting were can lights +flushmounts/pendant/chandelier, only can, or flush/semi-flush fixtures, but we are seeing more alternatives to ceiling lights where there is an obvious shift from the really consistently placed overhead round white 6-inch can light.”

Em, though I don’t necessarily disagree with you that people are doing different, cool things (but also, kind of cluttered things…stand by for photo examples), classic recessed lights are just one of those things in a home that, while not always super attractive, add enough value and ease of living (you know…if you classify wanting to “see” things in a well-lit room value) to outweigh their visual clunkiness. And frankly, I think, as long as they are well placed, they aren’t that clunky. Their very nature is to be visually unobtrusive, hiding up in the ceiling.

Let’s pause for a second, though, to throw out some definitions. I’m guessing most of you know what I’m talking about when I say “can” or “recessed” lighting (which, according to my husband who’s in the architecture field, are two words for the same thing), just in case, these are the bad boys I mean:

Emily Henderson Home Lake House Remodel Intro 9

Pretty basic, run-of-the-mill can lights (also called “pot” lights) are about 6 inches round, typically with a slight ring around them that’s flush to the ceiling. The wiring and housing sit inside your ceiling. The install on these, according to Jeff Malcolm, the GC on the mountain house, is about $75 per light all in (wiring and installation) for a new build and about $125 per light for a remodel (considering there’s an existing light circuit). None of that includes the actual cost of the light itself which could run anywhere from $10 for something no-frills at say, Home Depot, to deep into the hundreds mark for something smaller, LED or more decorative.

Anyhow, I just wanted to lay that foundation for you all before diving into all the new “options” we’ve been seeing to keep costs in mind. Like with most things in life (and design), the nicer or even less visible something is, the more $$$ it becomes.

Emily did want me to remind everyone what she did use can lighting in the mountain house (that’s a “before” shot above of the family room). Exhibit A:

photo by sara ligorria-tramp | from: our soft yet secretly sultry downstairs guest suite reveal

The house was more modern than her LA house, so they “fit in.” Plus, the intention was to keep this house much more minimal in terms of “stuff” so the can lights provided overall room light without filling any space with lighting fixtures.

Now, let’s dive into the whole “what we’re seeing” part of this post, starting with a project that’s likely familiar to anyone who’s been following this blog for a while:

Black, Square & Very Small

Emily Henderson Corbette Crypton 70s Modern Makeover Living Room 30
photo by sara ligorria-tramp | from: a modern and organic living room makeover

Emily’s friends Corbett and Leigh opted for more modern recessed lights in their (ridiculously gorgeous) Los Angeles home, shown above. The installation on something like this would likely not increase the cost; the only thing that’s the variable is the light itself. I personally love this look because it’s both functional and pretty good looking. It’s like a nice, kind, smart AND funny man. FULL PACKAGE PEOPLE. I think white, round can lights might look a little sterile in a home like this…misplaced almost, so this is a great option.

Leibal Mhouse Dko 2
image and design via dko

Here’s another example, in another modern home. Definitely file away “small, black and square” into your modern home filing cabinet. These could also just as easily have been white to fade away, but I’m sure it was a stylistic choice. These appear to be double lights (two small bulbs in the same housing), which probably helps with light distribution and direction. I’m into it.

“Tube” Spotlights

image and design via simone haag

The whole “tube” light fixture in general is what made this conversation about the hypothetical demise of the can light come to light (ha). I’ll show you some shots where these are used in groupings (like can lights would be) in a sec, but for right now, this is what we’re calling “spotlights” because, that’s frankly exactly what they are. Making them into more of a flushmount fixture does feel a bit more intentional. That’s not to say a recessed light wouldn’t have been premeditated, but being that it’s a one-off in the ceiling, making it stand out a little more rather than visually disguising it says “yeah, I meant to do this.” Could this also have just been a moment for a pendant? I think yes, but it really depends on the placement in the room. In this space in particular, it might be a bit strange, like a random hanging light fixture off-center to the room. What do you think?

20180605 Chelsea Hing Stgeorgesrd Web Res006
image and design via chelsea hing

The lights here seem to have a bit of a similar purpose (providing more direct light on the sofa…maybe for reading?) but they very well might also just be individual pivoting lights, similar to what you’d find on a track lighting system…just without the actual track.

20180307 Chelseahing Yarraglen20270 Web Res
image and design via chelsea hing

Same situation (same designer, also), presumably for illuminating a dressing area near the closet. These, however, are black (or bronze?) so my question then becomes, why chose to make spotlights like this more visible. Is this purely stylistic? To pick up the black in the cord of the pendant above the nightstand? To play off the room’s more contemporary aesthetic?

Really Striking Black Track Lighting

image and design via sam crawford architects

If you’re okay with the visibility of black, modern track lighting, this could be a good alternative to recessed lighting. It’s adaptable, works well for a ceiling like above and below (cement-finished, wood-slatted) where drilling in holes for the cans might look disruptive, and in my opinion, adds a certain cool industrial vibe. I’m not talking found iron barrels repurposed into a coffee table “industrial vibes.” I just mean it’s a bit more suited to an open, contemporary room/space.

Emily Henderson Track Lighting Is It Cool Pic 1
image and design via figr.
Screen Shot 2019 10 11 At 10.58.31 Am
image via the design files | design by gardiner architects

Recessed lighting has the option of having a pivoting “eyeball” like feature, so you can direct light similar to how you would a track lighting system, but again, I think it just boils down to aesthetic preferences, tbh.

