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Where to Put Recessed Lighting


Recessed lighting is becoming more and more popular in the world of interior lighting and design, and it’s not hard to see why. It’s sleek and stylish, taking up minimal space in a room with maximum impact. The only thing which might hold people back is not knowing where to put it to achieve the desired effect. 

Luckily we’ve taken the guesswork out of it by putting together a handy guide to help you decide the layout of your recessed lighting, taking you through everything you need to know from what recessed lighting can do to how many lighting fixtures you might need, so you can install your recessed lighting with confidence. 


What is recessed lighting? 

Recessed lighting, sometimes known as downlighting, refers to a type of lighting fixture that is installed into a hollow opening in a ceiling, wall, or other surface. These lighting fixtures are designed to be installed under the surface, with its housing hidden or “recessed” within the hole. The light bulb is then positioned within the housing, and a trim fills the space and makes the lighting look sleek and modern. 

Recessed lighting is commonly used in offices, retail spaces, and various commercial settings as well as homes. It’s a hugely versatile lighting solution that can be tailored to a whole host of different lighting requirements and design preferences as it’s so unobtrusive.

Find out more about recessed lighting.


What do you want to use your recessed lighting for?

The first and most important thing to consider when working out where to put your recessed lighting is what you want to use it for. As we know, recessed lighting is extremely versatile and can be used for a huge range of different lighting solutions, so knowing exactly what you want to get out of your recessed lighting is a crucial first step. 


Recessed lighting can be used for: 


Ambient lighting 

Ambient lighting is a term for general lighting across a whole room, without highlighting anything in particular. Recessed lighting is a great option for ambient lighting as it can discreetly and evenly cover a space in light. Lots of interior designers use recessed lighting for ambient light and then add decorative lamps to create a layered effect or to add more light in certain spots around a room. 

Recessed lighting is particularly effective for ambient lighting when paired with a dimmer switch, allowing you to control the ambience consistently across a whole space. 


Accent lighting 

Accent lighting is lighting with the intention of highlighting something specific. Recessed lighting is perfect for accent lighting as it can draw attention to particular things in a room, without drawing attention to the lighting fixture itself. Perhaps you have a favourite painting you want to highlight, or an interesting architectural feature, fireplace or precious object you would like to make a focal point? Recessed lighting positioned directly above something can work as a kind of spotlight, effortlessly drawing the eye to whatever you want to accent. 


Task lighting 

Task lighting is, as the name suggests, lighting which is used to light a particular task. One of the most common examples of this is recessed lighting over kitchen counters and islands, providing good light for chopping and preparing food safely. Other common examples of recessed task lighting would be lighting over a mirror or dressing table for applying makeup and getting ready, over a chair or sofa where people frequently read, over a piano, or in home offices to provide enough light for paperwork. 

Recessed lighting is great for task lighting in all settings because it can be installed in the exact place it’s needed, and because it doesn’t cast its own shadow as lots of other types of lighting fixtures do. This means you get a clear beam of light to work by with no dark spots to make things difficult. 


Which areas do you need to light? 

Once you’ve decided what you want your recessed lighting to do for you, you need to identify which spaces could benefit from it. This might sound very obvious, but choosing the areas to light goes beyond just choosing rooms. Even within a room, there will be certain spots which might need more direct light than others. These areas which need specifically placed recessed lights could be corners of an irregularly shaped room, interesting architectural or design features which you want to show off, or simply spots in the room which are frequently used for tasks. 

For example, in an open plan kitchen/living room, you might want to use recessed lighting to identify separate areas of the space by grouping some lighting fixtures together in different places. This would also provide some lovely ambient lighting across the whole space. You then might also want to position lights directly over your kitchen counters, your table, and your sofa or chairs, to provide some task lighting for things like preparing food, eating and working at the table, and reading in the living area. In addition to this you might also want to use some recessed accent lighting to highlight a piece of art or a fireplace. 

Breaking down your spaces into areas with different uses is a great way to start working out the most effective layout for your recessed lighting. 


How many lights will you need? 

The number of lights you’ll need obviously completely depends on the scale of the room you want to light. There are a few rules of thumb which you can follow when you’re calculating how many lighting fixtures you’ll need to install in your space. If you know the square footage of the room you’re trying to light, some interior designers say you need at least one light for every 25 feet of living space. Another way of doing it is to divide the height of your ceiling by two, and then to use that result as the distance between lights. So for example, if your ceiling is 9ft, you will need to leave 4.5 ft between each recessed lighting fixture. 

Of course in reality you may need more or less lights than these calculations would suggest, but they’re a good place to start. You might need to make adjustments if you have an irregularly shaped room, in order to avoid shadows and dark spots, if you have a very small or very large room, or if you need a lot of light in a particular area. 


Where should you install your recessed lighting? 

When it comes to actually placing your recessed lighting, there are lots of things to consider. As well as all of the above, there are some more practical things to think about too to make sure your recessed lighting does exactly what you want it to. These considerations include: 

Avoiding ceiling joists 

Recessed lighting fixtures need to be fitted into hollows in the ceiling, so it is vital that you avoid your ceiling joists. Before you start planning the layout of your recessed lighting, you need to locate your ceiling joists and mark them up so you can design the layout of your lights accordingly. 


Keeping some distance from the walls 

It’s a good idea to make sure you don’t install any lights intended for ambient lighting too close to your walls. Lights too close to walls can throw a lot of light onto the walls themselves and not into the room, which is great for accent lighting but not so great for general lighting. Lights too close to your walls can also end up highlighting any imperfections in your walls, which is probably not something you would want to draw attention to. 

Installing your lights at least 3 feet away from your walls is a good rule of thumb for ambient recessed lighting.


What kind of recessed lighting should you get?

There is a huge range of different styles of recessed lighting or downlighting fixtures available, and which ones you go for simply come down to personal preference.  Although recessed lighting fixtures are discreet and unobtrusive, they are visible, and so the style of them can be very important in seamlessly integrating them into the design of your space. 


At ES Lighting there are a wide range of different trims and finishes available, so you can match your lighting fixtures to the aesthetic of your home. These downlights also come in a range of shapes and sizes, so you can tailor your lighting to your exact needs. It’s a good idea to make sure the beams of light in any given space overlap so you don’t end up with any dark spots, so that’s something to bear in mind when choosing the size of your recessed lighting fixtures. 

For more information or advice on recessed lighting, don’t hesitate to get in touch with our team at ES Lighting