Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Can Lights – love them or hate them?

We are tackling the lighting plan for the new house, and I have been doing some research.  Normally I don’t think about lighting too much, although I am aware that there are some rooms in my current house that are too dark and would really benefit from overhead lighting. Ambient lighting does not seem to do the trick in all situations and all room set ups.
One thing I have started to realize is that many designers are vehemently against the overuse of can lighting  (those cans that are put in the ceilings of rooms) – they despise the way that it makes a ceiling look like ‘swiss cheese’.  Others claim that can lighting (also called downlights) is one of the “worst inventions of Western architecture”.

When we took a first cut at the lighting plan (and by ‘we’, I really mean my architect and designer – I was fairly clueless, but thanks to this post I am up to speed and well prepared for the next meeting!), I was somewhat surprised about how few ‘can’ lights Suzanne and Stan were recommending. The main task areas – like the kitchen – are well lit with downlights/can lights.  But there are no cans at all specified in many rooms (such as the living room and dining room); instead, they will be lit with light fixtures such as chandeliers, lanterns, library lights, and other ambient lighting sources such as table lamps and floor lamps (a layered approach to lighting).

The layered lighting approach is seen in this room.  Notice the beautiful unblemished ceiling!  There are sconces and table lamps (9 that I can see) that provide the light.  (I love that painting – anyone know the artist?). 

It is hard to get an idea for what people ‘really’ do in a room just by looking at magazine pictures. Magazine pictures often don’t contain much of the ceiling in the picture, and I have heard that many unsightly items such as can lights are instantly smoothed away with photoshop.  This room, for example – a lovely clear ceiling – but there only appears to be one table lamp in the room for light.   Yes, it is more beautiful…but is it practical?

6433709 image117_thumb[1]
Case in point about magazine editing:  on the left, a beautiful home featured in House Beautiful, with interiors by Babs Watkins, Julie Baker, and Eleanor Cummings.  This picture is from the House Beautiful website. On the right: the same room, with the can lights edited out (from Cote de Texas).

Sometimes a glimpse of a can light or two can be seen in a magazine photo.  Charlotte Moss has some can lights in her living room; they are small and delicate, but they are there! These might be directional to highlight the art, but they also provide a bit of light over the seating area.  Sconces, a chandelier, candles, and table lights provide additional lighting sources.

Another magazine photo – although they are very subtle, there are definitely downlights in this room. They are small and blend in quite well with the ceiling paneling.

It seems as if can lights are frequently used when the ceiling is this style (the name is escaping me).

Real estate listings portray a more realistic picture, as they often show an entire room, and they often show the ceiling.  This room has a nice approach – largely can light free, but with small focused lights in the area at the end of the room.

Another picture from Cote de Texas – a house that was on the market in Houston.  Looking around the room, it appears that the can lighting is the main source of light in this space.

This room, also from a Houston house, has a few table lamps, but also relies on downlights for the primary light source in the room.

Compare and contrast to this space, where there are can lights, but there are also many other sources of light – two chandeliers, table lamps, floor lamps, and library lights. Architecture by Steve Giannetti.

Kitchens are a different matter altogether, because of the task oriented nature of the space.  Kitchens need plenty of light, and this is often most effectively achieved with downlights.

One of my favorite kitchens, by kitchen designer Lindy Weaver, seems to employ a combination of light fixtures (the large pendant lights), library style lights over the sink, and very small architectural down lights scattered throughout the kitchen.  I like this approach, but my new kitchen is not going to have a light fixture over the island because of the configuration of the kitchen, so I will need to rely on downlights/can lights for task lighting.

I love how this kitchen combined downlights, pendant lights, lamps, and sconces to light the space. 

I asked Brooke from Velvet & Linen about her opinion on downlights, and she said that she often uses other solutions for achieving light in spaces without using cans (in her own house, she does not have a single can light!).  In this kitchen designed by Steve and Brooke Giannetti, note the use of light fixtures in the ceiling (small fixtures close to the ceiling, pendants, and a chandelier) instead of cans everywhere.

Another example from the Giannetti’s portfolio where beautiful ceiling fixtures are used instead of cans (although I do spy two tiny downlights over the sink).

One of my all time favorite kitchens, by Victoria Hagan,  uses vintage looking lights instead of can lights to illuminate the kitchen (plus large pendants).

Barbara Westbrook uses hanging lights for the majority of light in this kitchen (although there is a lone downlight over the sink)

Note the clever way that lighting was achieved near the range and sinks, through tiny focused pendants that are attached to the beam.  Image via AH&L.