Clustered Tube Lights

image and design via mim design

These are just like the one-off spotlights I wrote about earlier, except…there’s more of them. I do really like them over a kitchen island, and they’re also pretty neat in a hallway:

image via

But I was curious about the kind of light they gave off (would they be harsher, is this any different than a can light that would sit 6-8 inches higher?), so I whipped out my phone and had an impromptu interview session with my unsuspecting architect husband about them. Here’s the gist of what he said:

Me: “So I’m writing about can lighting and ‘what’s next.’ I’ve been seeing a lot of ‘tube’ lights lately, like this:”

Aimee Tarulli Home Tdf Th2
image via the design files | design by b.e architecture

Charles: “Ok.”

Me: “What do you think? Do you think it would create different light than recessed? Why do architects like using can lights? PS, I’m quoting you, so don’t embarass me.”

Charles: “Well, the light would probably be more focused, so it wouldn’t spread as much. It would focus on an area directly below it, in this instance, the island. But because it’s so focused on an area, now you get light playing…a pattern…dark, light, dark, light, dark, light.”

Me: “Ah ha, I see…so as an architect, do you like something more decorative like this, or are you still a fan of the traditional can/recessed light?”

Charles: “I like what works for the space. Something more decorative isn’t always the answer. Sometimes, elements have to fall back for others to stand out…so, it depends on what the space looks like and what’s trying to be accomplished. But can light is probably less expensive.”

Me: “So, do you think this kind of thing is just trendy or do you see it having lasting power?”

Charles: “It’s hard to say for me, but if what I’m seeing is any indication, even traditional recessed lighting seems to be getting stale in a design-forward state of mind. What I’m seeing is either smaller lights with more power resulting in a smaller profile (think LED) or a bank of LEDs behind a surface that acts as a diffuser. It’s like hiding your hand…like a magician. This whole surface is lit…but how??”

Me: “Now you’re showing off, but thanks.”

Photo3 For Blog
image via

And there you have it folks…a look into my marriage. If you want someone who will always have something to say about literally anything, marry yourself an architect. SO MANY OPINIONS but SO USEFUL when you’re a design writer, I tell ya.

Before moving out of this category, I wanted to note…so many of these photos with the “tube” lighting situation are sourced from homes/designers out of Australia. The Aussies tend to lean much more “warm minimal modern” than Americans, but what we see over there eventually catches the wave across the Pacific stateside, so if you’re like “blegh this is offensive to my eyeballs” all I’ll say is this…just wait. Before you know it, you’ll be on board (like me with—I can’t believe I’m saying this—the scrunchie).

Multiple Flushmounts

image and design via lauren leiss

And finally, I move into the category that had Emily and I the most chatty: the multiple, showy flushmount. This is not a subtle design move. In fact, it plays the opposite role of the camouflaged recessed light. It’s an “I do because I can” aesthetic play, which I’m not normally mad about. My heart lives far deeper into the maximalist zip code than minimalist, but I’m not sure I’m entirely sold. In the above room, I do kind of like it, probably because the rest of the space’s decor and furnishings are neutral and subtle. This is the big “moment” here.

22 A Lilac Kitchen Accented With A Bright Yellow Cooker And A Polka Dot Backsplash Plus Brass Lamps
image via remodelista | design by penelope august

There’s also something interesting about the rose-hued blown glass flushmounts in this kitchen (if it looks familiar, I originally shared it in this post about lilac being back…and you guys called out the flopped over art piece which still makes me chuckle). They’re visually “light” so I think in this instance it works. Besides, if you’re someone who can muster the courage to do a purple kitchen with a funfetti-like terrazzo countertop and backsplash and a mustard yellow range…I doubt you’re worried about keeping things minimal.

image via california home & design | design by haus of design

Okay, I just LOVE this. It’s so over the top and purposeful and I’ve had this image saved in my Instagram bookmarks for a few months now. When Emily first suggested this topic being a post, I instantly knew I wanted to use this shot. I consider this far more of an art installation than functional lighting, but if you’re going to buck traditional, might as well do it with some flair, no?

And finally, speaking of flair…

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image via modern palm boutique | design by tia zoldan

While I’m not sure I’d go this far in my own space, I do applaud the adventurous spirit of Tia Zoldan, the designer of this kitchen above. While six can lights would have provided likely a sufficient amount of light, the brass flushmounts sure do add more style than recessed cans ever could.

So…I come back to the original question at hand: are we done with can lighting? Me personally, I think no, we’re not. And frankly, I don’t think Emily thinks we are either, but it’s fun to dive into what ELSE there is out there. But now I throw it to you, dear readers…where do you stand on the “cans are dead” vs. “cans are alive and well” debate? Are you into the multiple flushmount look or even the “tube” downlight? Can’t wait to hear from you!



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100 thoughts on “Are We Done With Can Lighting?

  1. I think I’m still on the side of “cans are alive and well”, mostly because I like them in a space where you want the focus to be on other elements in the room. In several of these examples I think the tube lights and the flush pendants are a little distracting, even when done intentionally. Also, I think some of the tube lights (especially the white ones) just look like the can light just fell out of the ceiling a little. 😉

    p.s. that image of the nine dark barn lights with the four chairs and a dog in front of the fireplace is Lauren Liess’ house. Not sure if she should be given credit too?

    1. HA! Like the can light just feel out of the ceiling a little. 🙂 And yes thank you for the heads up! I updated the credit. We’re normally pretty good at sourcing the designer, but that one for whatever proved tricky. Love our readers’ eagle eyes!

  2. Great post! It’s nice to see the other options out there.

    A heads up: the first image under the ‘multiple flushmounts’ is designed by Lauren Liess. I noticed it wasn’t cited, that girl’s on fire these days!

