Ah, the recessed light debate – the source of many impassioned internal arguments that I’ve had in EVERY SINGLE ROOM I’ve ever designed. Designers don’t like generic builder grade anything, so there is a level of snobbery about these basic fixtures, inherent in talking about them. But often without them, especially in certain rooms during certain times of the year there is frustration when you simply can’t see anything. So after our first dark PNW winter where there is no natural light between 4 pm and 8 am, where we eat breakfast before the sun comes up and start dinner after sundown, I feel like I have some perspective to share. So here is where I actually used my recessed lights (and where I regret putting them because I didn’t use them at all this year).
But first…the purpose of recessed light:
Not every type of lighting has the same purpose – it’s not always just to “brighten” or to “see better”. No. The purpose of a recessed light, the reason you would put them in your room is one of these things (or both):
- To make a room bright enough to execute a specific task – i.e. cooking, cleaning, crafting, putting on makeup, and getting dressed.
- To keep the lighting fixtures minimal – likely in a more contemporary home where you want your eye to go to other more architecturally interesting things, not a ceiling fixture (this time).
And before I get too far into it, you should know that when I talk about recessed lighting I’m referring to the more sleek/modern 3″ or 4” round with the squared-off casing in white or black (if wood or dark ceiling). It’s what we have throughout our first floor and I think they are lovely to look at in every way.
So let’s go room by room with my current opinions based solely on my 43 years of my own personal experience. Everyone is different – but here is my perspective.
Yay or Nay? Personal preference! (But, I’m currently a yes)
This is unpopular with designers but y’all I use my recess lights in our kitchen a lot – both for cooking and cleaning. I lean more practical this way, probably because I cook a lot. Or maybe I’m just used to it, but in the last 4 kitchens I’ve either had track or recessed lighting in addition to pretty fixtures. I used track lights both times when we had exposed wood ceilings where the track could be installed and hidden along a vintage beam, and recessed lights for a more typical drywall ceiling.
Last winter at the farm, I still used the sconces and pendants for morning light in the kitchen because it was too early for that level of overhead. But if I’m following a recipe in a cookbook for dinner, I really want to be able to see well. I find that while the sconces and pendants provide a lot of lovely light, it’s not task lighting and it’s not direct (they are more ambient) and just not enough. I’d also like to point out the obvious that kitchens have to be cleaned nightly after dinner, whereas bathrooms can be cleaned during the day on the weekend, thus you need better lighting to clean at night. So, I’m a yes to recessed lighting in the kitchen just to light up your cooking spaces.
Yay or Nay? Depends! (We didn’t this time).
Now, this is considered a very utilitarian room which usually people recommend a lot of overhead task lighting (and I do, too). We have high ceilings in here so we put in these four pendants which provide more than enough and I’ve never wished for more lighting in here. So we skipped them, but if you don’t have a lot of overhead light options (like pendants or multiple semi-flush lights) then go for the recessed. I don’t love the look of 4-6 semi-flush lights (a trend we’ve been seeing a lot lately) but I do like spotlights and love multiple pendants as we did.
The Living Room
Yay or Nay? SKIP, unless it’s also the kids’ playroom
This is our fourth living room documented here on the blog and never have we had recessed lights in any of them nor wished we had. So I feel confident in saying that generally, I don’t think you need them if you can put in ample overhead fixtures and sconces (and table/floor lamps). Since we have an exposed ceiling in the farm living room we couldn’t really put in recessed lighting in here, so it wasn’t really a debate. The purpose of this room is usually to hang/converse and this is always better with recessed lights off, and ambient lights on. However, if your main living room is also where you gather around your coffee table to play games and do crafts then you’ll probably want them. We used them all the time in the mountain house family room – the lamp light wouldn’t do in the winter (and that room didn’t have a ton of afternoon natural light).
Yay or nay? Depends! (we mixed it up and my opinions are based on a few factors)
First off, this really depends on the era of the house. For vintage houses try to avoid recessed lighting and do ample overhead semi-flush, flush, and/or sconces.