All in all, I am perfectly fine with function over form in a kitchen – and sometimes can lights are the most effective way to achieve  task lighting in a space.  I really like the look of the small downlights in this kitchen, with interior design by Jim Howard.  The beautiful airy pendant lights provide great lighting without being too intrusive, and the small size of the ‘can lights’ does not create big holes in the ceiling.

Just one of the many decisions that must be made when building a house!  Not only that, but we are also at a turning point in lighting technology; the US government has set a deadline of 2012 for light bulbs to be 30% more efficient, and yet there does not seem to be a really appealing and cost effective replacement to the incandescent bulbs that we are all used to.   I have been looking into LED lighting (CREE seems to be a leader in this market), but the cost is quite high.  Low voltage halogens are more energy efficient than incandescent, but quite expensive too.

So, readers – do you have any thoughts on can lights? Love them or hate them? Do you have any style or bulb recommendations? I would be interested to read your thoughts.

Books mentioned in this post:
Victoria Hagan: Interior Portraits (click here to purchase on Amazon.com)

Things That Inspire Favorites: Cape Cod Metal Polishing Cloths

Things That Inspire Favorites: Oz Naturals Vitamin C Serum

Things That Inspire Favorites: Thera Breath Oral Rinse

To visit my store, Quatrefoil Design, click here.
To subscribe to my blog by email, click here.
To follow my blog on Facebook, click here.
To see design, architecture, art, and decorative books that I recommend, please visit the Things That Inspire Amazon store.


  1. WOW - didn't know that interior design mags airbrush too! Great post.

    PS - I hate cans. I especially hate the 6" ones.

  2. Thumbs down to can/recessed lights! Except where absolutely necessary.

    I have them in my laundry room and that works well and is on a dimmer. There is also one over my kitchen sink, that I frankly dislike and would like to change it out to something else or at least a smaller can.

    Use the smallest cans and put them on dimmers. In 2 bathroom renovations this was the approach I took because the spaces were modern a chandelier would not be used and the only other light was the sconces above the sink. The clients were happy with result.

    I am completely perplexed why they are needed in living rooms. If there are floor lamps, table lamps sconces and possibly a chandelier or lantern, this is more than sufficient. Too much lighting can be a mood killer. And adding them to the insets to a beautiful coffered ceiling seems criminal!

  3. I have can lighting only in my kitchen and use layered lighting in the other rooms. I'm not a fan of them in any other room...

  4. I don't like can lights at all. In fact mentioned that on my comment last week on the sconce post. I only have them in my basement. No cans on my main level or bedroom level. You can get the job done with lights like the ones used by the Gianettis above and that is what I have in my kitchen - 4 fixtures close to the ceiling, plus a fixture over the island, a fixture over the sink and undercounter lights - no cans. It is very bright when all of the lights are on. I think a lot depends on the style of the house. If you want the house to look old - skip the cans. In a more modern or transitional space, cans are appropriate. In 1989 when I renovated a 100 year old rowhouse in Virginia the builder had us put in lots of can lights (telling us that it saved money on fixtures) and I regretted it. The ceilings did indeed look like Swiss cheese. I like my can free ceilings in my current house.

  5. 36 cans in our little house, put in during our 1989 renovation. They aren't in our 2 most decorative ceilings. We have plenty of other lights too some task & some decorative. So we kind-of can have out cake and eat it too.

    But we love every single can and would like to add 5 more. They allow the rooms to be bit sleek, uncluttered, and modern.

    Our kitchen (9 cans, under-counters, and a skylight) achieves solar levels of wonderful light and none shine in my eyes.

    Personally, eye-level lighting, particularly bare bulbs can be a migraine trigger for me. I dread going to some people's houses.

  6. I agree that minimal use of these lights is ideal, but I don't think they're horrible. There are so many options for trims these days, that they really don't have to stand out anymore.

    We recently installed Cree's LED lighting. They were pricey, but they'll be worth it in the end. The light they put out is very nice, much different than most LEDs. I noticed that Cree is now selling these lights in Home Depot for $50 a pop instead of the $100 each I paid. They're also dimmable which of course is a must. Might be worth looking into...

  7. I know that can lights are a no-no in the design world--- but often times I don't mind them. I like that they are uncluttered looking--- rather than having a random ceiling mounted fixture attached somewhere.

  8. I prefer recessed lighting. The new smaller ones are nice compared to the older big ones. I'd rather have a ton of light than not much.

  9. I have 6 can lights in our family room addition - wish I didn't put them in! Very happy they are on a dimmer at least. As you said, they are practical in kitchens and I think a mix of can lights and pendants is better than being faced with having to have too many pendant lights breaking up the sight lines.