  3. Showing the lights during the day when they are not in use makes it really difficult to form a good opinion. It’s impossible to tell if the light from these examples are harsh and localized or flood the room in a nice glow. Also I see no reason to remove can lights if you have them—they can always be your starting point and then you can add more interesting lights to the room for improved functionality and push the look you’re trying to achieve. I’m all for layering and not having the sole source be from overhead. Personally I am more about function (light quality) over form when it comes to lighting.

    1. I agree. I do wish we could see these rooms at night (though I know nighttime photography is frowned upon in the shelter category…it’s all about that “natural light.”)

  4. This is a topic that is on my mind as we’re contemplating adding canned lights in our house right now. I’d really love to see a roundup of actual (recommended?) canned lights that look good…ideally different than the cheapie Home Depot lights. We’re definitely going LED but I have no idea which ones to get! Those square ones are cool, I didn’t even know those were a thing.

  5. Good post! I do not think can lights are out unless they are replaced by an even more invisible LED option (which I think my sister just did at her house….still recessed). Even the, I don’t think cans will become offensive because they’re mostly unnoticeable – at least I hope they don’t become offensive because everybody has them and what an expensive fix! The tube lights look good above an island or in a hallway, but only in a modern house. And I have passionately HATED the multiple flushmounts I’ve seen in a kitchen on a popular blog (and then copy chatted on another blog I read). However, the rose gold and the neutral living room you showed don’t incite quite as much hate from me. Finally, here is an lighting idea I’ve had saved forever. I love it a lot more here in a hallway than the similar option you showed in a living room. See 2nd pic,

    1. Yeah see, I’m all for the multiple decorative fixtures if it comes off…artistic? If they DO something with the installation (kind of like that photo I shared above with the “constellation” lighting). That way, it becomes…an art feature?

    2. Wow! Thanks for the link. Those lighting ideas are spectacular! Beautifully done. I’m sure going to keep my eyes on these guys. thanks again!

  6. Man I would LOVE to have some advice on how to remove and patch areas where there are can lights currently in place in the home. (I have a room with the strangest trio of can lights along a window AND an old school ceiling fan. It’s awful looking!)

    Also, this is just a teensy thing, but lately I’ve noticed that in these image heavy roundups there are sometimes images that are crazy grainy. This is probably a dumb pet peeve, but it totally throws me. If the image size isn’t good enough to blow up for the blog, maybe a different example would be better?

  7. I’d have to say alive and well, because I am installing them in my living room within the next month or 2! We recently redid our fireplace and some other elements of the living room, which has always had sub par lighting. It’s a large room that includes our tiny entry, a large picture window, and pass through to the kitchen. We added a flush mount years ago by the entry because there was ZERO overhead lighting, but it just doesn’t cut it. Since this room serves so many functions I don’t want the lighting to compete visually, or have to get 3-4 different lamps (I think that is what it would take to get adequate lighting at night). Also our ceilings are only 8′. After living here for 7 years, it is time. Long live the can light 🙂

    1. I don’t think they will ever go out of style for these reasons. They’re just too practical, especially in a standard 8 ft ceiling house. But the size and quantity, and the style of the rims around the opening do change. For a lot of people, replacing the units with modern versions might be worth it, at least in main living areas.

  8. Honestly the last picture is ridiculous. Those lights are a nipple shy of being the standard apartment grade crappy boob lights and someone’s gonna put six of them in a row?! This is where it feels like design trends have jumped the shark, just for the purpose of being edgy and different in an otherwise not at all edgy space. Whoever said this is impossible to decide on without seeing these spaces in the dark is correct. The purpose of light is function, to light a space and it’s hard to match recessed lights in that regard. People aren’t designing their homes for Pinterest likes or blog roundups and they can’t change them ever six months when the “trend” shifts. Function and form have to live together.

    1. This so much. I shuddered so hard when I saw that last picture. It’s WAY too cluttered and distracting and clunky. Do. Not. Like.

    2. Agree! It looks vaguely like someone shot up the ceiling, it’s so cluttered and metallic.
      Track lighting is a throwback to my 80’s childhood, now it’s just black instead of nickel and in quieter spaces.
      Cans forever.

  9. I like the tube lights (though I agree with Arica that the white ones look like they “fell” out of the ceiling and much prefer the darker), I like track lighting in the right applications and I am definitely still a fan of cans. I am not into the multiple flushmounts look, though I could probably be convinced. In the example photos I’m not a fan of the lights themselves so a bunch of them does not improve that!

  10. I was just staring at the ceiling in our family room last night. We’ve got sheetrock’ed (totally a word) beams in a super quirky in a good way contemporary home with a weird spot missing in the ceiling due to a loft area above. There’s 80’s white track lighting installed on the beams currently and…it does the job but I’m really a WELL-LIT ROOM person and I’m not sure the focused light does it for me. I feel like they’ve all got to be pointing at something specific like the room is an art museum. How does one light a room that has beams? Do we just replace the current track lighting on the beams for some thing more modern? Maybe something that casts a wider light? Do we add cans (which I personally love) to not draw the eye away from the other elements in the room or fun flushmounts in between? We are thinking about taking the sheetrock off the beams because I also er on the side of clean and modern and not sure what they look like underneath, but that’s a possibility too to throw another variable into the mix. Now I just want a whole post on lighting a room that has beams, covered and exposed…please add this to the burning questions list 🙂

    1. i think this is actually a good post idea because I had this same problem. I opted for track lighting in the mountain house kitchen (and our old glendale kitchen) as I think that its probably your only real option. maybe adding sconces that are wall washers or have really great ambient light?

