Recessed Lighting; what you need to know

Figuring out the best placement of recessed lighting is the trickiest part of developing a lighting plan. I take professional development lighting classes every opportunity I get because there is so much to know, and products are continuously advancing. It can get quite complicated with math formulas to figure out lumens needed, the rooms reflectance value, and the correct color of light to use. It is a design element that needs serious attention. Great lighting has been scientifically proven to help us feel happier, relax easier and focus clearly.

How many recessed lighting cans are needed per square foot? 

The rule of thumb to figure out a lighting layout is to place fixtures 5′-6′ apart. Using this standard a 12′ x 16′ room would need six recessed cans. But with Interior Design, nothing is that easy. That calculation can only provide a starting point. Many factors have to be considered to determine how many recessed cans are needed in a room.  

  • type of room 
  • ceiling height
  • room reflectance
  • beam angle from the fixture

The type of room matters because certain rooms require more light. For example, you need more light in a kitchen than you do in a bedroom. The ceiling height makes a huge difference. Just adding 2 feet to your ceiling height can double the amount of light needed. Room reflectance has to do with how the light bounces off the surfaces in the room. A white-walled room will require fewer recessed cans than a room painted a dark color. Kitchens with light countertops will require fewer recessed cans than those with dark countertops. The last factor is the beam angle emitted from the fixture. The wider the beam, the more area the light will cover.  

To make sure you have adequate lighting and not too much lighting, use the general standard, adjust according to the other factors mentioned and READ THE SPECS FROM THE MANUFACTURER ON THE PRODUCT YOU ARE USING!!! Planning is essential.

Did you get to read my last few posts on lighting? My first lighting post, “Let’s talk about lighting,” discussed the importance of good lighting as a design element. My second post discussed “How to know what size chandelier to buy.” Last week we discussed layering lights in a room by using a combination of “Ambient, Accent and Task” lighting.”

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Ambient, Task, and accent lighting

Did you know that lighting can affect your mood? Studies have shown that lighting is not solely a visual component. It also has biological and psychological effects that can impact our well-being. With that said, let’s discuss the basics.

Ambient, task, and accent lighting are terms you should know. Why? Simply put, you should have all of these types of lighting in every room. Utilizing ambient, task and accent lighting in a room is essential aesthetically and can also make you feel happier.

The ceiling fixtures along with the recessed lighting are the rooms ambient lighting source
Photo by Jean-Philippe Delberghe on Unsplash

Ambient Lighting

Ambient lighting is the general all-over lighting of a room. It may be a ceiling fixture in the center of the room or recessed lights in the ceiling. I often choose to use a central fixture for aesthetic appeal in addition to recessed lighting that will provide balanced all-over light.

The pendant lights provide task lighting
Photo by Naomi Hébert on Unsplash

Task Lighting

Task Lighting is lighting that is intended to provide light for a specific function. A good example is pendant lights used to illuminate the cooking prep area. It may be a table lamp, giving light to read by.

The floor lamp provides task lighting
Photo by Hutomo Abrianto on Unsplash

Accent Lighting

Accent Lighting is used to highlight an object or feature of a room. A light shining on a painting or highlighting a texture on a wall is an example of accent lighting. It is always a good design idea to use accent lighting to accentuate the best architectural features of a room.

The cabinet lighting is an example of accent lighting.

When developing a lighting plan, ask yourself the following questions:

1-What is my ambient lighting source? Is it balanced?

2-What areas of this room do I need additional lighting for specific functions?

3-What are the best features of this room that I could highlight with accent lighting? Are there any objects that I need to highlight with accent lighting?


Good lighting is so important in design! A well-lit room has layers of lighting combining ambient, task, and accent lighting when used together can create a spectacular feel-good room! I hope you had a chance to read my other two posts on Lighting, Let’s talk about lighting and How to know what size chandelier to buy. If you want to learn more about the psychological impact of light, follow this link to a great resource.

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