  10. Recessed lighting is a neccessity. Too many will create the swiss cheese effect, so I keep them small, few in number and of course, on dimmer switches to regulate the amount of light they emit into the room.

  11. Great discussion – lighting design is one of our passions in creating a beautiful space.

    Recessed lighting has become an integral part of modern living but needs to be considered as part of an overall lighting design that includes not only built-in fixtures but also lamps. Make no mistake; lighting is a very significant design tool that can truly add a whole other level to the interior design and architecture.

    The biggest issue we see is the lack of specification of fixture, trim and bulb. If not carefully specified by a designer or architect, you will wind up with the cheapest 6” can available. When specifying the fixture, the higher end recessed cans allow the bulb to be higher up in the fixture and less visible. Also, the bulb selection is critical. Bulbs come in all different color temperatures and beam widths. The recessed can for a kitchen application is much different than a fixture lighting a piece of art. For example, a recessed fixture above a coffee table might have a bulb with a 15 degree light spread thereby beautifully illuminating a table-top vignette without spreading light into the whole room.

    As far as bulbs are concerned, the typical is the R-type bulb that is rounded on the bottom and looks like a pimple on the ceiling. The PAR bulbs are flat on the bottom and are much more hidden from the eye. The worst thing is to stand in a room and look across and see all the light sources sticking down from the ceiling. The main point of recessed light is to see the light itself without seeing the source.

    To light a piece of wall art from the ceiling, the distance the fixture is from the wall along with the degree of the light spread is critical to make sure that the art is lit without spilling light onto the whole wall. And, you don’t need to use an “eyeball” lens to direct the light onto the wall. There are fixtures that usually have an MR16 color corrected bulb that pivot inside the fixture.

    There needs to be significant time spent balancing function, aesthetics and budget when determining the lighting design for a space.

  12. Recessed lighting can really add to the ambiance....if on dimmers and discretely sized. I have them in a number of rooms and I find that I like them when I want them and otherwise, I doubt anyone notices them.

    Good luck with the lighting plan!

  13. I like can lights, especially in a kitchen. I wouldn't want them in the formal living or dining room, but I believe that most room need at least a couple recessed lights.

  14. I have built two houses and lighting by far is THE number one hardest thing I have had to tackle. I asked for help this time and still didn't get it right!!!!

    I have cans in all the rooms and down the hallway. I must admit that I was surprised by the number of can lights spec'd to put in my house. So confusing. I tried not to have too many, so I wouldn't end up with the swiss cheese look. My living room is the only room that I would like to redo and I would go with my first instinct in there.

    For the most part they don't bother me, I would rather have the light than have a room that is too dark.

    Lighting is tricky and that's all I have to say about that.

  15. Great to know there are others out there who feel my pain! This has been quite difficult. I really want to try the CREE LED lighting, but the best size is 6", and it is pretty big - not really appropriate for the public areas of the house. The light is pretty good, though. I might try the CREE LR6 in some of the rooms upstairs - I want to take advantage of them being installed the way they are supposed to be installed, instead of retrofitting.

    We are probably going to do some low voltage halogens in the public rooms where we will have recessed lighting, and maybe some 5" line voltage in some of the more casual rooms where we think cans would be good.

  16. Wouldn't the height of the ceiling be a factor in making these decisions? For a room with an eight-foot ceiling, having chandeliers or other pendant lights seems less appealing, especially for a living room where people need to be walking around.

  17. This is another wonderful, informative post. Personally, I love the recessed fixtures I have in our house. They have been carefully selected and sparingly used but are an ESSENTIAL element in our lighting plan. I find the number of ceiling fixtures in some of the kitchens that you showed to be very distracting. In our kitchen, I have chosen not to hang pendants over the island or ceiling fixtures because I feel they add clutter and distract the eye as it takes in the pretty elements I have chosen for my kitchen. Recessed lighting is the perfect solution to get the look that I want. Also, the fixture over my kitchen table does not have to compete with any other fixtures in my space. Really a beautiful look.

  18. I do agree that in a kitchen (I have them) they can work and mine are not really obnoxious!

    That painting in your 1st image just took my breath away!!

    Come and enter my New Giveaway from Empress of the Eye. You will love it!

    Art by Karena

  19. I like the can lighting in our bathroom, it makes it look stylish and comfortable, but everywhere else we have mostly table lamps. In our dining room the overhead lighting is from a (real) candle lit chandelier.
    My French Country Home

  20. Definitely use cans in the kitchen. In our previous house we had cans and ambient in our living room...and in our master bedroom. Our current house doesn't have cans in either, and I
    really miss them...guess as I get older, I need more light! Do what works and functions best for you...you are the one who will live in the house!