      1. Yes please do a post on rooms with a beam! Our kitchen has ONE beam running the full length, right in the middle. And skylights. So I have a bunch of schoolhouse lights from 1900isn I can put up, but then I have zero lighting directly on the island. I already have schoolhouse, stripped and painted (is post traumatic lighting disorder a thing?), so they are going up. But, I have not ruled out can lights because I would rather have 2 sparkly chandeliers or something over island and then do sconces for counter lighting.

        We also have beams in our living room with exactly zero good spots for lights. It will look great when we do white painted beadboard or something between them, but not if I have a Swiss cheese can light fiasco….help.

  11. These are great options for modern spaces or for ‘lighting statement’ spaces. BUT – recessed lights really disappear in a room, especially one that’s more minimalist or traditional but where you want actual functional lighting. Recessed also make it so you do NOT have the ‘light-dark-light” phenomenon you describe with that kitchen. That is the kitchen nightmare! Recessed casts a nice wide light that overlaps with your next recessed light. So functional! So invisible!

    Relatedly, my mother in law was told by an interior designer sometime in the ’80s that small lamps, targeted pendants and other mood lighting rather than recessed lights add to the coziness and ambience of a room. This is true, I’ll admit, but I literally could not see, let alone read a book, in any of the places my in-laws have lived, and was constantly switching on and off teeny weeny 20w bulbs. Now they’ve downsized to a new build, and since they’re older are suddenly singing the praises of recessed lighting and how they can see so much better (!) after YEARS of telling me our house looked like an airport runway due to our recessed lights.

    Guess who got all their old lamps as a “gift”? I have literally 30 lamps down in my basement if anyone is interested. SIGH.

    1. This made me chuckle. I’m with you. I CANNOT with dark, dim rooms. I’m a LIGHT ON FULL BLAST person. I like bright, give-me-all-the-lumens spaces so yeah…tiny little 20x bulbs would just not cut it for me.

      1. Ha! And I’m just the opposite. I hate feeling like I’m sitting on display in a glaring store window. 🙂

  12. I agree that it would help greatly to see some of these rooms photographed in the evening so we could see, for example, the interplay of dark/light with the tube lights. I am also loving the square recessed lights. I’ll definitely be keeping my eye out for them on my next project. Thanks for a great post!

    1. I agree. we aren’t convinced either but so interested that so many architects and designers are opting for this. but architects and designers don’t always do what is truly livable and sometimes aesthetics convinces them (hello, pot – kettle calling).

  13. I don’t know why but I am having some very emotional reactions to this post! I am usually all in for innovation and new trends but I don’t know that I’ve hated anything as much as the clustered flush mount lights in the last several photos. It just looks ridiculous and cluttered to me. I think can lights will always have a place in design but I think there’s nothing wrong with using them in a layered approach. My kitchen has can lights that I use for basically everyday, they perfectly light the kitchen but visually disappear and then there are decorative pendants over the kitchen island which I occasionally use but not as often. The decorative pendants have pretty bulbs that don’t put out good light and don’t adequately light up the kitchen.

  14. ACK! Thanks for bringing up this topic, I have so many opinions about recessed lights! I hate that they are the default lighting for every builder, although Tthey do tend to work better on a standard 8 foot ceiling and smaller rooms of a typical house. What I don’t like is when they’re spaced every 4 feet so the entire room is flattened by being overlit. It makes a home feel like an office.

    Back in the 90s-90s, recessed lights were 6-inches wide plus a big plastic cuff that yellows as it ages. The newer 3-inch and 4-inch lights with minimal rim and LED bulbs are much prettier. Putting canned lights into vintage homes, especially ones with open wood ceilings. A few discreet recessed lights can work in an older home, but they can really look out of place unless carefully planned. They also can look bad when the recessed lights are not aligned and spaced evenly. Grid pattern installation makes them much nicer.

  15. All my homes have been built before 1920 so never had recessed/canned lighting. I kinda hate how they break up the ceilings. Some of those Australian treatments are really beautiful, though.

  16. Um. Nope. We are (at last!) replacing the final set of track lighting in this home and installing cans. I’ve heard folks say that recessed lighting makes your ceiling look like swiss cheese, but they light the room, they’re inexpensive and fade into the background. My husband is 6′ 8″ tall and we have 9-foot ceilings in most of our rooms, sadly. So tubes or flush mounts are a no-go in this house. Unless the light fixture is an absolute supermodel, I’d rather the fixtures just be quiet unsung heroes and do the job.

  17. I am not convinced that we’re done with canned lights but thank you for such an interesting topic!
    All of these options seem super modern to me… I wonder if there are any alternatives that fit with an older home?

    1. Honestly, I think that’s where it gets trickier. I think you can do smaller canned lights that “fade away” in a more traditional home, but they’ll probably always feel a little out of place. I’m not a huge stickler for everything in a home matching the era in which it was built, because…#life but I did find this kitchen on Domino that feels warm and cabin-y with some canned lights. I think I’m okay with it??

    2. Exactly! My guy & I are in the process of building a man-shed for him in my backyard so he has his own living room space when he & his daughter move in with me. My house was built in 1916, a foursquare in a gorgeous old neighborhood with brick streets & a Frank Lloyd right house down the block. The shed is going to look as if it is part of the original property, so chunky molding, like craftsman, but less detailed (it’s funny to type that b/c craftsman is so not extra). But I’m hung up on lighting. I don’t want track, not opposed to canned, but I need lots of lights in here as the space will be used for watching TV, playing video games, entertaining, and rocking out on their guitars. We want functional, but it’s gotta work with the style of the house. And we’re rough plumbing it so a kitchenette &/or bath could be added down the road for MIL suite or rental situation.