It’s my current opinion that you need either a multi-bulb semi-flush or chandelier if you have the height OR recessed lights but not both. If you have a more contemporary house, I think throw them in – they won’t look weird as it’s more period appropriate.
We had them in the mountain house (1970s) bedrooms (not the master) and as long as they are dimmable they go unnoticed when not in use. We purposely wanted to keep the room clean and minimal and liked the look of no light fixtures.
Our farmhouse bedroom ceiling was very asymmetrical so we didn’t put in an overhead light (I might still swag a big Japanese lantern for decorative reasons because we have the height). Any other type of light fixture would have to come from a really awkward place in the middle of a beam in order to be centered which I don’t love, so we just nixed it and put in recessed lights instead. That’s all to say that I have a current theory: If you get dressed in your bedroom you need decent overhead light – either a multi-bulb fixture or recessed lights. But if you don’t need to get dressed/look in the mirror in your bedroom or if you have a separate dressing closet then you don’t need a ton of bright lighting in the bedroom. We rarely turn on our overhead lights in the bedroom so I could have nixed them (but I don’t regret having them too much).
In our LA house bedroom and our kids’ rooms (a vintage 100-year-old style home) we did not put them in and I’m happy we didn’t – HOWEVER, for all three of the farmhouse bedrooms we needed more overhead light during the winter. I actually am currently switching out our kids’ semi-flush lights because the single 40-watt bulb is just not enough (and we could upgrade the wattage, but the fixtures are clear glass so seeing that white LED bulb doesn’t sound awesome). We are instead putting in multi-light semi-flushes that look cool. But I am glad we didn’t put in recessed as the vintage windows and doors just look better without the contemporary recessed lights in there.
Where I didn’t put them in but wish I had….
We didn’t put any overhead light in the mountain house primary bedroom because I didn’t want to disrupt the gorgeous wood ceilings. We attempted to address overhead lighting by putting LED strip lights on TOP of the collar ties (the horizontal beams) which unfortunately flicker in a very annoying way (because some LED + dimmers often don’t work well yet). Now, not having any overhead light was fine in the bedroom most of the time except when I wanted to try on outfits in the winter at night (which was rare as that wasn’t our lifestyle to go out). We actually have black track lighting originally intended for the closet sitting in the garage, but never installed (a very me thing to do/not do). Now what I should have done is put 4-6 small black recessed lights in the bedroom (I really like the look of black recessed lights).
Yay or nay? Personal preference (skip if you can but heavily depends on sconces)
We didn’t put them in the kid’s bathroom and haven’t missed them for a second. We did put them in our bathroom and have only turned them on a couple of times. But we have them in all the mountain house bathrooms and used them a lot! The difference is that at the mountain house, all of our sconces were more decorative and gave off fairly low or directional (downward) lighting and we skipped all ceiling fixtures on purpose, to not bring your eye there. The era of the house was more post-modern and that worked so well stylistically. Whereas at the farmhouse, a more vintage style home, we chose sconces with really great light (clear or opal glass) with similar ceiling fixtures and so no, we did NOT need any of the recessed lights we put in (except in the shower).
I wish I hadn’t put the recessed lights in the vanity area of our bathroom – it disrupts the pretty tile in a bad way. Had I known that the sconces would provide such nice even makeup-applying bright light, I would never have put in these overhead fixtures. My bad.
Water Closet/Powder Room
Yay or nay? Personal preference
You definitely don’t NEED recessed lighting in your powder room or water closet, so this is a personal preference. We didn’t put one in our powder room (just a little cute semi-flush and a sconce) and it’s GREAT. We did, however, put one in our water closet in our bathroom and I rarely use it, opting for the dimmable sconce over the toilet instead. So no, I don’t think you need it but doesn’t hurt and isn’t offensive (but if you have a vintage-style home maybe skip).
Yay or nay? YES
Listen, even if you don’t turn the recessed light on in the shower you want one for cleaning otherwise it’s really hard to see in the corners.