  21. I need them, just in my kitchen I have 10 plus my island urns. For me they work, it you paint them the same color as the ceiling then they can blend in and disappear so the fixtures can take center stage.
    Keep in mind ceiling height. The lighting design in the kitchen that Brook did (with the ladder) has such high ceilings that they can get away with the pendants and the ceiling fixtures in that space, but it if was a 9' tall ceiling it wouldn't have the same appealing affect.
    Where I think the can light really comes into play is on the exterior of the home, when used in the right way it can make the entire home stand out, highlighting the stone, brick, or nooks that would normally disappear in the night.
    I always tell my clients to use more than they think they need, you can always add a dimmer but sometimes adding more light in certain rooms (like a kitchen) it hard. xo

  22. Oops - I have to correct myself - I do have 3 small can lights in my office. I forget about them b/c they are hidden behind an arch. They do give nice light for my desk - am using them now. So I am not totally can free. :)

  23. I am struggling with this too! We are specced for 5" cans which seem to be the recommendation for 10' ceilings, and we have them included in our coffered ceiling in our den and I am really struggling with that! I will have plenty of floor lamps and table lamps and lots of natural light in that space but I really wonder if that is enough! If I leave them in, I will definitely dim them though . . .

  24. Hi, there are so many comments and I can't read them all so this might be redundant .. I think that recessed lighting is very important and necessary. But there is a way to do it and a way not to. Your ceiling does not need to look like swiss cheese! As I have gotten older, my eyes have needed more light and my recesses light are crucial. I use a lighting designer that works out of a retail lighting store in my area. She charges $100 an hour but will put that fee towards purchases if I use her store and it is worth it not to make a mistake. I select the fixtures but she specs out where they go and what type, Because that is all she does, she is up on the latest products, codes and trends. I do not let her select fixtures - that is my job but she is invaluable in placing them. I can give her a blueprint and she will spec out where each can goes. There is a definite right and wrong way to do it, For example if you put a recessed light above your kitchen sink, if you put it in the wrong location you will block the light when you are standing there. I would recommend finding someone like that who can help you do it right. She has helped me install lighting that beams across the room at a specific painting or can light up the exact place on a book you are reading (all from the ceiling). I'm sure you can find someone in your area but if you cannot, contact me and I will give you her information. She has done work for me long distance - she just needs the plans. The lighting can make everything look different just by the bulb that you use so it is very complex. Good luck!

  25. We are getting ready to renovate our old Tudor house. While overuse is not in keeping with the style we are going for, we have to be practical too. Notice how the color of the baffle (white, or light vs. black) makes cans recede into the ceiling a bit more. Notice the difference in the look of the 5th and 11th pictures vs. the 6th picture. We will have a large kitchen with few upper cabinets, and will need lots of light at night. I will be using some cans as well as chandeliers and decorative task lighting. I find cans less offensive than 20 pendant lights hanging down and messing up the view of my beautiful kitchen! In other rooms, I would only use to highlight art. A dimmer is a must.

  26. I have always been lead to believe that can lights should only ever appear in bathrooms and kitchens.....I made the mistake of putting them in a small hallway and have regretted it every day since. Lamps, wall lights and chandeliers are so much prettier and the light so much more ambient. Have fun choosing....xv

  27. 1st off, I think you have to layer your lighting regardless of types. 2ndly, we just bought an older house that has can lights (added later) and we rarely use them. The only one I find particularly useful focuses on our mantle area...unfortunately, I recently lost the battle over the large, flat tv and it has taken up residence there and now the can light isn't much use there either. We will probably take them out of the living room when we redo the ceiling because I do think the ceiling was lowered to install these lights. I do think for accent lighting they could work, especially if you needed it though.

  28. We built our house about 10 years ago and used recessed light very sparingly, and if I could do it again I think that I might use even less. We have them in our kitchen, family room, bedrooms, some bathrooms, and the laundry room. I didn't put them in any of the formal spaces like the foyer, living room, and dinning room or hallways. If I could do it again I would do chandeliers in the bedrooms instead of cans (we have high ceilings), and I would have skipped the cans altogether in the family room (it is right off the living room and a pretty formal space, and I rarely use them).

    One place that we did use them and I am so glad we did is in our bathrooms over the sinks along with sconces on either side of the mirrors. When I am getting ready and need that extra light they are the best! The sconces alone provide a great ambience but not enough light for things like shaving and putting on makeup etc when it is dark outside.