      1. I have a similar problem! We are renovating an 1890’s carriage house/barn. Cans would look totally wrong as would track lighting. What to do? I am considering Black semi flush from Rejuvenation but less large and in many smaller numbers than Lauren Lewis’s’ house above. Ideas welcome!

    3. I live in a 1920s home with many of the original finishes. When we renovated our kitchen I fought SO HARD against recessed lighting because I thought it would clash with our fairly traditional kitchen (think Devol) and the overall vintage feel of our home. I lost that battle to my more pragmatic husband — and now a year later I’m the one pushing to replace the vintagey pendant over our sink with another can. The pendant just feels too busy and the light itself isn’t as good. White cans with a relatively flush LED insert pretty much just vanish in a white ceiling…we did go with slightly larger cans than is de rigeur as the more diffuse light feels truer to a vintage home than tiny LED spots.

  18. Oh my lordy…. I am very ANTI multiple flushmounts. Also not into tubes….
    Guess I’m team can for now. The others hurt my eyeballs!

  19. I love that you’re always on top of these trends. I’m going to have to agree that alternate options can be a bit distracting when you want the eye to go to other elements in a room. But they definitely have their place.

  20. Charles is smart. Be like Charles.

    I think, because of the focus of your business, you look at lights as objects. Or not the lights, really, but the things that hold the lights. And in doing that, you miss the point of effective lighting. Bringing light to a space most effectively involves layers of light from different sources, each with its own job to do. Start by asking, where do I want the light to go? And what is my objective with the light- what does it have to do? Some lights should provide overall ambient light, some enable tasks, and other highlight objects or surfaces to create a dramatic effect.

    Even recessed lights can do different jobs, whether to wash a wall with light or to shine so that the surface irregularities are made visible and dramatic. There are many aspects that create different effects even from a recessed light.

    I think recessed lights have their uses and their place, but downlight alone is usually not the best solution for an entire space.

    I learned a ton by taking a lighting course in college and visiting a couple of lighting labs. Seattle has 2 lighting labs- one is focused on daylighting and the other more on using man-made sources. You can visit these labs and one of them, at least, has regular educational seminars. I’m thinking LA must have something like this, too.

    I love attractive light fixtures, too, but I would consider the functionality first, then choose a good-looking fixture to do the job that needs to be done. Sometimes it means not really seeing or noticing the fixture itself.

    1. I’m with Charles, too! I’d love people to say, “This whole surface is lit…but how??” when they come in my house. Especially given I have a 1912 Craftsman. The remodeled kitchen and baths got recessed lighting (some back in the 80s by a previous owner), and I don’t love it. But it probably could have been designed better. I need more lighting in the original rooms of the house, because the existing sconces, overhead lighting and lamps still doesn’t feel like enough at times, but I won’t add recessed… I want the hidden lights.

  21. I think can lighting is still here to stay b/c it’s so damn practical and functional but could use some updating for those who want more contrast or design to them – what about a brass housing on them or different shapes (loving the square black ones). I’m sure there will be some tweaking but we’ll still see them around.

  22. Interesting topic of conversation. I’m one of those people who likes to do the opposite of what is trendy. I’m a non-conformist..ha ha! Kind of.. But I have in the last year and a half added some canned lights, and taken a few out.

    I added them to my bedroom. 4 of them, I believe 16″ from the corners of the room. I only had a ceiling fan with no light in it. Drove me crazy to have to go turn on a lamp in the dark. I could have taken my fan out, and put in a light, but I really love the air circulation all year around. Plus, I really don’t like any of the options with lights. So I added the canned lights & found a new fan that isn’t as tacky as the old one. Plus, I put them on a dimmer switch, so I can have the exact amount of needed light. Great for mornings, and not waking up a significant other.

    I took out a hallway canned light when I had my attic fan taken out of the same hallway. It was a super awkwardly large canned light. I would have had to put up some sort of cover plate, if I wanted a fixture. So had them pull it out, repair the entire ceiling, and added the darling CB2 white bell flush mount light instead. I’m strangely obsessed with this light! Plus the price point cannot be beat. Super happy with how it turned out.

    Did a little swapping in in my kitchen as well. There was an oddly placed, single can light over the kitchen table. Took that puppy out, fixed the ceiling, and moved it to be centered. Added an at the time, cute drum light. But I’m now on the hunt for a new fixture, since I’m over drum lights! I could not for the life of me find a fixture for over my kitchen sink. So I had this one made into a can light instead. My house is small, especially the kitchen, so I love having nothing hanging down from the ceiling here.

    All this to say, I think it depends upon the location and circumstance!

  23. Thanks for asking the question Arlyn! I have always thought canned/recessed lights were one of those items people just accepted as necessary but without pausing for even a moment to think about it. In my experience, canned lights give off an almost aggressively unattractive light and thus contribute to a i-want-to-get-out-of-here-and-faaast ambience (and this is me trying to temper my feelings : )! I understand there are functional reasons to have reliably bright, you’re-about-to-be-interrogated light sources, but as far as Design goes, I am a hard, but-trying-to-be-funny-about-it/Ohmygodpleaseturnthoseoff! NO. ; )

  24. What about flush-mount LEDs that are so thin they basically mimic recessed lights? I hate recessed lighting. It just looks so boring and sometimes people put in way too many lights, like 12 lights in a small kitchen. LEDs allow for so many better options, but lighting design hasn’t quite caught up.