Yay or nay? ALWAYS
Sure, you can go heavy on the sconces in here or put in a semi/flush, but really you just need good recessed overhead lighting (and I prefer this over the single fixture). I put away clothes so often at night, so it’s not just for getting ready.
Yay or nay? ALWAYS
You need to be able to tell the difference between split peas and green lentils, quinoa, and brown rice. We put a really cute light fixture in our pantry, but for sure knew that we’d more often use the black recessed lights. I’m sure a multi-bulb or really bright semi-flush or flush could work, but I just think that recessed works better in here.
So like everything there are some things that are advisable and tend to be called a “rule” but so much of it is a personal preference, so I’d love to invite any/all of you to leave any anecdotal experience in the comments.
Opening Image Credits: Photo by Sara Ligorria-Tramp | From: Mountain House Reveal: Our Calm Scandinavian Master Bedroom
Great post! Recessed lighting is something that few of us think about until it comes to installation. I’ve seen some go crazy with lighting and some not. I feel somewhere in the middle and very much agree with your advice here. Everything should have purpose. If you don’t need it, don’t.
Side note, can we have a post on dining chandeliers? I need a roundup. I’m a bit stumped at the moment.
Love our recessed kitchen lights, love even more that we put them on dimmers for the same early morning situation. Full brightness is just too bright before the sun comes up
This post is so helpful! As someone who also lives in the north, I agree with all of your points–especially the part about needing them for not only tasks, but for cleaning!
The key to lighting is to have a lot of options. I like recessed in almost all spaces as long as you don’t have some gorgeous ceiling treatment you are disrupting ie your wood ceiling. And the key is do the smaller 4″ or under cans and they must be fully dimmable. All lights in your house should dim down to 0 getting someone to help spec your lighting out is key there are now a million tape lights that dim down to 0 with no flicker this is different than 3 yrs ago even tape light has come a long way recently. We use them all over in our restaurant designs.
Genuinely curious – why are the square trim lights where you see more of the ‘frame’ more attractive than round lights where less of the casing shows? Currently trying to select recessed lighting and find it overwhelming because they all seem sort of the same. Is one style more attractive/modern than others? Do I need to spend money here or just go as cheap as possible? Do I really need it to swivel or won’t they just give off wide light? Can all of them dim? I do know I want to adjust the kelvin/temperature but otherwise, it’s just a sea of endless options and I don’t know what is going to look 1980s or 2023. Signed, overwhelmed and lost trying to select this very basic item which feels like it should be ‘easy’ but somehow feels hard. Sigh. If any readers bought some recently and have suggestions, please share links.
I can’t answer all of your questions but I sure remember the point in the remodel when I hit all these questions… It’s not easy!
We found some that are round but have no visible frame on the ceiling. From what I understand they were a big pain to install because the cuts in the drywall have to be really clean. They were also super expensive compared to your basic recessed lights. BUT I think they turned out looking really high end and about as visually non-invasive as recessed lighting can be. That being said, I’m pretty sure zero people have ever noticed or commented on them because normal people don’t care =). Everybody notices our huge, salvaged 1920s pendants instead. Which is pretty much what I was hoping for!
If you don’t like looking at recessed lighting, spring for an upgrade. If you don’t care, just get the basic ones. But whatever you do, do pay attention to that bulb temperature! (And no, not all of them dim. Make sure to get dimmable bulbs. The LEDs I got can technically dim, but I swear I can see flickering that my husband can’t.)
Thank you! This is helpful input.
This is kind of like the trimless sheetrock option. Lots of attention paid to the finishing. Let me tell you, Stacy, I would notice your special, visually non-invasive cans. I WOULD NOTICE. <3
We are redoing our bathroom and I very much dislike cans, but recognize the need for adequate light in a practical room. They got me on-board with 2 in. “frameless” recessed lights – the frame (or part you usually see) is plastered in to the ceiling, so you just see the light opening. It’s definitely way more expensive, but they virtually disappear.