    One thing that is a must is DIMMERS DIMMERS DIMMERS! I have them on most of the sconces, chandeliers, and recessed lights in the house, and it makes such a difference to be able to adjust the light for the time of day and function you need it for. I would even like to add dimmers to some of the lights that currently don't have them. Make sure that the blueprints specify dimmers where you want them or else the electrician will simply put in regular switches because they are a little bit cheaper.

    Good luck!

  29. Thanks to Steve Kemp, Kemp Hall Studio for some theory.

  30. Oh, and A Pattern Language favorite, almost never shown in the pictures. This is just a hint of the idea:

    252. POOLS OF LIGHT "Uniform illumination - the sweetheart of the lighting engineers - serves no useful purpose whatsoever. In fact, it destroys the social nature of space, and makes people feel disoriented and unbounded."

    "...a fact of human nature that the space we use as social space is in part defined by light. When the light is perfectly even, the social function of the space gets utterly destroyed: it even becomes difficult for people to form natural human groups..."

  31. In my experience developing lighting designs for my interior design projects, recessed can lighting works as part of a layered, flexible lighting design. Too many ceiling fixtures can be just as unattractive as too many recessed cans!

    Recessed can lighting is one way to provide an adequate level of general lighting. If you don't use too many cans, if the cans are aligned and spaced in a configuration that complements the architecture of the room, and if the trim kits blend into the ceiling, recessed can lighting can be relatively unobtrusive. Some halogen fixtures have smaller apertures (3"-4") than most incandescent or fluorescent fixtures (5"-6"), so some clients consider them more desirable even though they may be more expensive.

    Layered lighting is another key element of good lighting design. Task and accent lighting, such as in|under cabinet lighting, pendant lights, chandeliers, sconces, table lamps, or picture lights, add functionality as well as ambiance.

    Many interior designers consider decorative lighting fixtures as the 'jewelry' of a room. So, recessed can lighting that blends into the ceiling can highlight, rather than detract from, decorative ceiling fixtures, such as pendant lights or chandeliers.

    Flexibility is another key element of good lighting design. So, the switching plan, as well as the switch type (switch, dimmer, or vacancy sensor) are important considerations. To maximize flexibility and energy efficiency, I suggest installing dimmers on all ceiling fixtures, including recessed cans, pendant lights, and chandeliers, as well as on all tabletop lamps.
    In my opinion, Lutron manufactures some of the best dimmers.

  32. It's so interesting to hear your choices and decisions for a new home vs inheriting what exists in an old home. We have a few can lights and a chandelier in the kitchen, on dimmers. LR is coffered like the pic you show, and the rest of the ceilings are paneled or beamed or wallpapered; can lights would not work at all, though my sis has them and they brighten her house significantly.

  33. Wow, what an awesome post on lighting, I need to bookmark this one. I personally have can lighting combined with chandeliers, sconces, etc in various parts of my home. I do like the combination, and all of my can lights are on dimmers which helps. I do especially like the in those coiffered ceilings you've shown here.

    It's really neat to see how magazine editing changes things we don't even realize!! I never knew that can lights would be edited out! You learn something new every day...
    Nancy xo

  34. Used to like them, hate them now thanks to these new CFL fixtures in our new house -- the light is so hospital white! But assuming you have traditional canned lighting, I think it's very useful, especially in kitchens or interior rooms that lack good natural light. That said though, I still prefer beautiful task lighting and chandeliers!

  35. I am weighing in that I like can lights or any recessed hidden lighting. A central chandelier has never put out enough light for my rooms and where I need a lamp there is never an outlet plug and I don't like seeing extension cords. Use dimmers switches and watch what kind of bulbs you use for the quality of the light. Can lights have the ability to get the light where it is needed. I like them hidden behind ceiling beams. It all goes back to how you use the room. Is it only for show or do you really use it. I'm for using every inch of space. For those of you who hate cans and have 14 lamps all over the room -- well that doesn't look good either and they are never at the right height for tall and short people. I vote to measure the room's light with a meter and place the light where it needs to be wether by sconce, window, skylight, task or whatever.

  36. This topic is so very timely. We are renovating 5,000 square feet of our 1899 Victorian. Dark rooms were historically accurate but not attactive to our modern sensibilities. Before reading this post, I was thinking of adding little can light accents in more rooms than I would like to admit to. Now I think I will more carefully consider the expanded role of sconces and smaller hanging lights to accompany the chandeliers in the formal rooms. Thank you all for a better wake up than French Roast!