  25. Well for me the tube lights are downright stupid looking, sorry, not sorry. I love the can lights that one an’t even see where the light is coming from, which i have seen in lighting store seminars. Some of the multiple flush lights are intriguing, i.e., the lilac kitchen, bolder than I would do but I still love it, lights, oven, counters, so fun!
    The last image seems heavy handed to me so I’d really have to find just the right space to try something like this.

  26. I do hate the look of a ceiling that’s completely pock-marked with recessed lights, speakers, smoke detectors, security cameras or motion sensors but they can be functional. I prefer some of the smaller and less obtrusive styles being used now.
    The hangy-down tube lights look to me like someone wanted recessed cans but couldn’t afford the proper installation or there was some obstacle in the way so they surface mounted them instead. Not my jam.
    I have low-voltage cable lighting on dimmers in my living room and am happy with that solution for an open beamed ceiling/flat roof. They were more common a few years ago but I still like the look.

  27. Just wanted to hop on to comment on more of a website issue… I am viewing this post on my phone and it’s hard to see some of the smaller details that you refer to in the photos, (even with my reading glasses on). It would be really nice to be able to enlarge them. More on topic, I like the can lights (we call them pot lights up here in Canada) but I like the modern aesthetic!

  28. I’m claiming to have no design talent and am currently trying to get out from under some heinous rectangle fluorescent light fixtures myself – BUT I would kill for some canned lights. And I thought the post might sway me but I’d still prefer canned lights over any of the inspo alternative pictures! So I guess they will still be alive in someone’s house!! ??‍♀️

  29. I just installed 4 inch recessed LED lights in a whole house remodel because the ceilings are only 98 inches high and I wanted to minimize anything that would visually lower or call attention to them. Sometimes a ceiling is a feature to be emphasized but this house is pretty basic and there was nothing architecturally interesting about my ceiling. The 6 inch incandescent/halogen/CFL recessed fixtures seem to be going away in residential design. Energy efficiency, better light quality, greater beam spread, and a large selection at various price points make 4 inch LEDs a decent choice for ambient lighting if you have a drywall ceiling. I combined them with flush mount fixtures on ceilings and walls where I wanted to emphasize a space, like the foyer, kitchen island, dining table, etc.

    To anyone considering ceiling lights, it’s important to do the math. Find the various calculations required to properly place lighting of any kind. You basically need to know the diameter of the beam spread on the surface you’re lighting (e.g., floor, counter, table, etc), and how bright a space needs to be (e.g., kitchens and bathrooms need more light than living and dining rooms), then select and place ceiling lighting accordingly. Recessed lights can really benefit a room by lighting the walls for a nice ambient glow, which requires placing some ceiling lights a little more toward the room perimeter (but consider cabinets and tall furniture). When calculating total light for a space, try to also include table and floor lamps you know you’ll be using, like on nightstands, under cabinet, etc. I’m an interior designer but my lighting design was based on one UCLA class, a site survey done by a friend who’s a professional theatrical lighting designer, and months of research; lighting design is its own animal and I wasn’t absolutely sure I was doing it right, but I made the call that I’d rather err on the side of less and add more later if needed. Both my general contractor and electrician fought me, hard, on my lighting placement. They insisted I was under lighting the whole house and even installed extra lights when I was off site, which I made them remove. They were still applying rules from the old versions of recessed lighting that had poorer quality light with a more narrow beam spread, wanting to place everything in a tight grid that lights a room enough to perform surgery and makes the ceiling look super busy. I stood my ground, calculations in hand, and the results are really great. No harsh shadows, no overkill, no busy runway effect on the ceiling.

    Tube and track lights are a great look for a modern design with a higher ceiling. Having more of a directional light, they’ll add more dramatic lighting to a space the lower the ceiling is. I think the most successful examples of multiple flush mounts shown above are the barn lights and the constellation. With the barn lights, I can see the usefulness of flush mount lighting that drops the light source down a bit between the ceiling beams, whereas recessed lights would have created a series of striped shadows across the room as lights hit the beams. In a more modern design, tubes or track lighting would also work between beams. The constellation has the look of one statement flush mount fixture, if this is actually a bunch of individual lights, it’s a super creative way to do something unique at a much lower price point than what a single fixture of this size would cost . I think the least successful example is the last photo, where the lights are too big a scale for the space, they overpower and distract from the pendant over the sink, and their positioning seems to ignore the island/isthmus and stove. If they removed the center row, leaving only 4, it could already look a little better and definitely still provide enough light, but the remaining 4 probably still need to be scaled down by half their current size. It’s a beautiful kitchen with a lot of obvious care and attention to detail that deserves to be more of the spotlight than the ceiling fixtures.

    1. Going from 6″ to 4″ is appealing, but in the future, I’d like to see 2″ lights, that basically “disappear” into a white ceiling during the daytime. The number of fixtures may go up geometrically, but the total size of opening will go down, and might even approach zero with very low profile flush mount LED fixtures.

  30. Yes, cans are alive and well! I do like the smaller, squared ones, though and like that you can paint the trim to match or contrast with the ceiling color. The multiple, showy flushmounts are a NO GO for me! I don’t care for ANY of those photos with them! I like can lighting along with a chandelier or other fixture, especially in a dining room. I use the chandelier for dinner lighting, but sometimes we just need more light, so I turn on the cans, or both!