Interesting! This option was not even on my radar until you and Stacy mentioned. Currently googling…
Yes to getting dimmable lights because that just gives you additional options. I’d say in both kitchen and bathroom it just gives you the option to turn it up high when you have to cook, clean or remove a splinter or have it on low when you just need some light but prefer lower brightness/some mood. In playroom/living/family room you can also dim it for mood or put on high.
We have round 6″ lights (slightly better than the cheapest available) and they work and look just fine. They are meant to be part of the ceiling and not decorative. They give wide light. We have a soft white in the kitchen and bathroom. Our playroom/family room has a slightly warmer temperature but not amber either. We didn’t install them so we didn’t choose the size. We replaced them to match our preferred temperature and make them dimmable. If I wanted to install them in the living room I’d chose something more elegant too, but in our family room they basic ones look ok.
Honestly? Unless your house is going to be featured on a design blog or in a magazine, just get the regular cans and spend your money on the things you actually interact with (furniture and fixtures). No one is going to come to your house and judge your recessed lighting or think “I can’t believe Jen A didn’t spring for the GOOD can lights, what a cheapskate!”
We did a significant remodel a couple of years ago, and used the kind of cans linked below. They work perfectly for their intended purpose, they didn’t cost a fortune, and when they aren’t on, they are virtually invisible. https://www.lowes.com/pd/Halo-White-LED-Remodel-and-New-Construction-Recessed-Light-Kit-Fits-Opening-5-in/1001772158
Completely agree with this. If you have a reason, like you are making money on the way your house looks, go forth and spend. If looking at the frames around recessed lighting is a stressor for you, well, you can camouflage them. Or let the annoyance remind you that we all need something to complain about. I just can’t see how it’s worth the money for frameless. That said, I would 100% notice because I’m a home builders daughter. That said, the real reason can lights got a bit of a bad rap is that they started out pretty large – they were still ‘luxe’ in the day but like many things they’ve improved. 100% focus on dimmable, bulb options and placement. Most give nice, downward flood light and are not intended to spotlight. I think the angled ones are sometimes use in floors or walls for spotlighting – note floor recessed lights rarely pass code in residential projects.
Great post! I love how the farmhouse living room looks in these photos! Slightly updated?! Could you please let me know the source of the floor lamp? I think I see it in both the living and primary bedroom. Thank you!
Came here for the topic, stayed for the gorgeous pictures as a walk down memory lane at all of the beautiful rooms you’ve done over the years. ::insert heart emoji: Sigh. I just love your work. In any case, I probably overdid it in our 1872 farmhouse kitchen renovation because I was determined not to put recessed lights in. All of our other houses did have them in the kitchen, so I was nervous. Now, I have 7 (!) sconces, one island pendant with two lights, undercabinet lighting and 3 semi-flush mounts. Oh, and the vent hood light. (just typing all of that makes me laugh). My electricians thought I was nuts, but they all work for different tasks and I haven’t missed recessed lights for a minute. And even with them all on, it doesn’t feel like an airport runway – at least to me. Can we all take a minute to complain about tradesmen who look at you like you have two heads if you request ANYTHING out of the norm from what they typically see? My plumbers at my last house thought I was nuts for a dog washing station, my electricians thought I was nuts for… Read more »
YESSSS. Years ago I had to fight with an electrician (can we note that I was paying him? hired him?) for the placement of our front porch light. He wanted to put it level with the top corner of the door which just looked really off for our front door situation. (Maybe right for other folks porches). It was a total battle and I kept thinking, why are you fighting this? You will never be back here or use the light? It STILL makes me angry.
The electrician our GC selected seemed to hate us. No idea why – we didn’t change our minds a bunch, we paid on time, we regularly provided lunch during the renovation. But he did a couple of things that seem to be deliberately meant to aggravate. We had sconces placed on the primary bedroom wall where we knew our bed would be going. We measured it out to leave enough room for a king size bedframe. He put the switches at that point and then put the sconces inside of the switches. 1. you have to reach around the sconce to get to the switch and 2. the sconces are now within where you’d put the king bed frame. We of course didn’t realize until we’d moved in and he was long gone. Is it because I complained when we turned on my daughter’s sconces and they threw off sparks???? Because I think that’s a good thing to complain about. Honestly, makes me want to have an independent electrician come in and check all his work.