  37. I HATE when magazines do that with the photos. It is bad enough that they arrange them specifically for the picture, but to remove things with photoshop, ugh. No wonder I can't get a room to look the same. My pet peeve with lamps in photos is to see them sitting on a table but not see the cord plugged in anywhere. My family room has furniture on 3 side but not against any walls and I do not have any idea how to light this room. I do know what everybody means about the can lights not putting off the nicest light but sometimes it i just necessary.

  38. Great post! Our home built in 2000 is littered with can lights, but we have 20 foot ceilings in all the main rooms of the home (we renovated a 1970's two story colonial with eight foot ceilings. It felt extremely claustrophobic, especially because many rooms only had one window, so when we added the master suite/ garage wing we decided to move the upstairs bedrooms above it, and open up the ceilings in the original house.) so I don't notice them much. In our next home we will definitely cut down on them.

    P.S. I'm not sure if anyone has said this yet, but it is called a coffered ceiling.

  39. I like cans for kitchens and bathrooms although I like sconces in unexpected places in these 2 rooms as well. I prefer lamps and chandeliers in living spaces. Dimmers can make can lights very effective but I do like the option of plenty of light if I need it.

    Lovely rooms, as always and I usually learn something when I visit, thank you.

  40. I am a proponent for down lighting. I think they make a wonderful addition to a space if used correctly. The key in residential spaces is to light the envelope (walls). I am always amazed at how much that will really light a space. And I am not talking about lining the walls with them either....a few adequately spaced is enough (speak with a lighting designer….it really is an art). I would also always place them on dimmers so you can adjust as needed. Using for accent lighting at art or key walls also works, but if you can't stand them picture lights work on art as well. Then of course there are spaces like kitchens and laundry rooms that they are perfect for. This brings light up to an acceptable level to get work done! Sorry, I count laundry as definite work. The key to lighting any space is to layer the lighting. I think in some cases a layer of downlights work wonders.

  41. I like light. Lots of it. The thing I like about can lights is they are mostly "not seen"and they provide GREAT light.
    They don't hang down in the way- blocking vision, knocking heads of tall people. They don't get dusty. The men(sons in law) in my family are tall- two are 6'2", 1 is 6'5" and my husband is 6'6". My youngest daughter is 6 feet 1, dating a 6'4" boy and two other daughters are 5'11" with the shortest at 5'9 1/2". Most of them bump every hanging light I have!
    I think cans are harmless- they work with a minimalist room, I guess, but mostly they just quietly do their job and don't need to be noticed!

  42. I'm not a fan of recessed lights unless its a modern space. Although they are practical, they are not a classic look at all and they can throw off the room completely. I live in a 1916 Italianate villa and although I LOVE the house, the former owners had a modern flare and put recessed lighting into many of the rooms. It is the major downfall of the house in my opinion. It is something you can overlook though if you love the rest of the house. It was not a deal-breaker in buying the house... but I definitely wish they had not put them in.

  43. kitchen and bath only sez m21!



  44. now I'm still living in my parents' house, but someday I want to make a new home and live with my wife. I really love it when I found this blog, because I dream of having a nice house interior design. this blog makes me inspired. Thank you very much

  45. Friends of mine have an open plan living/kitchen/dining area and I would think there would be approximately 20 or more 'can' lights in there - they have 5 different light switches for the large area! It kills me!

    I think when I build I will aim to have just a few where neccessary but 'mood' lighting will be what I will aim for.

  46. Funny, have them only in my basement, and kitchen and baths. I think they provide a service of light but not long on ambiance unless, they are discreetly tucked in a book-case.
    Albert Hadley that said;
    "I personally try to avoid all ceiling lights because I think that overhead light is a tragedy and I think there is no point."

  47. Wow- Hot Topic! As a lighting designer, recessed lighting has it's pro's and cons and is one of the 'choices'. Lighting should not only be layered but the direction of lighting should be varied as well. All the lighting should not come from the same direction: for example using all downlighting. Shadows and light make us see form, color and dimension, so lighting should be selected to enhance these design features. Recessed lighting is great for funtional areas, such as kitchens, but still follow the rule...'Lighting should not only come from one direction'. Illumination of special architectural elements, art,difficult areas (such a room with the furniture 'floating) and task areas can benefit from recessed lighting, but, lighting from other directions in a room will offset the shadowing caused by downlighting. Using the combination of sconces, picture lights, chandeliers as well as table and floor lamps in your lighting plan will assure that you achieve the layered, multi-dimensional look you desire. Lighting is not the only aspect of the electrical plan. Be aware of where switches, outlets and thermostats are located...can't tell you how many 'picture' walls are disfigured because of the locations chosen for these necessary items. Be sure to discuss with your architect, builder or electrician what your needs are for these, otherwise a space you thought would be terrific for that wonderful piece of art could be marred.