  31. I was excited to see this topic because I have been wondering the same thing since Emily talked about not using cans in the Mountain House master bedroom, but did use them in the master bathroom. Personally I think cans are ugly and give off a harsh overhead light and would want to avoid them wherever possible. I also have been living in small apartments for over a decade now, and so the spaces don’t have or need any cans (instead, there are the dreaded boob lights!).
    That being said, I can see why you would want to have cans sometimes. I also really enjoyed seeing all the creative ideas with other types of lighting in place of cans. My favorite is definitely the constellation one—SO cool.

  32. Well…..interesting ideas and pics. Can’t say that I like the tube lighting idea but, maybe I have to see more and get used to it being a thing.
    I do like the black track lights and smaller Black LED lights. Really cool!

  33. No, no we are not. Whether they are recessed into the ceiling, or sticking out of it, they are the workhorses of light in a room.

  34. Is there anyway that you can show more of these houses represented in this article? I fell in love with the ones in the cluster lights section and the black, square & very small sections. These are some of the ideas that I want to put into the house I’m building for retirement. Thanks ! Love your work!

    1. Here’s a blog post about Lauren Liess’ kitchen/living room with the multiple black flush mounts. She used 30 of them!

  35. I think maybe it’s because I’m not used to them, but the tube lights really throw me off, especially when they aren’t turned on. Is it a speaker? Not so hidden camera? Teleportation device? Maybe the Australians will win out in the end, but the tubes confuse me right now.

    1. I’m Australian and I think they are weird too! In a really high end architectural home they’d probably look great but not sure they work in an everyday room. I’m team pot lights too but the ones that tend to be the most conmon here are small (maybe 3 inches across) with LED lights so you can make them as bright/warm/cool (or not) as you like. Personally I think track lighting looks like an afterthought. I’d rather have mostly little pot lights to do the hard work with 1 – 2 statement lights as needed.

  36. I think cans are here to stay. Some of those other things are a little too trendy and I’d worry about needing to change them out in 5-10 years.

  37. I have 8 foot ceilings in the upstairs, and 7.5 foot ones in the downstairs of my mid-century house. Previous owners put in both track lighting and a ton of individual fixtures ranging from boob lights to contemporary halogen spotlights. I dream of canned lights that recess into the ceiling because they would be so unobtrusive compared to what we have. My old house had 10-20 foot ceilings, and I’m telling you, I was spoiled.

  38. Let me preface this w/that constellation track lighting system is dreamy. Otherwise, I’m a firm believer that inset lighting is the way to go for overall lighting and pendants/chandeliers/sconces should be reserved for mood/directional lighting. There are so many lovely ways to give your home character–distracting lighting can make it harder to focus on the really special things.

  39. I also think can lights are needed in many low-ceiling, uninteresting-ceiling situations. And I personally would LOVE some information on newer can lights, what is available, how to replace the older can lights with newer, better ones, etc. Please!

  40. I also think can lights are needed in many low-ceiling, uninteresting-ceiling situations. And I personally would LOVE some information on newer can lights, what is available, how to replace the older can lights with newer, better ones, etc. Please!

  41. I just put cans in my 8 ft living room ceiling and I am SO Happy. We have a Kelly Wearstler Strada sputnik flushmount in the center to give a little glam, and then the lights fill in around the corners of the room. We still have 3 lamps and plan to get more…you just can’t light the corners with lamps. Having the cans on a dimmer just gives a nice glow.

    Cans should NEVER be in a grid for the sake of geometry…they should only illuminate certain areas intentionally.

  42. Not a big fan. Our GC was really surprised at how few canned lights I wanted. I only had three put in our living room/dining room. One each over the bookcases on either side of the TV cabinet, and one over the fireplace with one of those directional hoods that directs the light in a wash over the paintings there.

    I hate with a passion rooms who have what looks like an airport landing strip on the ceiling. That’s why I’m not a fan of some of the variations in this post, because they’re distracting in a — to me — not attractive way. If I wanted all that attention on my ceiling I’d do something that actually looked good.

  43. Thanks for showing all the options, but….I am not sold yet (outside of the *art installation Haus of Design*. Everything else looks too contrived…

  44. Cans have their place and purpose. I think they’re just one tool in the lighting designer’s kit. Now the builder boob light is and should be dead. Please. This is not why the light bulb was invented.

  45. I don’t “like” canned lights, per se, but I don’t mind them in my modern-traditional home with 10 to 20ft ceilings. My home was built in the ’90s, so the lights were yellowing and hideous, but I just painted them the same color as the walls and they pretty much disappear. We have a mix of canned lights and beautiful (in my humble opinion) handmade flush mounts and sconces throughout the house. I think it works!

  46. Lord, some of these are so out there and in your face that it makes me uncomfortable. The tube lights look like wayward plumbing pipes that are sticking out of the ceiling. And that cluster of living room lights connected by rods? That is an art installation for sure, but I’m not entirely convinced I want my “moment” on the ceiling.

    I LOVE the black squared off cans though. They look sensational with the dark concrete floors. But they won’t work well in a more light, organic home…I think they could stick out like a sore thumb. I’m still all in on can lights.

  47. I replaced all my recessed lights (trim kit type) with LED’s that screw in light a lightbulb. They are very clean and avoid the Swiss cheese look. Quite minimal. All are on dimmers. In my dining room, I have large art that would be interrupted with a chandelier or pendant-type lighting. In my kitchen, I wanted my sightlines to be uninterrupted as well, and the newer recessed LED’s look very nice. Practical as well. And by the case were less than $10 each. Boom!

  48. I bought a house that is 14 years old. Just had 48 can lights replace with LED cans that are smaller, have settings for color/brightness and should save us money(energy use and long lasting). They are not as noticeable as the old ones. My preference would be less cans and in more selective places but that would have been more expensive to remove the old ones and cover the holes and paint.