THIS! 1000% onboard with this rant. It’s as if contractors are required to force recessed lighting on clients as a condition of their license. I will use it sparingly (and it must be said, begrudgingly) when the space requires it, but I will let you know when that is.
Yes!!! It makes me crazy when trades think they know best when it comes down to the design elements. No, I am the designer, not you. I appreciate their knowledge on how to make things works, but geez.
I hear you! My electrician is the only contractor that hasn’t given me grief on any of my “unconventional” choices. Unconventional meaning not basic big box bullsh*t. My painters tried to argue about things but their work ended up being so poor that I have been redoing it all. My tile guy pushed back on layout choices and wanted to seal my slate floor so that it looked wet. My wood floor refinisher tried to convince me to stain the white oak floors darker when I requested a natural matte finish. The carpenter thought I was crazy for the plain drywall “box” I wanted built to house the range vent in the kitchen. No stainless hood??? He also thought I should have installed 6in cans in the kitchen, instead of 4in. I should email him this post. *lol*
Could you link some of the semi flush black lights you have? In the market for some new lighting in our living room (old living room with no overhead lighting and lamps do not cut it)
A round-up of multi-bulb semi-flush mount lights would be a GODSEND for this recessed light heater who lives in a 1936 cottage 😉
I came in here to yell about one thing and one thing only. I’m one of those jerk designers that hates recessed lighting but I agree with Emily that there is a time and place for it. However, when you put it in keep in mind it’s not invisible. I constantly see recessed lighting laid out in the weirdest pattern as if the people who put it in assumed no one would be able to see it. It needs to relate to the architecture of the room and have some symmetry to it. Em has done a good job laying out her recessed lighting in all these pics (repetition, symmetry, good spacing) but there’s probably a whole post that could be written about how to lay out recessed lights so they look elegant and intentional. Fun topic for us lighting nerds!
Ha ha my husband made our contractor wait until I got home to OK the placement because he knew I would be fixated on it. Having just gone through it I will say this is more difficult than it seems because they have to be attached to the framing/rafter boards of the ceiling so that can’t always go exactly where you want because they have to attach to something. I think sometimes contractors just stick them up and suddenly the drywallers are there and this gets overlooked until it is “too late”.
When I had to retrofit recessed lighting into my very dark 1973 living room, I got the ultra thin LED dimmables, which turned out to be a stroke of luck because they are the ONLY ones that would fit. They are just slightly thicker than the drywall. I was so grateful that worked out and didn’t turn into a major project!
Agree 100%. I have seen recessed layouts that look like Whack a Mole: distracting, confusing, not cute. I would compare a good lighting layout to a quick chess match or a great dance move: simple, effective, every piece in place no more or less powerful than necessary and somewhat tweakable (dimmers/selectable Kelvins). A marrying of yin (quiet, darkness, stillness) and yang (strength, lightness, movement). A thinker/planner’s game to win but good instinct or creativity is always a surprising black swan when executed well. Yeah, I could nerd-out on this one…
Worth reading today’s comments for this gem: “I have seen recessed layouts that look like Whack a Mole” — Thank you Erin!
But seriously, many helpful comments today on a tricky topic. I like the judicious approach Emily and others seem to be taking, as I’ve seen plenty of houses where it looks like a runway when you turn on the lights, ugh! I’m sensitive to bright lights but we all need functional spaces for certain purposes. This post shows a good balance.
Hmm my husband and I have dramatically different opinions about the color and brightness of our lights. I am sensitive and want them overall softer and lower. But he’s a pilot so maybe it’s the subliminal runway effect working against me. Thanks for giving me a new angle as I push for control over our bulb selection 🙂
Orlando, that sounds like a perfect blog article for you to write as a contributor to EHD! 🙂
I do not like can lighting, no.