  48. I could not get to this post yesterday and have been catching up on all the comments.... I love your blog and find it very informative. I am a designer that frequently works with new construction. I am by no means a lighting expert, but learned a great deal about this on my latest job... The homeowner was very knowledgeable and specified all hard wired lighting.

    A layered approach is a must! Another consideration is turning all these lights on. On this last job, we installed RadioRA. This system allows the homeowners to program selected lighting to come on simultaneously and at the selected intensity. I had seen this system years ago in an Atlanta home but did not really see its function for larger scale homes until this job. My clients can walk in there home and push one button to illuminate there way into there homes key areas. When entertaining, they can simply push this setting and the lights are set for this environment... not too harsh but enough to highlight key art, architecture and provide mood lighting.

    Best of luck on your lighting plans.... Keep the great posts coming.


  49. I don't typically like cans either but think in our new kitchen we'll use square recessed lighting. In the book, "Decorating Master Class" by Ellie Cullman, she used these frequently.

  50. Well, you already know how I feel. Yes, when we designed our home, we used only chandeliers, sconces, and table lamps. Our ceilings are pock free! We used surface fixtures and under counter lighting in our kitchen as well as two industrial light fixtures to illuminate the center island. I highly recommend this combination.
    Given the terrible shadows that can lighting can cause, I can't imagine anything worse than having them in my bathroom! What an unpleasant way to start your day!
    However, we do have some clients who prefer to use recessed lighting. We explain to them that can lights work best when used to illuminate walls (or artwork) or work surfaces. They do not work well when used to provide general lighting for a room.
    Thank you so much for including images of our work in your post! We are always honored to be featured on your beautiful blog!

  51. This is another great post! I think downlighting is important in some rooms like the kitchen and bath. Just count your blessings you don't have Title 24 in GA... we have some of the toughest lighting/energy regulations in the world here in California. And you are right LED lighting is very expensive.


  52. I appreciate Terry's explanation of why I can't stand "even lighting." Can lights are a pox on the ceiling and make people look like they are being prepped for surgery. Our 1968 house has a can light in the ceiling of the lower back hall and one over the kitchen sink, both to be eliminated soon. There is such a gentleness of table lamp light, chandeliers, sconces all on dimmers and if not possible for table lamps sometimes a 25 watt bulb is all that is needed to join the cast of layered lighting.

  53. To be honest I can't stand downlights. To me there are two aspects to this discussion: 1) the point you tackled in this post concerning the way these recessed lights look in the ceiling, and 2) their lighting properties. Downlights offer powerful light yes, but when you have a light source directly overhead it creates nasty shadows everywhere. Have you ever looked in the mirror while riding the train? It's impossible to look good with that sort of overhead lighting because of shadows.

    I would never chose downlight as a primary light source, as I have seen in too many homes. (the Swiss cheese variety).

    I could live with a couple of downlights over the sink, but never as a primary light source.

    Fantastic post by the way! I really enjoyed reading it!

  54. I think can lights can sometimes be necessary, especially in a kitchen situation. We have a few over the task areas...I've never felt that they make the ceiling look like swiss cheese. Though I only use them when I need more light for cooking. I don't like the look of all the fixtures close to the ceiling in a kitchen....to me that looks too cluttered and takes focus away from the more decorative lighting. This said, I have a few in my keeping room over the fireplace and desk area, and I hate them... I never use them and prefer lamps for all of my lighting. I think the smaller halogen pot lights are a better choice than the larger cans, and if I were building I would consider a few of them in a kitchen space, and maybe to highlight certain architectural details...definitely on dimmers though. Our home came with the larger ones, but there are only a few white ones and mostly I never pay them that much attention. Wow, didn't realize I had much of an opinion on the subject. How exciting to be building a new home. : ) Carrie

  55. Some lovely rooms there!

    I agree with Steve Kemp - that is some excellent advice on understanding how the can light specs. affect the light.

    Also keep in mind that 100w incandescent bulbs will be phased out early 2012 with the 40w phased out by 2014, so that color for the future will be even more important.

  56. I love the Giannetti's approach. I'm literally copying that first picture as we are re-doing our kitchen at the moment. However, we do not have those very high ceilings so we're using 4" canned lights with a short pendant over the sink.

  57. i am not a fan of can lights but if small and subtle i think they are ok... the photos you have shown are amazing... wonderful post. xx

  58. BONJOUR,
    très beau blog, très beau, élégant, agréable...


    Kiss from my PROVENCE in FRANCE

  59. I love the Lindy Weaver picture lights... do you know where I can get them? :D I love your blog, so many gorgeous interiors

  60. Fantastic pics, most of the rooms look just perfect (perhaps a little too magazine-perfect). To answer your question, honestly, can lights are not my favorite. Sometimes they just totally destroy the otherwise nice interior but yeah, it is not that difficult to hide them well anymore. And in the kitchen especially, they can be pretty useful.