  49. Very much in the cans are alive and well camp. Mainly because, as someone looking at the housing market and mulling over a home purchase, there are so many old homes with low ceilings and terrible lighting. And while I’m into using some canned lights and some others for interest, I think there is value in tucking some lights away in the ceiling to keep the space open and add light at the same time. Here for the minimalism that enables, while deciding where you intentionally want to using lighting to add personality (and I say that as someone who flip flops between love for minimalist and maximalist living!).

  50. hmmmm, I think I will stick with recessed lighting. Most of these look like 1980″s track lights , not in a good way.

  51. We just added 4-inch LED cans to our living room and I’m so very happy. I was hesitant as our house is a bit older (1948) and I thought sconces would be more appropriate for the space but heck if I couldn’t find a sconce I loved for under $500. Since the space opens to the dining room we actually have little wall space and with super short ceiling and a long space, a flush mount just wasn’t going to work. Eventually, I gave in that cans were the way to go and no regrets! I was worried it would look to modern for the space and that the ceiling would be swiss cheese but we didn’t over do it and they just fall into the background…except we finally have light! Even with a gazillion lamps the space was never lit well for all the crafting and legos happening in this family space. After kids go to bed I still switch on a lamp for coziness and dim the cans down.

  52. I love recessed lights. They go away and provide a ton of light. The tube lights are a completely different thing, providing focused light, and I’m not sure why they would be considered an alternative to recessed lighting. And the several flush mounts together looks so silly to me!

  53. I’ve seen the multiple flush mounts in a couple design forward spaces but ALL I SEE ARE UDDERS!!!

    The tube/spotlights seem very Memphis to me for some reason but I could see them working in the right space.

    I still can’t shake the recessed lighting as it does seem to disappear in a good way? I think in an average American household (middle class) these alternatives wouldNt jive but I love the idea of them for higher end modern spaces!

  54. Good article. I wish when I was building my house 10 years ago I had the benefit of this. I agree with the architect husband that it depends on the space. I like tube lighting because I like smooth surfaces that don’t accumulate so much dust and are easier to keep clean. But then I am Australian!

  55. We have recessed lights in our home and I love that they can be dimmed at night for ambiance or turn them up bright in the kitchen at night when cooking. I will say when we first put them in several years ago they were not LED so if you looked up you could see the inside of the cans…not so pretty to look at. But, my husband recently switched them out with LED bulbs and they have a nice clean look and cap so you don’t see inside the can. It looks modern and we love them. I would definitely use LED recessed lights. As a matter of fact…it is almost 7pm in Colorado, dark outside, and I am sitting at my desk writing this with the above recessed lights on and I love how bright it is. Great conversation to have and curious to see what others think.

  56. I really dislike most overhead lighting (the kitchen is my one real exception), so I prefer a few cans for those instances when you absolutely have to turn on the overhead lights. More lamps, on dimmers, please!

    I can’t imagine the quality of light from the flush mounts with exposed bulbs. It might look cool on the ceiling, but I think it would awful to live with. The modern track lighting would be okay for specific tasks- lighting art or highlighting an area, but is also awful for general lighting.

    The small black square can lights are interesting, though. I still wouldn’t want to use them for daily lighting, but if I have to have lights in the ceiling, they have a nice modern sensibility.

  57. Jean Stoffer has done multiple flush mounts in a lot of her kitchens, and I think she has done it JUST RIGHT. She’s managed to pull off pretty, interesting but not too distracting, and uncluttered all at the same time.

    We are currently remodeling using 4” cans in most rooms, and small flush mounts in place of cans in the kitchen.

  58. I think it’s time for a modern canned light. My parents’ home has huge canned lights (look bigger than 6 inches) and they make the ceiling look like Swiss cheese ?. My electrician husband and I live in London where we have tiny LED canned lights, maybe 4 inches across, and I love them! They allow great light but are barely noticeable and we mix with light fixtures – apart from our living room with one statement pendant and lamps. I don’t mind some of the Aussie tube examples but I strongly dislike multiple flushmounts. Unless they’re in a line down a hallway. 6 in a kitchen? No thanks.

  59. I quite like canned lighting… compared to more statement options, it’s relatively easy to get right, versatile, cheap (or should I say, not as expensive) etc etc. I quite like the “basic” canned lights for everyday use, with some nice table or standing lamps for atmosphere 🙂

  60. Any chance you can compile a list of decent semi flush mounts where the base is actually 6″? I went to install a couple in my hall last week to go over my can lights using a recessed light converter kit but no go – the base was 5″ and the plastic piece in the converter kit does not look attractive to fill the gap. I really want to avoid having to patch ?

  61. The use of “can lights” or recessed downlights as called in the lighting industry is very much alive and needed. The use of can lights provide a direct component lighting layer in addition to ambient lighting by decorative floor and table lamps – it’s all about the layers to make someone feel and look good in a space. Also, LED technology in can lights is so much better now than before. You can have dim to warm, so that when the lights dim, they warm up ike incandescent. Some retrofit LED bulbs have this technology, but you have to worry about flicker and dimming – always get one to test before you buy a whole bunch! I have the recessed dim to warm fixtures in my home and they are great and provide just that right mood at night. Also, another trend, which you show in one of the images, is the low-glare black finish recessed lights, so the ceiling is more quiet which a very cool look. Nice article!

  62. I think the tube lights are interesting and sleek but would not work in a more traditional room. Can lights disappear into the back ground and allow a designer to use any style in the room. The tube lights definitely look modern.
    Jessica Nixon, ASID
    Austin, Texas

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