There is no place I’ll let it go.
My little cottage is so old,
More classic lighting it will hold.
I think lighting in a pantry of any size is a must. I have a small closet style pantry and I put I stuck 2 battery powered lights on the walls because it’s usually packed to the brim and I’d like to be able to see everything without always needing to pull a stool out and digging around on shelves. Lighting just makes it easier to see everything quickly.
I keep a flashlight just inside my very deep, very dark pantry. It makes ALL the difference in how easy that pantry is to use. So wish it had wired lighting of some sort.
Re: dimmable bulbs in the ceiling. Does anyone else hear the sort of quiet high-pitched whine when they’re dimmed? Drives me bonkers.
My old ones did. None of the new ones do that.
Thats a light/dimmer issue. You need a different switch.
Um, so, this would be super useful for me except that I don’t know what the terms mean;). Would it be possible to do a follow-up summary post, with a description of the light types at the top, and then the recommendations room-by-room below? Not to be demanding or anything, LOL, just that I have a house I renovated in 1992 and the lighting is not at all what I’d like it to be but no way I’m making changes without knowing at least vaguely what I’m doing.
Same! What’s a semi-flush mount? Have I even got the term right?
Semi-flush mount=a light mounted to the ceiling (not recessed/cans in the ceiling), usually round that isn’t a pendant (the kind you typically see hanging from a chain or cord over dining tables or islands) and not a chandelier (similar to the pendant but fancy, usually has glass/crystal/shells like the kind hanging in tall entries). So, basically a ceiling mounted light that doesn’t hang too much.
That’s why pictures would help!
Thanks. But, like, a “boob light?”
Me too! l got lost while reading this because I didn’t know what kind of lighting was being talked about. Thank you!
I definitely think there is a time, place and purpose for recessed lights, and they aren’t really noticeable, so why not? But I also think that ONLY recessed lights is very unsatisfying. I like lights to be layered in height and I also like lights that shine some light onto the ceiling to be reflected, increasing the overall lightness in the room. Can lights can’t do that. In my somewhat-new house, I have only can lights in the kitchen- like 10 of them, and I find it very depressing and I never feel like there’s enough light. And downward light casts shadows, so even in the kitchen, they can result in shadows where you really want light when you’re cooking or prepping food. Even in a living or family room, there are times I would want more light, so can lights would be helpful. My family room is a little darker than I would like (woods outside) and if I am trying to work at a table with my laptop, or do a jigsaw puzzle or even read, there often is just not enough light, so I’d love some cans to turn on when needed. We once had a family… Read more »
Have you considered under-cabinet lighting for your work areas in the kitchen? It can be really pretty
1890’s house here and I don’t have any recessed lighting. Can’t say I miss it. I do have track lighting in the kitchen, but only because the ceiling is sloped and is quite low even on the higher side. I also have wall sconces over the countertop. In the bedroom I put a picture light over my full body mirror. That is a new thing though; for years I’ve been “managing” to get dressed in a room with lamps and an overhead fan light(which I rarely turn on). Its fine.
For those seeking help, there are professional lighting designers, and at least in my city, Seattle, there is a lighting lab that is open to the public where you can go learn amazing things about lighting and get help. You can see various lights in action and their effect on a space or items in the space. We also have a daylight lighting lab in Seattle which is also fascinating. I have not checked to see if these are still open after the pandemic, but if you have access to something like this near you, I highly recommend visiting.
Hi Roberta! I’m in Seattle and very interested in what you wrote! l did a Google search and found this: https://ecomotion.us/seattle-city-light-lighting-design-lab-2/
ls that what you wrote about? Thank you Roberta!
Just wanted to say thank-you Emily for the Roland electronic piano recommend a few months back. We purchased one on your suggestion because my kids are young but also keen on lessons. I was wondering if you ever got another bench (the one it comes with isn’t the best, as you said) and if so what kind? Thanks again! Random comment for a lighting post but hopefully this gets to you. Cheers!