  61. I try to never use can lighting.I really do not care for the type of light and aesthetics. Thanksfully, they are quite a few alternative choices such as directional small ceiling fixtures that bear minimum visual impact.

  62. I love the interesting topic of this post! Although can lights are not necessarily the most attractive option, sometimes they may be necessary to achieve the proper light. However, I prefer lamps the best... they provide such a mood-enhancing glow in any space. And by the way, those ceilings are called "coffered" (in case anyone hasn't already said that). Thanks, again, for your fabulous post!

  63. Having had can lights in my last two homes (this on included) that I inherited I must say I cannot stand them in any way shape or form. Not only are they ugly (my opinion) they are hot, especially in the kitchen. I find myself working in the 'dark' as the heat produced is just too much to bear.
    I love layered lighting and that is my approach to design!

  64. this blog is great! I agree that can lights aren't particularly romantic, but I love having lots of lighting options(preferably all on dimmers!) This is a wonderful post because I love seeing how minimal cans were used in the Gianetti homes- and are so lovely and successful=
    Thank you- xo, Julie

  65. Anne bird nest gardensNovember 17, 2010 at 8:17 AM

    My living room and dining room both have northeast exposure. Without the additional light from cans it would be like a cave. A dimmer is a must for mood.

  66. It seems I am one of the few designers out there that sees can lights as necessary and wonderful. Also a mother of three young kids, practicality is a must. Kids and lamps don't mix, and while I love the look of lamps, the thought of worrying about my family using the living room and knocking over the lamps would make me crazy. Listen to your heart, be real about your lifestyle, and things will be perfect for you! Good luck!

  67. i hate them but have them all over. i wrote about this once - quoting rose tarlow. go back and lijit search rose tarlow and read what she said. that might help!!!! you do need them in kitchens and baths though

  68. No, cans don't look beautiful, but they provide a lot of light. I have halogen recessed in my ceiling which is the only cans I have seen in Australia. They are so dark, even on the brightest setting. I love working in my parents condo kitchen in L.A. ; those cans really light things up. Give me light!

  69. HI!

    I'm so proud of Brooke Giammetti!!! I missed this post; and I wasn't even Brooke's "mentor" yet; and she agreed with me! I despise can lights anywhere at all! Especially in Old or traditional houses. They make the loveliest houses look cheap and the light is all wrong. In bathrooms......hideous. Over the sink?? You look one hundred years old in all those shadows. Sconces, lamps, under-counter lights in kitchens......there is no where they are necessary.....You want different levels of lights. I love chandeliers with real candles in dining rooms.....and sconces and votives and taller candles. Table lamps and floor lamps and reading lamps. And everything on dimmers!
    I have been at dinner parties with can lights on; that remind me of being in an operating room........open heart surgery could be performed. So disturbing and uncomfortable........I want to run for the dimmer; or run for the door!!

    Nothing destroys ambiance like overhead light......and too much of it! Listen to Albert Hadley!!!

    In a coffered ceiling; can lights are tragic!!

    One thing I noticed no one mentioned......very very cool.....picture a crown molding (like the molded rain gutters around the top of the walls and lights inside......shining up at ceiling......very subtle. Also hidden in display cabinets........(no glass shelves!!) And picture lights on paintings.....and those fabulous library lights that bend to shine on books in bookcases.

    (But, Penelope, what do you REALLY think?)

    We built our house like the Giammettis did! the Only recessed lights are inside the showers (with glass covers) because you are required!

    Thank the Lord someone finally invented a "canopy" that you can screw into a can light and hang a lantern small or large....from. (available at Ballard Design)...I have been using them with all of my clients.

    If you have low ceilings; you can find very attractive ceiling mount lights that are quite shallow. By the way; the family with all those tall people; it is a rule that you hang a pendant light 7' off the finished floor. (unless over a table)!

    (I suppose Kobe would have to be an exception)!

  70. I hate them with a passion! They ruin ceilings; coffered ceilings especially!
    and they are flattering to No one!
    they completely ruin the authenticity of a lovely old house!

    They should be banned from any traditional or old architecturally beautiful house!

    (but what do I really think?) Ha!


Thank you for your comments! I strive to make my blog positive in tone, and appreciate the same courtesy when comments are made. Thank you!


Related Posts with Thumbnails