We moved into our 1930s home four years ago and it’s the first house I’ve ever lived in with recessed lighting (installed by the previous owners who were both architects). I swear, it is one of my favorite things about this house. We have the lighting in the living room, and it’s on every night. Same with the primary bedroom. The key is that every recessed light in the whole house is on a dimmer switch, so it can be very low light, which is marvelous. I’d highly recommend having all recessed lighting on dimmer switches– that’s the key to avoiding harsh overhead light unless you need it.
I agree. I put all lighting on dimmers for all of my projects. It just makes the light levels so adjustable.
Mostly want to say: All your spaces are so lovely and calming, Emily! So far as lighting, I try to avoid artificial light whenever possible (and especially avoid dimmers due to their inherent “flicker,” which we can’t perceive with the naked eye). And yet, I sure do notice the need for MORE light the older I get when it comes to “detail work,” like reading instructions or writing. I’m 48 and have 20-20 vision according to tests, but screen time has a major impact on my sight by the end of a day. Sigh.
If you have a lighting expert or a good electrician help you with your lighting, you will not have any flickering with your lights that are on dimmers. Lighting is continually changing and getting better and it so nice to be able to control the levels of light, and the color temperature.
I’m speaking about a type of flicker that we can’t see with the naked eye (but can detect with the right equipment). Unfortunately, most conventional electricians don’t have expertise in this particular area, so far as I know. Luke Storey has done a number of great interviews on the topic of light, including this one: https://www.lukestorey.com/lifestylistpodcast/the-science-of-sun-blue-light-flicker-photon-sauna-therapy-w/-brian-richards-of-saunaspace-409
He’s a quack. https://www.mediamatters.org/coronavirus-covid-19/podcaster-and-influencer-luke-storey-pitching-14000-plus-human-recharging
Interesting points! I agree with a lot of them, for sure. Some other thoughts I have…
Great post with plenty of food for thought. I don’t want overhead lighting of any kind in a powder room because in a very small space it tends to cast harsh shadows on people’s faces. When a guest comes out of my powder room and rejoins the party, I want her to feel confident that she looks great, and I find that sconces are much more flattering. For the same reason, I painted my powder room a coral color because nearly everyone looks good in it.
That is so thoughtful Aunt Sue! Those are both great tips, thank you! 🙂
I am excited to be moving from a house with recessed lights only in the kitchen, to one that has them in most rooms. My eyes just don’t work that great in low light, so I need to option to really flood the room. And of course, I will still have all my lamps and sconces for when I don’t need it to be exceptionally bright. What I really dislike is how white/cold the bulbs are in a lot of recessed lights these days. They are practically blue. It reminds me of being in the hospital, especially when paired with the grey and white trend. 3000-3500k is my sweet spot.
Board is about to go up in my major house reno, so I’ve already finished all the electrical/lighting layouts. So nervous to see if it all turns out ok! I would love to see some more detail around exact placement of recessed lights — like at the edge of the countertops in the Kitchen? How far apart? Etc.
Hi! Designer here. A typical guideline is half the distance of your ceiling height, so for an 8′ ceiling 4′ apart is ideal. I like to put them above the counters edge so that there is not a shadow in front of you. This can also be filled out by under cabinet lights. Hope that helps.
Best money spent in my kitchen renovation was on a lighting designer. I have great lighting- a combination of recessed, under cabinet lighting and pendants over the island. Recessed and pendants are on dimmers. I think a designer knows how to lay it out so it does not look like runway strips. I too dislike the look of tons of flushmounts in a kitchen – makes the ceiling way too busy.
I love recessed lights pretty much everywhere, combined with lamps and pendants. The more light the better as far as I’m concerned. I put them in every room I’ve re-done with zero regrets. Years ago an interior designer told my mother-in-law they were tacky, so I wander around her house half-blind turning on a zillion sconces and lamps. It’s TORTURE. Of course, she eyes my recessed lights with a judgmental sniff. To each their own!
Love this thoughtful report! I love recessed lighting in general, but you made me realize the one house I didn’t put it in was my 100-year-old historic home because it just didn’t fit! Also, I HATE the trend of doing a bunch of small semi-flush mounts instead of cans. It looks so silly, busy, “wall pimple-y” and it’s so much more expensive. I did do six semi-flush mounts down my 48′ hallway which was amazing and I do love that, but in a kitchen or living room I think it looks ridiculous. Flush mounts are unoffensive and practical.
Cici, I agree! I think those kitchens with a dozen one-bulb flushmounts look so stupid.
Lots of really great information Emily, thank you!
I am going to pin this, and I hope you do add descriptions as to what the lights are (it was noted in a comment above) or in a follow up blog post – thanks!
I don’t understand not having lamps next to beds. I read in bed.
I’m having trouble with the new led recessed pancakes. They are more task oriented and down cast, whereas the old cans let off a more ambient glow. And even warm color temperatures seem harsh. Re bedrooms, I do wish designers would put ceiling fans in bedrooms. They’re so practical for comfort – save on hvac too. I feel you in the strip lighting above the beams. We have that in our screened porch and it’s a moody glow but useless for summer game nights on the porch.
I frequently use my aircon only on fan.
I have amazing, detailed, fancy ceilings and NO WAY would I ever put a ceiling fan in my old girl.
I hate the airport runway look, so we were fairly restrained with can lights. In the kitchen, we have four cans, one schoolhouse pendant and undercabinet lighting — can’t have enough light in the kitchen. In the living/dining room (they’re not separate rooms), we only have two can lights over the bookcases flanking the TV and one can with one of those little shades to throw the light on the paintings over the fireplace. Upstairs there’s a can light at the top of the stairs (there’s a pendant over the stairs) for the laundry closet, and one can light in the small hallway to the bedrooms (with the linen closets lining that hall). No can lights in either of our bedrooms. I do have three can lights in my long closet. I have two can lights in my shower. The second one is over my bench where I need the light for feet work. All are on dimmers. We had all these put in nearly 20 years ago and have not regretted anything.
Coming out here as a track lighting lover! Mostly because it goes well with mid-century, my favorite style, and I’ve had a couple of houses with beams where they are a bit hidden and because there’s no attic above the ceiling. It’s also not too expensive, usually, and it looks intentional.
Great post and loved reading through all the comments! Our home has vaulted ceilings in most of the common areas, but just 8ft ceilings everywhere else. It is a modern home with clean lines (built in 1965). I’ve struggled to do something different than recessed lights on the low ceilings. Every time I’ve tried a flush mount, the ceiling ends up looking way lower than they are and I’ve gone back to recessed. I have other floor and table lamps to layer the lighting. But I wonder, is there a minimum ceiling height for flush mount lighting to look good in a room?
I loved this post! Also wishing I had done something different in our bedrooms – we have overhead fixtures with glass globes and I never want to turn them on. I’m wondering if I need to swap the bulbs? Or change the globes? Or just continue to use our lamps. 🙂
I’m the absolute oddball that loves “office lighting” — the big, fluorescent light panels. 🙂 I want them everywhere. I love light!!!
Always always always on dimmers.
I made the mistake of not telling the electrician that we were going to be installing heavy crown molding in our traditional kitchen, so the recessed light over the sink got installed too close to the wall with only a few inches of breathing room from the molding. Not worth fixing after the fact, but could have been a smidge better. We wanted heavy crown molding in the kitchen because it’s immediately adjacent to our living room with big heavy exposed beams. We used dark metal track lighting hidden between the stained wood beams over the couch and a dark swagged chandelier over the dining table to help them blend in and not look too busy.
We are nearing the end of our 17th (or 18th) major building/remodeling project. If you are building, plan for some reccessed lighting mixed in with your more decorative fixtures. Otherwise, right when you are all out of money, you will be shopping for fixtures and you will reel at the prices. Trust me on this one.